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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Saxophonist and composer Caleb Curtis lives at the junction of rigorous preparation and willingness to explore. This combination of rigor and abandon has placed Curtis in high demand, having performed with a vast cross-section of New York’s jazz community. In addition to leading his own band, he co-leads Walking Distance, a Brooklyn-based collective which released Neighborhood (Ropeadope) in 2015, with a new album to be released this fall. Curtis also performs and records regularly with Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band, as well as Josh Lawrence & Color Theory.

Curtis’s upcoming show at The Jazz Gallery celebrates the release of Brothers (Imani Records). The record has some of everything: Detailed orchestration and free improvisation, layered audio production and dry acoustic presence, concise compositions and wild musical gestures. The session for the record included Curtis on alto saxophone, Josh Lawrence on trumpet, Seamus Blake on tenor, Eric Revis and Luques Curtis on bass, and Mark Whitfield Jr. on drums, and was produced by Orrin Evans and mixed by Ben Levin. We spoke in depth with Curtis about Brothers, which represents his debut release as a bandleader.

The Jazz Gallery: The new album Brothers features two bassists (Eric Revis and Luques Curtis), and many of the tracks have different combinations of musicians. How did you organize the session, and how did the session unfold?

Caleb Curtis: The session was one day, and we just went for it. Luques Curtis did half the day, then we did one tune and some improvising with both bassists. Eric Revis took over, Seamus Blake came in, and we finished the session. I’d played some of the material with Josh, and I play with Josh, Luques, and Mark a lot, often with Orrin Evans. We have a common understanding about how to play together. For this record, we didn’t rehearse, and we’d never played this music together as a full band, but the tunes were open enough that we weren’t weighed down by a heavy obligation to the written material.

TJG: What was Orrin Evans’s role as producer?

CC: Having Orrin in the studio really made it possible for us to work quickly and clearly. I didn’t have to evaluate what we were playing in terms of whether it was working, because we all trusted Orrin. If he says “We got it,” then we’re good. There was no “Let’s get another one for safety,” or “Let’s do another take that’s slightly more grooving,” because Orrin was the one saying whether we got it or not. He would either say “Do it again,” “You got it,” or “Maybe a little shorter and more concise,” just enough to keep the wheels spinning and let us play, which I appreciated. It made me feel like I’ll never go into the studio again without someone in the booth who I trust to evaluate what’s happening, even a friend who knows the music and who will be straight with you.

TJG: The longest track is under six minutes, and most are quite shorter. I feel like if “Tried in the Court of Public Opinion” were on your more archetypical jazz album, it would be nine minutes long.

CC: Right. But then what? There’s little I dislike more than an unnecessarily long song. Short pieces can stitch the record together, help it move along without getting bogged down. It keeps the pace going. A friend of mine, commenting about a record he recently heard where everyone took a solo on every ten-minute track, said “I’d rather have one soloist play for ten minutes.” I’d have to agree with that. At this point in my writing, my songs certainly don’t demand a long journey. If I were to write something that demanded it to be long, then I would be happy to make a long recording. And if we’re playing a gig and we’re exploring, that’s cool, we don’t have to keep it short. But if there’s no reason for it to be long, then I really don’t want it to be.

I wanted “Tried in the Court of Public Opinion” to be under two minutes on the album: Even though it’s so aggressive, it’s a kind of palette cleanser. I was surprised by how much slow, spacey time there is on the record. Listening back, I realized how much I like that sound, which is why there’s so much of it. It clarified for me the idea that “It’s okay, I can make a spacey record.” Did you feel the album had a lot of space and open time?

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Pedro Giraudo and the WDR Big Band. Photo courtesy of the artist.

A New Yorker since 1996, bassist, composer, and musical director Pedro Giraudo maintains a strong connection to the music of his native Argentina. Giraudo’s compositions combine classical forms, Argentine tango, and folk music, as well as the spontaneity of jazz improvisation. He has been featured on records by Pablo Ziegler, Paquito D’Rivera, and Ruben Blades’ Grammy Award-winning album “Tangos” (2014), and has released seven award-winning albums as a leader on the Zoho Music label including “Vigor Tanguero” (2018), “Cuentos” (2015), and “Córdoba” (2011).

Giraudo has been commissioned to write for numerous ensembles and organizations, and has performed on recordings for Sony, Warner, Nonesuch, Naxos and Harmonia Mundi. He is principal bassist for the Hudson Symphony Orchestra and the Música de Cámara String Ensemble, all while leading his own Tango Orchestra, Tango Ensembles, and Big Band based in New York.

Giraudo’s most recent album, An Argentinian in New York (Zoho Music 2018), was recorded live with the WDR Big Band at the WDR Funkhaus in Köln, Germany. To celebrate the release, Giraudo adapted those compositions for his New York-based ensemble and will present them at The Jazz Gallery on July 14. We spoke with Giraudo about the development of this project and his personal style over his career to date.

