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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Over the course of three albums and a host of other projects (like 2015’s multimedia Ideogramas at The Jazz Gallery), pianist David Virelles has drawn much inspiration from the ceremonies and folklore of his native Cuba to create distinctly modern music. This Friday and Saturday, July 29th and 30th, Virelles will present a new project at The Jazz Gallery that expands the scope of the musical exploration of his homeland.

Joined by John Benítez on bass and Keisel Jiménez on timbal, Virelles will perform a series of new original compositions, plus music by four of the most influential Cuban musicians of the early 20th century—Alejandro García Caturla, Amadeo Roldán, Antonio María Romeu and Eliseo Grenet. Caturla and Roldán were leaders of the Afrocubanismo movement, incorporating traditional Cuban music into Western symphonic forms. Romeu and Grenet on the other hand sought to bring these traditional influences into jazz and popular dance music. With his top musical intellect and imagination, Virelles is sure to weave a fascinating narrative through this wide range of source material. (more…)

Photo by Jati Lindsay, via www.ericrevis.com

Photo by Jati Lindsay, via www.ericrevis.com

This Wednesday and Thursday, July 27th and 28th, The Jazz Gallery is proud to present bassist Eric Revis and his quartet Parallax. Even as he continues to hold the center of Branford Marsalis’s quartet, Revis has become more active as a leader in recent years with both Parallax and his working trio, who just released a new record—Crowded Solitudes—on the Clean Feed label. Writing in the New York Times this past weekend, Nate Chinen praised the trio for “…bringing tangible shape to compositions that often court abstraction.” Chinen singled out the track “Anamesis: Pt. 1 & 2,” an extended piece dedicated to Tamir Rice and Sandra Bland that “…gradually shifts from elegy to outrage, evoking the devices of a composer like Charles Mingus.”

This weekend, Revis and Parallax will perform at one of jazz’s legendary events—The Newport Jazz Festival. But be sure to catch them on our stage this week as they probe and shape a book of mysterious and evocative compositions. (more…)

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Whether playing with his twin brother Pascal or heading up his own projects, saxophonist and composer Remy LeBoeuf is always looking to expand his music in new directions. This Thursday at The Jazz Gallery, LeBoeuf will convene a band made up of close musical friends who haven’t played in this exact configuration before. LeBoeuf was kind enough to answer some of our questions about the group and his many concurrent projects.

The Jazz Gallery: You’re hitting The Jazz Gallery with Gilad Hekselman, Shai Maestro, Matt Clohesy, and Peter Kronreif. What were the circumstances of your putting that quintet together? Is this your working band?

Remy Le Boeuf: These are all musicians I’ve played with in various contexts over the years who have stood out to me as very natural interpreters of my music. In addition, they are all excellent improvisers who aren’t afraid to take risks and engage in collective musical conversation. We have all played together a fair amount over the years, though not in this context until now. 

TJG: Tell me a little bit about the music you’ll be bringing. Are you doing most of the composition? Is this new music for you?

RBL: All the music is original, and some of it is new.  I’ll be premiering a couple pieces I wrote while in Connecticut last month at the I-Park Artist Residency Program.  I’ve always dreamed of having a little cabin in the woods with just a piano and a fireplace. Not only did that dream come true, but I had one of the most productive months of composing I’ve had in a long time.

TJG: Gilad just finished his composition commission for the Gallery, and he had Shai Maestro on that project. Have you worked much with the two of them?

RBL: After running into Gilad listening to or performing in nearly every show I saw last Summer, I asked him join me for a gig at the 55 Bar. I loved the chemistry with him in the band. Since then I’ve been looking for more opportunities to play together.  I first met Shai back in the days of IAJE and have always enjoyed talking to him at shows. Later on we ended up playing a few jam sessions together, the most recent of which was this past Spring. After hearing him bring out so much beauty in my music while sight-reading one of my tunes it was very clear to me that I needed to set up more opportunities to play together. Shai has an uncanny ability to be immediately familiar while interpreting someone else’s vision, a skill that takes much maturity and understanding. 

TJG: I read that you’ve been working on a project with poet Sara Hughes, and that you worked on the project during an I-Park Artist Residency. How did you meet Sara, and what’s the nature of the new project?

