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Bill Frisell, Nels Cline, and Joel Harrison at a previous Alternative Guitar Summit. Photo by Scott Friedlander.

The guitarist and composer Joel Harrison has been producing, organizing and playing in the Alternative Guitar Summit since 2010. He also founded a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Lifeforce Arts Inc., in 2013 to commission works, stage performances and further music education (including a guitar summer camp, starting in 2017) related to the summit’s mission to share and celebrate experimental guitar approaches. This weekend marks the final day of this year’s festival and The Jazz Gallery is pleased to host two special events celebrating the full breadth of guitar playing today—an evening performance of first-time guitar duos, as well as a rare afternoon workshop with the legendary Bill Frisell.

We caught up with Joel to talk about the history of the summit, and what to listen for in these first-time duo performances.

The Jazz Gallery: You’ve been doing quite a few of these concerts, with a bunch of diverse guitarists, at all sorts of different venues (ShapeShifter Lab, (le) Poisson Rouge, National Sawdust, IBeam, and many others)—is it always in the summer?

Joel Harrison: This is our 8th year, and it’s a pretty wide-open concept focused on creating new creative spaces for guitarists who are doing something new and/or unique. It’s not always in the summer, but it’s usually three nights in a row (a mini-festival), and this year we are doing what we’re calling the “Bill Frisell Invitational” concert at LPR where he picked the band plus four guest guitarists and has sort of free reign to explore and open up this year. There’s also a Jazz-Rock-Funk Throwdown at Nublu with some of the best guitarists on the planet paying tribute to 70s-era fusion guitar; and last but not least these two events at The Jazz Gallery.

TJG: Can you speak about the idea of guitar duos, which have been a staple at many of the AGS concerts, including the one this Saturday night?

JH: Yeah I’ve always been a fan of guitar duos, and I’ve been trying to pair older players with younger ones, and the average age difference at this Jazz Gallery concert is actually somewhere around 25 years! I often try and steer the duos toward one jazz song and one free improvisation.

TJG: Can you tell us a little bit about each duo?

JH: Rez Abbasi & Jeff Miles
Rez has put out many great records which are interesting and complex, often incorporating Pakistani music. Jeff is a young player who has great technique and studied with Ben Monder.

Peter Bernstein & Gilad Hekselman
Peter is a legendary master of the jazz guitar tradition. Gilad loves Peter’s playing, learned a lot from him, and has a modern sound also steeped in the tradition; both are lyrical players and I’m excited to hear them play in this context.

Joe Morris & Matteo Liberatore
Joe is a leading voice in a more avant-garde tradition on the guitar and Elliot Sharp told me about Matteo—he’s a guitarist who’s been influenced by Joe Morris.

Joel Harrison & Anthony Pirog
When we play it’s freaky; we have the same thoughts at the same time. We’re both from DC and are way into that Danny Gatton guitar stuff… We’re both into a lot of other stuff too and our duet will reflect this eclectic language.

TJG: What are your thoughts on “the state of jazz guitar” today? Any new players that are inspiring you?

JH: I would say jazz guitar is in a fine state. There are a lot of young, talented players, more every day. Many of them seem to come from higher educational institutions than ever. Some get good very young, partly because of access to tremendous resources. I ask young people all the time who their favorite players are. Often they mention Julian Lage.

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Photo by Kuo Heng-Huang, courtesy of the artist.

Bassist Ricky Rodriguez is a model of versatility on his instrument. Whatever idioms flow into the music that he’s playing—jazz, Afro-Cuban, R&B—Rodriguez speaks them with conviction. It’s no wonder that he’s held down the bass chair for bandleaders as diverse as Joe Locke, Arturo O’Farrill, and Branford Marsalis. In his own music, Rodriguez likes to explore the fluid spaces between different styles, pushing the music in different directions from gig to gig. In a previous interview with Jazz Speaks, Rodriguez described this shape-shifting approach:

As a double bass player and electric bass player, I respect the instruments’ different sounds, from classic and acoustic to electric and crazy, you know what I mean? The bass lines that I originally wrote on acoustic, I can play on electric too, and it doesn’t sound out of context. When I compose, I try to think of those days when the airline might not let me travel with my acoustic, so I have to bring the electric. So I try to make my music work for both. I can play with Fender Rhodes or acoustic piano, and it sounds good either way.

This Friday, June 22, Rodriguez returns to The Jazz Gallery with his home base group, featuring a deep lineup of heavy hitters—saxophonists Miguel Zenon and Dayna Stephens, pianist Luis Perdomo, and drummer Rudy Royston. Before coming out to see the band take on both new and old material, check out this video of Rodriguez’s record release show at the Gallery for Looking Beyond, below.
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Photo courtesy of the artist.

