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Photo courtesy of the artist.

An artist as curious as Marta Sánchez is always seeking to evolve her sound. After releasing four records as a leader and multiple others as a collaborator, the Madrid-born pianist and composer has challenged herself to pursue a new writing frontier, one that incorporates the works of other artists within her own compositions.

A project several years in the making, Room Tales represents a creative exercise in layering textures and mingling art forms, using poetic texts to complete Sánchez’s sound world. She began composing the music for Room Tales before releasing her most recent record Danza Imposible in October of 2017, keeping both projects—that feature different ensembles—separate from one another as she worked through compositions for each. We caught up with Sánchez to discuss her approach to working with texts, and how the work has evolved throughout the writing process.

The Jazz Gallery: Would you identify the poets and poetic works you’ve chosen for this project?

Marta Sánchez: I’m not sure about the whole repertoire that we are going to play [at the Gallery], but we have poems from Maya Angelou, Charles Bukowski, Gioconda Belli, Silvia Plath, George Craddock, Rabindranath Tagore and Idea Vilariño.

TJG: What sparked your desire to include poetic texts in your music, and also when did you conceive of this project?

MS: I started composing for voice maybe a few years ago. I had a sextet, which was more or less the same [as my quintet] but with vibraphone. We did a few gigs with that; I wrote some lyrics and I used also other lyrics, and was interested in working more with voices. [But I found] with the sextet it was a little too hard—with vibraphone and everything, it makes everything harder and more expensive. Then also, with the whole political scene, these times we’re living in and the women’s movement, I was interested in using texts of women poets. But in the end, I found other poems by men that were significant for me, and I decided that I wasn’t going to be exclusive with gender. So I guess I was interested in doing something with voice, and I found taking texts of poems that were important for me was the way to do it, because the texts were going to be way more powerful than lyrics [I would write because] I’m not a poet.

TJG: It sounds like there was a real transformation in your conception as you started going through these poems.

MS: Exactly. I think I started writing some lyrics—I mean this project didn’t come suddenly; it was an evolution. I also wanted to record with a singer from Spain, Lara Bello; we wanted to do songs based on poems of female Spanish poets, and we recorded a few songs. From then, it was a kind of evolution I’ve been doing here and there. I also wrote music and did one gig with another formation, a quartet with two voices, so it has been something progressive.

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Photo courtesy of Pi Recordings.

On April 14th, guitarist Brandon Ross will bring his group Phantom Station to The Jazz Gallery. This group features a revolving cast of personnel and focuses on both collective improvisation and compositional interpretation. The group also focuses on the interfaces between acoustic sonic elements and sound generation devices. This particular incarnation of the group will feature Stomu Takeishi on acoustic and electric bass, Graham Haynes on cornet and electronics, and Hardedge on sound design, as well as Brandon on acoustic and electric guitars.

Brandon has lent his distinct voice on acoustic guitar, electric guitar, the banjo, and the soprano guitar to many of the leading lights in creative music including Cassandra Wilson, Henry Threadgill, Wadada Leo Smith, Oliver Lake, Muhal Richard Abrams, Me’Shell N’degeocello, Archie Shepp, and many others. His unique compositional voice has served as the creative engine for recent albums with his project Harriet Tubman (with Melvin Gibbs and J.T. Lewis), For Living Lovers (with Stomu Takeishi), and Dark Matter Halo (with Doug Weiselman and Hardedge), along with his own solo project. His explorations of sonic territory are at once ethereal and searing, still yet enveloping, soulful and enigmatic.

The Jazz Gallery: Last year, you were at The Jazz Gallery with a totally different group for Phantom Station. What does this particular version of Phantom Station afford, compared to other versions of the group. The group is drummer-less this time around: what does that do for the interactive process?

Brandon Ross: For Phantom Station, I’ve been thinking about different ways of addressing creating music, in terms of different notational structures that could be employed, and also ways of providing direction in an open context without having a rehearsal. The selection of who plays, for me, is based on who I know that is willing to and has the capacity to self-orchestrate, and to think about creation in a compositional sense… and then there’s also the aspect of sound processing and electronics.

TJG: I want to talk about the role of timbre in an improvised setting, a consideration that’s particularly present in your work on the electric guitar. I saw Harriet Tubman play Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz at Winter Jazzfest, and I was particularly impressed with the soundscapes you were generating, and the way that you occupied a specific sonic register that fit within the context of a large band. How do you select particular sounds that you’ll be conjuring up? Is it something that you’ll hear in your head that you then try to actualize? Is it in response to another musical gesture? An attempt to access a dream-like state?

