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Photo by Peter Gannushkin.

Peter Evans is a trumpeter, bandleader, and composer navigating the nebulous worlds of jazz and other contemporary experimental musics with aplomb. In his latest venture, a new trio of trumpet, drums and vibraphone play a limitless series of new pieces. This trio will perform at The Jazz Gallery on June 1st; Peter will also perform a solo set that evening. We caught up with him via email to talk about politics, composition, and everything in between.

The Jazz Gallery: You’re opening this concert with a solo set, with trio following. How do you feel those formats interact with each other? Do they change your approach to playing?

Peter Evans: ​The ensemble and solo playing has been converging a lot more in the last year or so. It’s something I never really expected, but maybe it was inevitable. In my solo music I have been searching for ways to create coherent and interesting structures that can shape the music—structures that are clearly audible as structures but at the same time are flexible and malleable in the moment if need be. There are a bunch of different ways to achieve this, and some paths I have taken from my work as a composer for improvising ensembles: for instance, a 12 tone mode that repeats at the 2-octave point. This is a field of harmony and melody that fixes each pitch in space, allowing me to work with set materials in a very detailed and sometimes very fast way without having to juggle what note goes where. Strict modal improvisation, in short—nothing new about that! But it’s a development for me in the solo music that comes out of my writing for one of my bands (the piece “Intergalactic“).
Conversely, there are ways of developing and organizing material that grew directly out of my solo playing—for instance, juggling 2 or 3 small chunks of music (I think of them as characters or spirits)​ and bouncing them off one another, developing each character in isolation and in dialogue with the others. 

TJG: Do you prefer to play solo, or within a group?

PE: ​I don’t really think in terms of preference. I just try to answer the musical situation as naturally as I can and let things happen. The best feeling during a solo concert is when I feel like I’m just tending the fire, keeping it going and observing, almost as if I’m an audience member.​ It’s all a very strange process that I don’t actually understand. That feeling of participation somewhere between active and passive is much easier to achieve when you have other people to bounce off of.

TJG: You’re premiering some new compositions for this trio with Max Jaffe and Joel Ross—can you talk about what direction you feel they’ve taken, or what you were interested in while composing them?

PE: The pieces are still in the works.  I change them a little after each rehearsal. It’s a purposefully tricky instrumentation, but I’m into the challenge.  In addition to being virtuosos, both Max and Joel are extremely flexible and great listeners.  The vibe of the trio so far seems to be that there aren’t really any limits and that we can explore whatever we want, which feels great! I already have some other gigs booked for this group for the rest of the year. I can’t really predict what’s going to happen but I’m very optimistic.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Camila Meza is a singer, guitar player, and composer from Santiago, Chile, based in Brooklyn, NY. Not long ago she released her album Traces (Sunnyside, 2016), which features Shai Maestro on piano and keys, Matt Penman on bass, and Kendrick Scott on drums. Her upcoming project, Ambar, with the Nectar Orchestra, is getting ready to record next month and wrapping up a kickstarter campaign (check it out: http://kck.st/2pOTdP1). The group includes Camila Meza (voice, guitar), Noam Wiesenberg (bass, string arrangements), Eden Ladin (keys), Keita Ogawa (percussion), and a string quartet with Tomoko Omura (violin), Fung Chern Hwei (violin), Benjamin von Gutzeit (viola), and Adam Fisher (cello). They will have their last performance before heading to the studio at The Jazz Gallery on May 30.

We had a nice long chat in Camila’s Prospect-Lefferts Gardens neighborhood coffee shop, where every few minutes someone stopped by to give her a hug and tell the camera what a great person she is. You can find out more about the Nectar Orchestra in this JG original video, and read on further below to learn about Camila’s family, early music experiences, and compositional process.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

As an African-American, vibraphonist Joel Ross has come of age in a complicated and tumultuous time. He has witnessed the election of the first black president, as well as countless instances of racially-motivated police violence and the activism of the Black Lives Matter movement. This weekend at The Jazz Gallery, Ross distills his varied experiences into a musical form through his new project, “Being A Young Black Man,” commissioned by the Gallery.

Over the course of two different sets of music, Ross and his bandmates will explore the conflicting emotions of his life experience—beauty, pain, passion, fear, renewal. We caught up with Ross by phone to hear about his project’s scope and inspirations, both personal and political.

The Jazz Gallery: The title of your work is “Being a Young Black Man.” What are you trying to express about your life experience and why do you think music is the best way to do it?

Joel Ross: What I’m trying to express is literally how I feel and how I respond to instances in my life or situations that I’ve witnessed. If something powerful or difficult happened to me, or if I saw something like that, I would write down what I was feeling or thinking in a musical way. It comes out in the form of this music because I’ve been playing for so long, it’s just my natural response.

TJG: In addition to the musical elements, you’re working with texts and the spoken word artist Harold Green. How does the text relate to and interact with the music in your piece?

JR: Harold is someone I know from Chicago. The text is a collaboration. For certain pieces, I’m telling Harold what the music is about and how I feel about the situation I’m trying to describe and leave it to him to express that in his own words. I don’t want him to read off anything—it’s improvised. The music is telling the story and the words are just some extra guidelines.