On June 21st, New York City-born pianist Lex Korten will premiere a new body of original work with a hard-hitting young quartet. This will be his first outing at The Jazz Gallery: According to Korten, The Jazz Gallery is “a special venue I’ve turned to for inspiration ever since I attended as a starry-eyed high school sophomore. This is the debut of my first project as leader in a very long time with a formidable new generation of songs written almost entirely in 2018.” The quartet features saxophonist/drummer Morgan Guerin, vibraphonist Joel Ross and bassist Benjamin Tiberio who, in various configurations, have been Korten’s bandmates for over two years.

During our conversation in anticipation of the show, Korten brought two ideas to the forefront. The first was that this show represented an opportunity for Korten to write new music that would inspire and challenge his bandmates. The second was that Korten partially conceived of these songs as “tributes to the actions of others,” where the music forms a loose narrative about the importance of agency, observation, and activism. Read on for more about the inspiration and impetus behind Korten’s new music.

The Jazz Gallery: You must be getting excited for the upcoming show at the Gallery.

Lex Korten: It’s crazy, the way it happened. At the end of 2017, I set a goal for myself to bring a new project to The Jazz Gallery as a leader in 2018. I’d had writer’s block for a long time: When I was at University of Michigan, I was a factory, spitting out tunes all the time. I brought a really nice body of work with me to New York, and have been playing it for the last year and a half. But it had been a long time since I had anything new. So I used the idea of playing at The Jazz Gallery as an impetus, since it’s one of the places I love which supports experimentation and creativity. Of course, a lot has gone into the music in other senses, but in the sense of having a deadline and a goal, The Jazz Gallery got me moving again. One thing lead to another, and here I am.

TJG: What was it about the idea of The Jazz Gallery that could help you clear that block?

LK: It was a mix of things. I grew up in New York City, and when I was in high school, I went to The Jazz Gallery’s old location on a semi-regular basis. At that time of my life, I had no sense of whether or not I was going to become a jazz musician. Everyone I saw at The Jazz Gallery was someone I was infatuated with musically, who I put on a very high pedestal, which I still do. So when I moved back to New York after school, and was starting to play out with some of my peers, I realized that the Gallery was a major bridge between generations of musicians. It provides a very natural incline from being a young artist who’s trying to find their voice, and the more established musicians in creative music, Jazz, black music, who are willing to use The Jazz Gallery stage to showcase new ideas.

TJG: So when you began doing the work of assembling this project, what came first? The group, the musical ideas, the message, the narrative?

LK: When I first played with the group which is going to be on this show, I had about half of this music written. At that time, I’d put together a session with no specific expectations, and it was before I’d been offered this date at the Gallery. I got these guys together because I’m close with all of them, and I wanted to see what my music sounded like with them. There was an incredible mix of intuition and commitment. As far as intuition, the music was coming so naturally to them: They were listening and making musical decisions while still reading new material. In terms of commitment, this music isn’t easy, and though naturally it didn’t sound right the first time we read it, they were on the ground and ready to workshop this music.

After that point, I was like, “I can’t believe how well that went. That’s the band I want to use.” The date at the Gallery was extended to me, so then I did a weird thing: I actually said, “Look, I played this music with the band during the session, and they killed it. I know what sort of music they’re going to make sound good. Now, instead of writing for them, I’m going to write against them, because I trust them so much, and I want to see what comes out of that.” Sometimes, it’s easy to write within this idiom when you’re dead-set on the language that’s going to be used. So I challenge myself to write differently than I normally do, and to challenge these guys to play in a different way than they’re used to playing.

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Album art courtesy of Criss Cross Records

With his new record It’s Alright With Three (Criss Cross), saxophonist and composer Will Vinson presents guitarist Gilad Hekselman and drummer Antonio Sanchez in a fresh, dynamic, bass-less trio setting. Each of the three musicians shines in his own way, exploring a balance of originals and standards with open interplay and spontaneity (and as to be expected, much effect pedal wizardry from Hekselman).

Born in London and based in New York, Will Vinson has been featured on stages around the world as a bandleader as well as with artists from Ari Hoenig, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and Miguel Zenón to Sufjan Stevens, Sean Lennon, and Rufus Wainwright. Vinson is also a member of the acclaimed OWL Trio, alongside guitarist Lage Lund and bassist Orlando Le Fleming. In a recent phone conversation, Vinson had much to say on the joys and constraints of making his new record on a tight timetable with a brand-new trio.

