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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Album art by Daphne Xu and Dana Khagabanova, courtesy of the artist.

This Friday, November 15, The Jazz Galley is pleased to welcome saxophonist Kevin Sun to our stage to celebrate the release of his new double album, The Sustain of Memory (Endectomorph Music). Close to two hours in length, the recording features three long form compositions—”The Middle of Tensions,” “Circle, Line,” and “The Rigors of Love.” Sun debuted “Tensions” and “Rigors” at the Gallery in recent years, and spoke to Jazz Speaks about the concepts behind each one. In discussing “The Rigors of Love,” Sun noted that one goal for him with the piece:

…was being willing to write stuff that is maybe uncomfortably slow, that pushes the boundaries of what I’ve written in the past in terms of duration and perception, being willing to try something relatively slow-moving. I wanted to practice being okay with stasis, and seeing what happens when we have a group of improvisers working in that space. It’s different from the trio music where, say, it’s mostly frenetic and explosive and active, here the beats are wider for the most part.

In discussing “The Middle of Tensions,” Sun explained his thinking on how certain musical ideas can engender emotional tension.

This is a really simplistic way of thinking about it, but a lot of it is having different streams, two different things happen at the same time, like different tempos. There are these polyrhythms where you’re aligned, and then you go away for a while, and then you intersect again, and it’s hard to tell if there’s a dominant pulse. On the harmonic side, there are these dense chords and it sounds like it’s going to resolve, but then doesn’t really resolve, or it does resolve, but the resolution isn’t totally satisfying because there’s a lot of other stuff going on in there. It’s unrelenting.

For this album release show at the Gallery, Sun has assembled his full cast of collaborators from the album—trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, pianist Dana Saul, bassists Simón Willson and Walter Stinson, and drummers Dayeon Seok and Matt Honor. Before coming out to hear the music live, take a listen to the album, below.

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Photo by Gaya Feldheim Schorr, courtesy of the artist.

Colin Hinton, a Brooklyn-based composer and drummer/percussionist, returns to The Jazz Gallery to celebrate the release of his latest record, Simulacra. The long-form, textural calliope features Anna Webber on tenor saxophone and flutes, Yuma Uesaka on tenor saxophone and clarinets, Edward Gavitt on guitars, Shawn Lovato on bass, and Hinton himself on drums, percussion, glockenspiel, and gongs.

The compositions are dense, spiraling, and often surprisingly intimate, and clearly synthesize influences from Henry Threadgill and Anthony Braxton to Messiaen and Feldman, while leaving plenty of room for Hinton’s background in the power and structure more straight-ahead jazz. In a long phone conversation with Hinton, we learned about the composer’s approach to open material, his relationship with his ensemble, and his process behind putting the record together.

The Jazz Gallery: Loving the new record! You packed such a diverse array of sounds and approaches into a unified set of performances. It seems like the album, described in the liner notes, is addressing this timeless question: How do you capture a music moment in a way that celebrates its life force, yet acknowledges the limitations of the format? Do I have that right, in the concept of Simulacra?

Colin Hinton: In certain regards, yes. The liner notes were written by my buddy Robert Grieve, a great guitarist, composer, human based in Toronto. I contacted him, and he got excited because the album is called Simulacra, and he’s big into philosophy, so he went super deep into the whole simulacra/simulation thing. He went in on that, which I loved. I didn’t actually find out about it until after I named the album, so it’s a funny coincidence. I named the album as I did because each piece on the record is inspired by a specific musician/composer that had a huge impact on my musical and/or personal life.

I came across the word simulacra as an anagram, which is how I arrive at many of my tune titles: You see that in titles like “Obversify” or “Synesthopy.” I delved into the history of the word simulacra, and liked the idea of a representation of something, and enjoyed looking at the history of the word and how it has evolved over the last six hundred years. I let Rob go nuts with the writeup, there’s some headiness to it. I like the ambiguity, and people keep asking me about the title, so that’s fun.

TJG: I don’t know a lot about your musical process, aside from what I’ve read. It’s clear that there’s composed material: Hits, melodies, harmonic unity, form, structure, even swing and time. Then, there’s clearly improvisation as well, stuff that sounds like someone creating in the moment. I’m interested in hearing about your working process within these worlds.

CH: My background is as a straight-ahead jazz drummer. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten a little away from that, though I still love listening to and playing that music. My first exposure to music outside of that was Brazilian music, then South Indian music. Then, as I was studying free improvisation and contemporary classical music, I realized that to do what I wanted to do, I needed to start composing: I didn’t start composing until I was twenty-six.

Generally, I don’t want people to be aware of what’s composed and what’s improvised in my music. There are a number of things on the record that sound improvised but are actually written, and things that sound written but are actually improvised. I’ve been working with this group for several years, and this is the fourth book of music I’ve written for us.