BR: It’s all of those things, to be honest. The first three things you said hit on the primary approaches that are, at this point, natural for me…One of the things I was asking myself recently, I really love reverb, but what do I love about reverb? What I realized is that it creates dimension, spatial dynamics, and a sort of majestic energy. But there has to be a balance. That’s the thing about signal processing of any kind, even if it’s just basic distortion or a wah wah. What is that sound going to do in the environment that it’s in? Does it bring things into relief or does it obscure some essential activities or expressions that are taking place?

And it’s funny, you know, I haven’t heard that concert yet with Harriet Tubman…that was an interesting concert [laughing], to tell you the truth. Because I could hear the difference in the kinds of understandings that people have about [Ornette’s] music. There is a generational switch and update. Certain kinds of information atrophy because it’s been completed, served it’s purpose, or been overlooked. On the one hand, that could seem like a deficit, but at the same time, I think these changes are necessary in order to keep music progressing. Music is like that.

And hopefully, like anything else, we have enough insight into the essence of what we’re involved in and not an overbearing preponderance about the form of a thing so that we can come to it in our own way. We’re still moving through the same sphere that people that we venerate and admire have moved through, but we’re in another dimensional aspect of it. So the music carries that meta-information and that enlivening and inspiration that brought us to those individuals in the first place. But, we’re not them. We’re not parodying them, we’re not genuflecting to them, we’re not adopting anything that might handcuff us to something other than our own potential as creators.

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Photo by Jacob Hand, courtesy of the artist.

“Jazz is a collection of oral histories,” writes composer, saxophonist, and educator Caroline Davis in the liner notes of “Doors: Chicago Storylines,” her previous album. “We should strive to share more of them.” Whether those stories are as complex as an entire musical culture or as focused as a single musical gesture, Davis uses those stories to open musical doors, reframe concepts, and ask questions.

This week, Davis will be bringing her band to The Jazz Gallery for the release of her latest album, Heart Tonic (Sunnyside Records). The band features an energetic lineup of Noah Preminger on tenor saxophone, Julian Shore on piano, Tamir Shmerling on bass, and Jay Sawyer on drums, with Davis leading the band on alto saxophone. Davis has spoken with the Jazz Speaks blog several times, always bringing insight and observations spanning social, scientific, and musical realms. This time was no exception, as our conversation ranged from heartbeats and brain signals to swing and improvisation.

The Jazz Gallery: With your previous albums, “Live Work & Play” and “Doors: Chicago Storylines,” each came with a level of backstory. What are you bringing to the table with “Heart Tonic”?

Caroline Davis: A portion of the songs incorporate thematic material based on heartbeats that I’ve been studying. My dad has an arrhythmia called a “left ventricular ejection,” which affects the left ventricle of the heart. The left ventricle is responsible for blood flow to the brain–many areas are responsible for blood flow to the brain in a roundabout way, but the left ventricle is very important for that. I’ve read books upon books upon books about heartbeats. But mostly, I’ve listened to recordings of normal heartbeats and heartbeats with arrhythmias, particularly this left ventricular ejection. I would blast these recordings on my stereo to imagine having this kind of rhythm in your body. It wasn’t like I transcribed heartbeats and put them into music, but I’d sit there and write music based on what I was feeling, experiencing these heartbeats.

TJG: So you’re sitting in your space, listening to heartbeats on full blast on your stereo?

CD: Yeah, exactly [laughs]. It was intense. But I needed to feel it. I’d ask my dad, “How are you feeling, what’s going on?” He’d have difficulty describing his feelings. He’d say “I have shortness of breath,” or “I don’t feel normal.” I wanted to get a glimpse of his experience, to capture it somehow in the music. Not every song on the album that has those moments, but “Ocean Motion” has it, as well as “Footloose and Fancy Free.” Those are the first and last songs on the album. It’s like a heartbeat sandwich [laughs].

TJG: Where did you get these heartbeat recordings?

CD: YouTube, mostly. There’s also some website with some medical sounds that you can download. But they’re on YouTube too.

TJG: Was the band hip to the heartbeat backstory when they learned the music?

CD: No, they definitely weren’t. I try give the music to the band and say as little as possible [laughs]. For me, knowing the message of the music is helpful, but describing things can get in the way of doing, playing, feeling. I’d rather have a sonic environment for them to explore, rather than say things and put ideas in their head. It’s like presenting a piece of artwork to a viewer with your agenda, rather than having them experience it their own way. In my band, I want people to come with their own reading of it, to give their own personality to the music, so that their own voices come shining through.