RBL: It’s funny you should mention Sara, we are working on a duet right now and I just spoke to her earlier today. Sara is a poet and English Professor at Middle Georgia State University. When we were first introduced at I-Park we discovered immediately that we are both identical twins. With my interest in literature, her interest in music, and our shared experience collaborating with our respective twins we began working together almost automatically. We don’t have a specific goal in sight at the moment, but we have written half a dozen songs together in the last month and we both intend to take our collaboration further as we get more familiar working together. I’ll be performing one of our songs on Thursday, but I won’t be singing it…

TJG: What made I-Park so productive for you, and what specifically did you take away from the residency? Did you develop some new approaches, work through some new material, get some listening in, or something entirely unexpected?

RL: The environment and community there are very creativity-inducing. It is a huge park in the woods of Connecticut where I lived with 7 other artists in various fields for a month. We enjoyed meals together, collaborated, and shared ideas every day while focusing on our work without distraction. The space is also filled with the art installations of past I-Park Fellows. Someone made a “floating living room” (boat) complete with desk and chair in the middle of a lake. There is nothing more peaceful than composing at a desk while floating on water, listening to bird calls and the wind in the trees. I wrote several songs with Sara, worked on my Suite for solo saxophone, and chipped away at a piece for big band called “Sibbian” that is dedicated to my brother and sister. It will be premiered next year at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

With his fluid style and warmly-distorted sound, guitarist Gilad Hekselman is one of the most sought after musicians in New York today. He’s been tapped as a sideman by everyone from drummer Ari Hoenig to bassists Ben Williams and Esperanza Spalding to multi-reedist Anat Cohen. His solo work has received much critical acclaim, including 2015’s Homes (Jazz Village). He’s sought after by students as well, hoping to learn the secrets of his style—when searching his name on Google, two of the top suggested search terms are “Gilad Hekselman lessons” and “Gilad Hekselman gear.”

This weekend, Hekselman returns to The Jazz Gallery as part of our 2016 Residency Commission series to present new music for his band Zuperoctave. The quartet features some of Hekselman’s closest musical associates—saxophonist Ben Wendel, pianist Shai Maestro, and drummer Kush Abadey—and a lush, plugged-in sound. We caught up with Hekselman by phone to talk about his writing process for the commission, which included some false starts and questioning his musical intuition.

The Jazz Gallery: You’ve been all over the world in the past few months; where are you now, and where have you been recently?

Gilad Hekselman: I’ve been in New York for about a week—before that, I was touring in Japan and Korea. In Japan, I was a sideman with a saxophone player named Sadao Watanabe, and before that in Korea I did a little tour with my trio. It was my sixth time in Japan and my second time in Korea. I like it there, and would love to go there more.

TJG: Tell me about your commissioned project, Zuperoctave: It’s got Ben Wendel (saxophones), it’s got Shai Maestro (keys), it’s got Kush Abadey (drums). What’s the concept?

GH: The concept is more or less as usual; trying to write some good tunes, and have some good musicians play them. This is a little different because there’s no bass, and we’re going for a more electronic sound. A lot of the compositions are leaning towards that. We’re using some synths, Ben is using some effects, I’m going to use some effects, and Kush is playing some electronic drums.

TJG: When did you decide not to have a bass player?

GH: This project is called Zuperoctave, and I’ve been doing it for a few years with different personnel. That’s part of the idea of the band, to free up the bass a little bit. Sometimes I use a pedal and play bass, sometimes Shai does some bass sounds, or even Ben. Generally speaking, we like to have more flexibility, so we experiment with the bass.

TJG: So how do you write, regarding the low end, knowing that you’ll have that flexibility where anyone can play the bass in the band? Does it change your compositional approach?

GH: A lot of the songs are brand new work that I did for the commission. They have these musicians and instrumentation in mind. I try to imagine a group sound, rather than focusing too much on the bass, or the lack of it. I imagine what the instruments I have can do in that context. Each song is different, as far as the process goes. I find a melody, or some lyrics, a bassline, or something else that works for me—some of them are inspired by my musicians, or musical ideas that remind me of friends. For me, words aren’t really helpful in describing these kinds of musical relationships. You hear it and you know it, but it’s hard to verbalize.

TJG: So how did you begin working with The Jazz Gallery, and when did you get your commission?