I’m also great friends with everyone in the band, and we’re very familiar with each others’ musicality, so that puts me at a huge advantage. I wanted to try to 1) get away from a typical head-solo-head thing, and 2) avoid long-form composition for improvisers where it’s like “Here’s written material, here’s improv, here’s a form, here’s a vamp,” and instead have the composition and improvisation move together simultaneously. That was a cool challenge to try to address. There might be three people who have written material that’s part of a composition, while one person is soloing, and another person has the option of playing composed material, or pitchless rhythmically notated stuff that they can improvise along, giving them a general sense of being part of the ensemble, where they can be the soloist. I love finding different ways of orchestrating the people I have so that something is always in motion.

TJG: When you’re generating this material, are you improvising and transcribing? Do you have a compositional procedure that you’ve found works for you?

CH: I write everything at the piano, and before I sit down and start writing a piece, I generally have an idea of what I want the piece to do. Then I might start generating some harmonic areas I want to look at, and from there it depends on whether I want melody, a non-melodic sound world, just dense harmony with nothing else… I have techniques that I’ve adopted and keep returning to, regarding how I generate harmonic material and melodies over that.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Brooklyn-based artist and interdisciplinary performer Melvis Santa brings her critically-acclaimed project Ashedí “Afro-Cuban Jazz Meets Rumba” to The Jazz Gallery this month. Leading her band in explorations across a range of repertoire, the singer, dancer, percussionist and GRAMMY nominee presents an evening of music steeped in folkloric traditions from the Afro-Cuban lineage that stretches into the culture and sounds of today.

In the Afro-Cuban language of the Lucumí or Yoruba ethnicity, and for the purposes of Santa’s vision, Ashedí reflects the English word “invitation.” She aims to collaborate with open-minded artists who can share in celebrating a mingling of traditions, cultures and artistic expressions. In the video below, Santa speaks about her vision for the project.

This Wednesday and next at the Gallery, Melvis Santa invites Osmany Paredes on piano, Rafael Monteagudo on drums, Carlos Mena on bass and Brandee Younger on harp to join Ashedí.  (more…)

Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Friday, The Jazz Gallery welcomes multi-instrumentalist Morgan Guerin and his working band back to our stage. As a performer and bandleader, Guerin’s technical range—he’s adept on saxophones, bass, drums, and keyboards—is matched by his aesthetic one. While his ornately-designed music takes advantage of a wide sonic palette, Guerin also looks for strong musical personalities to push the tunes off the page. In a previous interview with Jazz Speaks, Guerin spoke about the freedom of knowing music from the inside out:

Charts are cool, but learning music without charts is better, I think it helps you understand the music more. It’s cool to be free with the music in a different way, so the paper isn’t telling you what to do. If you have the knowledge of the actual song embedded in you, you’re free to do whatever you want to do.

This Friday at the Gallery, Guerin will be joined by Alina Engibaryan on voice & keyboards, Lex Korten on piano, Hannah Marks on bass, and JK Kim on drums. (more…)

Graphic by Mia Nazzaro

On Thursday, November 7, 2019, alto saxophonist and EWIer Alfredo Colon returns to The Jazz Gallery for a debut presentation and live recording of Lookalike, a trio featuring Colon alongside bassist Steve Williams and drummer Henry Mermer. In recent years, Colon has been turning heads playing in the post-vaporwave collective Secret Mall and leading his own projects, most recently Big Head, a quartet with pianist Jacob Sacks, bassist Nick Dunston, and drummer Connor Parks. We caught up with Colon by phone to discuss his new trio and its inspirations.

The Jazz Gallery: What have you been up to since your last performance at the Gallery back in June? 

Alfredo Colon: I’ve just been trying to write as much music as possible lately. I’m a person who has a ton of ideas and in the past didn’t commit to them, so my thing this year has been—I’ve been having a lot of moments when I’m like, “This will be cool”—so I’ve been trying to get the ball rolling with whatever that may be and committing to it. 

TJG: When did you, Steve, and Henry first play together?

AC: Probably early this year, around May. We just got together and played free at New School. 

I always like when I get together and improvise with people, then listen back to the recording and it sounds like something written. There’s intention to everything, everyone’s present; it’s not sqounking about, just making noise. I ended up writing some material that fit the vibe. Steve and Henry brought some compositions, and it’s become its own thing now. 

TJG: That reminds me of a thing I heard Steve Lehman say about composing, which was that he sometimes found inspiration from listening back to recordings and expanding from particular improvised moments. Are there songs that you wrote with a similar approach? 

AC: Yeah, there’s quite a few of them. The thing is, these guys always get me to play something that I otherwise wouldn’t: Steve is a master of rhythm, so he’s always got something that can either throw me off or push me in a direction I’ve never gone in before. Henry’s kind of a mysterious player, so the way the two play forces me to play stuff I usually don’t. 

There’s a song that’s the opener of the set, which is from a moment I played with them. Some of the lines I played were very me, but not me, I guess. I transcribed them and they became the melody for one of the tunes in the tunes you’ll hear on the 7th. 

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