TJG: Are the texts between the different pieces? Are you accompanying the spoken word elements with music?

JR: It’s more that the text is accompanying the music. The music will be at the forefront, and at different specific points in the music, Harold will have space to talk. I didn’t want to be background music for the text, because the music came first.

TJG: It’s as if the spoken text is another instrument, a part of the overall musical fabric.

JR: Yeah.

TJG: How have you structured the pieces for each set? Is there a single narrative through-line? How do different sections work together?

JR: I envision it as a story, almost. The two sets of music are completely different. The first set is based on a theme of family, and the second set focuses more on my faith and my religion. The sets are made up of tunes, many of which were written at different times. Some of these pieces have been around for a while now. I wrote the first piece about four years ago and never performed it because I never found the right time for it. It’s a collection of tunes about what I feel as being a black man and now I have the chance to bring them all together.

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Album art courtesy of Sunnyside Records.

Dan Tepfer, a Jazz Gallery regular, will release his new record Eleven Cages (Sunnyside) this week. The immersive album features drummer Nate Wood and bassist Thomas Morgan, working through the challenging and probing compositions of Tepfer, as well as several unexpected covers. As always, Tepfer’s playing is remarkable, exhibiting grace, dexterity, and a sharp, mindful approach to improvisation. Along with Morgan and Wood, the three approach Tepfer’s music with levity, enthusiasm, and hyper focus.

For this two-night release, the Dan Tepfer trio will include Wood on drums, as well as bassist Or Bareket. We spoke with Tepfer about the recording process, the details on developing his left hand technique, and some of his compositional concepts.

TJG: Diving right into the sound on the album—the drums have so much air, and the piano and bass meld together so well. The ‘live’ trio sound really pulls the listener in: Walk me through the preparation and recording process.

Dan Tepfer: I’ve made all my recent records at the Yamaha performance space in New York, starting with my Goldberg Variations/Variations record that came out in 2011. I’ve been a Yamaha Artist for the last seven years or so, and am lucky to have a relationship with them. For the most part, I’ve recorded these records myself in their space. For this session, Nate and I co-engineered it, using our own gear. It was literally just the three of us in the studio, which I love. If the music needs more space or time, it’s not going to cost more money. You’re not on the clock. I took a lot of time with the mixing process: I had a residency last summer at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire, where I was composing a piece for string quartet and piano. While working on that piece, I did my own mix of the album. I mixed it all again in New York with Rick Kwan, then Nate mastered it—he’s an amazing engineer.

TJG: A live record is a performance, in many ways. When we talked last about your work with Lee Konitz, you spoke about preparing for the moment, being ready to let go and be free on stage. Knowing that you’d be doing one-room recordings, did it inform your composition and rehearsal process?

DT: There’s a limited amount of editing you can do, sure. I wouldn’t say the recording method dictated the composition process: These are tunes I’ve written over the last five or six years. Putting this record out feels very cathartic for me. It’s a lot of music I’ve been wanting to get out there for a long time. Above all, each tune is an idea, a system of constraints that we work our way through. But there are actually a couple of free tracks on the record that have a lot to do with the space we’re in. Those are some of my favorite tracks on the record, because there’s nothing preplanned about them. We’re just listening hard and playing together in the space.

TJG: I’m glad you brought up the concept of the cage, of constraints. The album has eleven tracks; eleven cages, eleven different confines to explore?

DT: That’s kind of the idea, that cages make you more free. In the United States, we have ‘the tyranny of choice’ in many ways. I’ve gotten so much out of restricting my choices and seeing what can happen in that environment.

TJG: How have you personally found positivity in understanding and growing within your limitations?

DT: Well, I wouldn’t call them “my limitations,” per se; they’re limitations I choose to impose on myself. I see it as a positive thing: I think we’ve all experienced this, especially people who’ve grown up on the boundary of the internet age. The internet is just constant stimulation. So, one thing the internet never gives you is the opportunity to be bored. I grew up without a TV, and as an only child, being creative was something I did to entertain myself. When you restrict your options, it allows you to get bored, and subsequently fight your way toward something new. It’s all about keeping yourself psyched. The problem with having too many options is that you don’t have to work very hard to keep yourself psyched.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Starting this Tuesday, May 23rd, and continuing through the month of June, The Jazz Gallery is proud to present tap dancer Savion Glover in an improvisational dialogue with jazz instrumentalists. It’s not an overstatement to call Glover the world’s most famous tap dancer. From his regular appearances on Sesame Street, to his scintillating performance in the Tony-winning Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk, to his motion-capture work in the Happy Feet films, Glover has brought the tradition of tap dancing to every corner of the world.

Always looking to expand his art in new directions as a performer and choreographer, Glover will explore the relationship of tap to the rich rhythmic tapestry of jazz by improvising with a series of rhythm section players at The Jazz Gallery. This Tuesday, May 23rd, Glover will be joined by drummer Marcus Gilmore, one of the most adept and influential rhythmic thinkers today. To get a sense of the rhythmic fireworks these two performers can unleash on the Gallery stage, check out some extended improvised solos below the fold, and imagine what will happen when these rhythmic wizards come together. (more…)