The Jazz Gallery: Your upcoming performance at The Jazz Gallery is the release show for this album. How much playing had you done with Gilad and Antonio before this project?

Will Vinson: Individually, quite a lot over the last several years. In this trio configuration, about ninety minutes [laughs]. We did a short rehearsal the day before the recording, and that was it. I’d done some gigs with Antonio’s band, he’d done some gigs with mine. The same with Gilad, who I met playing with Ari Hoenig not long after Gilad moved to New York. I don’t think Gilad and I had ever played on a record together, though Antonio and I appeared on Orlando Le Fleming’s first record. In New York, we all have our projects, we all gravitate toward doing a certain thing, but there’s a whole other cast of musicians who we each occasionally play with: Often, you can go years without properly collaborating with an artist.

The impetus with this record was getting a call from producer Gerry Teekens from the Criss Cross label. The way that Criss Cross often operates is that they call you at relatively short notice to do a record, and you come up with your personnel. Normally for a record, you have a project in mind and you try to make it work, but with Criss Cross, it works the other way around. So of course, given an opportunity like that, why not record with people I wouldn’t otherwise have? At the time I got the call from Criss Cross, I was having a parallel idea to do a bass-less trio record. Gilad clearly seemed the person for that, and I’d wanted to record with both Antonio and Gilad for a while. Miraculously, they were both available at six-weeks’ notice, so I took that as a sign. Well, as a sign of their availability, anyway [laughs].

TJG: Clearly, it was destined to be! Tell me about the balance of originals and standards on the album.

WV: One of the things I like about this short-notice recording session is that you don’t have endless months to ponder what you’d do on your next project. Instead, it’s much more spontaneous. I did write one tune for the record, which is called “The Pines.” We dug out an old tune from a record I’d made a long time ago, and in general, I just thought of tunes that would be fun to play in this context. Without a bassist, there are limitations and opportunities in trying to bring out the right aspects of a trio like that. I definitely wanted to have originals, but I wanted us to play in a way that was relatively free and unselfconscious, to have a good time. Between the bass-less constraint and the short timeline, those limits dictated to a large extent the material we played.

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Photo via www.jasonpalmermusic.com

Destined for a life lived prolifically, Jason Palmer grew up in High Point, North Carolina, two houses away from where John Coltrane spent his childhood. From a hometown legacy, the trumpet player/composer gleaned inspiration for his own creativity and output.

Palmer came to Boston in 1997 to study at New England Conservatory,  and now teaches down the street at Berklee College of Music. This weekend, Palmer brings his chordless quartet to New York for a live recording of brand new music and previously unrecorded compositions. We caught up with Jason to discuss his work ethic, a moment with Wayne Shorter he’s never forgotten, and the case for leaving space.

The Jazz Gallery: I can barely keep track of how many records you’ve put out as a leader. What’s the current total?

Jason Palmer: I’ve kind of lost track over the years. I have one coming out this month, and I had one come out last month. I did a double live disc at Wally’s, so I think it’s eight. I got two in the can.

TJG: Your rate of releasing album-length material is rigorous. Over the years, you’ve released many inspired recordings including your interpretations of Minnie Riperton’s music and more recently Janelle Monáe’s. Has that degree of output always come naturally to you? Do you ever struggle with the pressure of releasing new music, particularly in the age of streaming?

JP: The whole streaming thing hasn’t really bothered me as much as I think it should. I try not to worry too much; I try to focus more on putting work out there to hopefully inspire people. I don’t necessarily think of it as a revenue generating endeavor as much as other projects that I do—teaching and composing and commissions.

So yes, it’s been easy for me because I’ve written a lot of material I haven’t had a chance to record and put out. I probably have a waiting list of about 100 tunes that I want to eventually record and put out there. And it’s a great opportunity to do it next week [at the Gallery], which is going to be a mix of old tunes I’ve written but haven’t recorded, and I recently composed a set of original music that we’re going to do, as well. I think we’re going to have enough to do a double disc. If all goes well, we’ll have enough takes between the four sets on Friday and Saturday.

TJG: Because you don’t put that revenue-driven pressure on yourself to put out these records, I wonder if that helps the process remain natural for you, year to year.

JP: Yes, and I’m lucky because I’ve been working with Steeplechase for six or seven, maybe eight albums. I have one in the can for them now; we did the music of Anita Baker. I recorded that back in December. And my agreement with them is that I can release one record every year. This year I happened to be able to put out two. So they offer me that commercial platform, and I’m sure if I didn’t have them, I would do it independently, which is what I’m going to do with the new record that’s going to be live at the Gallery.

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