GH: I think it all started with Nir Felder, actually. He was talking to Rio about how it would be great to do commission work with a guitar player. Nir, Rio and I worked on the application, then Rio got a grant for it, and that was it. This is my first commission. It’s been cool working to a deadline. The first thing I had in mind was a different project, which eventually fell through. It was originally more vocal music. I had this idea to do music for yoga sequences as well. I’d have a yoga practitioner do a sequence of poses on stage while we play. But that fell through too. Meanwhile, while looking at those ideas, I noticed that a lot of these ideas for Zuperoctave just appeared. I ignored it for a while, trying to work on the other ideas, but honestly feeling a little under-inspired. And then, I talked to my wife, and she asked me to think about whether I was swimming with or against the stream; that’s when I realized I should drop everything and follow the Zuperoctave project, since that’s where my heart was. So that’s what I did. Ever since then, I’ve been writing non-stop.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Pianist Orrin Evans is seemingly always on the move. If he’s not putting out a new record of his own (he’s released twenty-five as a leader or co-leader in his career), he’s producing someone else’s. Or leading a weekly jam session at WXPN’s World Cafe in Philadelphia, or programming Wednesday night concerts at the club South, just across town.

Evans has had a long relationship with the Gallery, but has yet to play in our new space on Broadway. This Friday, July 15th, we welcome Evans’s quartet, along with special guest vocalist Joanna Pascale, to our stage for two sets. We caught up with Evans this week to talk about his relationship with Ms. Pascale, and his thoughts about his home city of Philadelphia.

The Jazz Gallery: In Joanna’s bio, she writes of how you gave her a debut at your jam session back in the day. Since then, how have you watched her grow as a singer, and how have you grown together as musicians?

Orrin Evans: The period right after that, she went to Temple University while I was still in New York, and we remained connected. A few years later, after she graduated from Temple, she ended up having a full-time residency at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel, where she played several times a week for ten years. I got a chance to play with her and watch her grow as a singer and entertainer and bandleader. She employed different people every week for ten years. I watched her learn how to play for different audiences. That room wasn’t a ‘jazz’ audience per se; it was just a hotel. But it gave her a chance to find herself, and prepared her for all the projects that came after that. It’s been a pleasure watching her grow. We’ve played in New York twice together before, but I haven’t played at The Gallery as a leader since it moved, so it’s really exciting to get back there and start playing again, and to bring some musical family from back in the day.

TJG: You recently produced her latest album, Wildflower, right? What was it like working with her on her music in that setting?

OE: It was amazing. It was a labor of love, everybody was there to help and to be a part of the process. That energy is really encouraging and inspiring. Watching her jump into the arena with all of these people was amazing as well. She had never played with Christian McBride, she hadn’t played with Obed [Calvaire], she hadn’t played with Vicente [Archer]. She and Bilal went to high school together, but hadn’t done anything since then. So it was really good watching her do what she does in this foreign territory, for lack of better words. Not that she wasn’t used to the studio, or to playing with different people, but going into a studio with people you haven’t really played with before is a brave thing to do, and she did it great. 

TJG: So in the studio, what kind of work were you doing with her?

OE: I played on a portion of it, but aside from that, I look at the producer role as just being there for all aspects of the recording. Paying people and dealing with the busywork so everyone can just sing or play, assisting with arrangements, making sure there were copies: My role was to help Joanna get what she needed, and to help her see her vision and get this record to be exactly what she wanted it to sound like. I would make suggestions on instrumentation and arrangements, and so it’s kind of a full plate. In other roles, you might just be the person in the booth listening to playbacks, but I’m more of a hands-on person, and she really allowed me to get in there and become a part of it.

TJG: So how did you decide to feature her with your quartet at The Jazz Gallery?

OE: We’re actually doing some other work, heading towards Massachusetts and farther north. While we were booking, I said “You know what, I haven’t played at The Gallery in a long time, why don’t we try to pass through there on the way north?” It worked our perfectly. We booked the gig back in October, so talking with you now is kind of putting the pressure on me—I can’t believe the gig is already next week. We’re playing at the Buzzards Bay Musicfest after that, a jazz festival up in New England.

TJG: So you’re back in Philly now. But you’re constantly on the road, and you’ve spent some time living in other places, including New York. Tell me a little about your relationship with Philadelphia today.

OE: Philadelphia is a place that I will always love and respect, because I’ve learned so much from the people I’ve met here throughout the years. I do get frustrated by how people look at the arts here. But my mortgage is affordable, I can park my car, I have a little back yard, my wife has a garden, and I can get to the New Jersey Turnpike in twenty minutes. For those reasons, I live in Philadelphia, but I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with this place. I moved back here almost twenty years ago, when my kids were younger. We moved here so they could go to school here. But now they’re both out of school. Will I move back to New York? I’m not sure. I still love the peacefulness of being able to park my car, and I can get to New York in no time. As far as my relationship to the musical scene here, it’s one that I want to see get better. Will it get better? I don’t know, but I won’t stop trying.

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