TJG: How did your band come together?

CD: I’ve been playing with Jay Sawyer a lot since I moved to New York. He lives down the street from me. He’s a really supportive musician, and he’s a great fit for this project. Julian Shore and Tamir Shmerling in the rhythm section are both wonderful at playing swing, but at the same time, they can explore within that landscape. That area of swing can, sometimes, be very stubborn in the jazz community. Julian and Tamir offer the duality of freedom and swing that I look for when I’m trying to make a band happen. So I love that they can be open, that there can be freedom within that area. My music can be a little complicated, and I appreciate that they put in the time and energy. Marquis, I’ve known him since I lived in Chicago. I don’t think there are many trumpet players who can do what he can on the trumpet, and I love what he offers in terms of tone and the sensitivity with which he improvises. I love his tone, and he offers this fire that I really value. That’s another reason that I put Noah Preminger in this band for The Jazz Gallery show too. He brings that wild freedom, that intensity, which I love.

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Photo by Desmond White, courtesy of the artist.

This Thursday, April 12, at The Jazz Gallery, drummer-composer Jochen Rueckert debuts his latest quartet, a group with which he has recently released an album—Charm Offensive (Pirouet)His original music is hard to categorize, and yet firmly rooted in the jazz tradition, maintaining both a high level of group interplay and classic swing. We caught up with Rueckert over email to talk about his nearly 20-year career in New York as a sideman playing with the likes of Sam Yahel, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Mark Turner, and even a single gig with Pat Metheny at Jazz Baltica, in 2003.

The Jazz Gallery: How did you meet Mark Turner and what role does he play in your current group?

Jochen Rueckert: I met Mark at a restaurant gig he was playing in Soho, where I sat in, around 1996. He plays the role of tenor saxophone player and booking-mail-click-bait in my band.

TJG: What do you think of “the state of jazz” in NYC today?

JR: It’s fine, like it kind of always has been.

TJG: What do you think of hipsters in Brooklyn?

JR: Fuck those guys and their beards. Thankfully I rarely [have to] go to Brooklyn. Wear some socks already.

TJR: Can you speak about your early upbringing and relationship with the drums?

JR: Well, I grew up in Germany, my older brother plays the piano and my dad could be found lying on the carpet blasting Bach in the living room on the weekends. I don’t quite remember how I came to the drums—I was very little and can’t remember all that much from back then, but there was never any other job or instrument considered, really.  My first (paid) gig was, of course, playing with my brother somewhere, as a teenager. Early influences were mostly mid 60’s Miles Davis quintet, some of the Marsalis brothers’ music and other acoustic jazz-renaissance-type early 90’s music.

TJG: You’ve worked with a lot accomplished guitarists, like Mike Moreno for this show.

JR: Well, Mike and Lage Lund have been “passing the pick”  in this band, and Mike is on the last record. Lage was originally scheduled but has a very important doctor’s appointment that day he forgot about. (He is still figuring that whole ” calendar thing.” He told me that in Denmark where he’s from, the government usually provides a personal assistant to all jazz musician, that takes care of scheduling, nutrition and the like).

TJG: Do you like doom metal?

JR: No. It bores me and has no emotional value for me. I listen to other types of metal, something sometimes described as “grindcore” and “mathcore” because it’s interesting; and more melodic stuff like the Deftones.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

In an interview with Ethan Iverson on Do The Math, pianist Fred Hersch speaks about his earliest gigs as a bandleader in the 1970s and 80s:

When I first started getting trio gigs, if the gig paid 200 dollars, I would hire Buster Williams and Billy Hart, and give them each 100 dollars. Because A) it was like taking a lesson, B) it meant that people would show up, and C) it would mean that people saw me as deserving to be in that company.

Saxophonist Adam Larson has definitely taken this lesson to heart. In addition to working closely with his talented peers, Larson has sought to work with well-established veterans in his bands, recording with the likes of Jay Anderson, Rodney Green, and Matt Penman. For his performance at The Jazz Gallery this Saturday, April 7, Larson has assembled a group of these acclaimed veterans to perform two sets of jazz standards and choice new originals—pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Matt Penman, and drummer Jochen Ruckert. Don’t miss Larson stretch out in new directions with this band of true heavy hitters. (more…)