The Jazz Gallery: Tell me about the birth of the new album, “An Argentinian in New York.”

Pedro Giraudo: I’ve been leading bands since 2000 of increasing size, starting with an octet, and through different projects my band gradually became a big band around six years ago. This project is part of the evolution. Four or five years ago, the WDR Big Band in Germany began reaching out to me for different projects. For this last project, which was two years ago this November, we did a concert that we recorded for a live CD which will be released on Zoho Records. Several of the pieces from the concert had been recorded previously with the 12-piece band, and one piece I recorded with a full big band, but most of the others were unrecorded compositions.

TJG: What comes to mind as you listen back to the CD?

PG: The whole session was an amazing learning experience. When I write new music, I usually write with my New York ensemble in mind, which is very much a band—many of the members have been with me since 2000. So for me to write music for a different ensemble was exciting and new. I got in touch with some of the people in WDR with whom I had personal relationships, especially bassist John Goldsby. He gave me a detailed, personal description of the band, going chair by chair, so I tried to write this music for WDR as much as possible, which made it fun and different for me. When I re-adapted the charts from the WDR session for my band, I changed a number of things so it would work better for my guys here in New York.

TJG: In terms of your own playing, how does your playing change when you’re surrounded by a big band?

PG: My bass playing doesn’t change much, other than that I try to play less behind the big band. My number-one priority is to generate comfort in the band, so I sacrifice activity to make sure everyone feels comfortable, that the changes come across, that everyone feels rhythmically solid. The biggest difference with the WDR big band concert was that I was only conducting. In my New York projects I’m usually playing and conducting from my bass chair. For the WDR project I didn’t have to play bass, so I could focus on the outcome of what the musicians were playing, standing in front, reminding people about dynamics, shaping things as they approached.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Steel pan player Victor Provost grew up on the island of St. John, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. One of his early professional experiences was playing solo pan with backing tracks at a resort in Caneel Bay. In his previous interview with Jazz Speaks, Provost talked about the importance of that experience:

I treated it like paid practice. That’s where I really started to experiment with improvisation. On steel pan, you traditionally play in a group, learning melodies, arrangements, and songs by rote. Having those solo gigs allowed me to break away and start experimenting with improvisation. By the five hundredth time you’ve played an arrangement of a tune, you get tired of doing it the same way. It was a unique opportunity. There aren’t a lot of situations that allow you to experiment as a young person.

Since then, Provost’s musical pursuits have brought him through Pittsburgh and Washington D.C., where he’s a leading member of the jazz scene and teaches at George Mason University. Provost’s album from 2017, Bright Eyes (Sunnyside), received acclaim from Downbeat, the Washington Post, and elsewhere, helping to establish Provost as a leading voice on his instrument.

This Friday, July 13, Provost returns to The Jazz Gallery to present new music composed in the aftermath of last year’s Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which devastated the Virgin Islands. The hotel where Provost honed his craft was almost completely destroyed and has yet to reopen. For this new project, Provost will be joined by some of his regular collaborators, as well as new additions—Alex Brown on keyboards, Bob Bruya on bass, Zane Rodulfo on drums, Kweku Sumbry on percussion, and Jacques Schwarz-Bart on saxophones. Before coming to hear this deeply-felt new music at the Gallery this weekend, check out Provost and his working band take on Alex Brown’s exuberant composition “Victor’s Tune.”

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Photo by Gavin Koepke.

After a short break, The Jazz Gallery returns this week to kick off the 2018 summer season. Like in years past, you can purchase a Gallery SummerPass and attend as many shows as you like for one price. Stay tuned for shows featuring the likes of Vijay Iyer, Lee Konitz, and Matana Roberts, as well as two Gallery Residency Commission premieres from James Francies and Charles Altura.

With an exciting summer season ahead, we couldn’t think of a better opening night than having an emerging artist make his Gallery debut as a leader—drummer JK Kim. Kim hails from South Korea, where he grew up studying classical piano and play drum set in church. He came to the US in 2010 to study at Berklee on a full scholarship, and has recently settled in New York full-time. Kim is no stranger to the Gallery stage, as he has appeared alongside talented peers including Julius Rodriguez and Morgan Guerin. Check out Kim, Rodriguez, Guerin, and bassist Daniel Winshaw put the George Cables tune “Think On Me” through its paces:

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Photo by Jati Lindsey.

Just over a year ago, vibraphonist Joel Ross premiered his evening-length project, Being a Young Black Man, at The Jazz Gallery as part of 2017 Residency Commission Series. The work is a series of compositions responding to different events in Ross’s world, organized around themes of family, faith, and the harsh realities of day-to-day life. In an interview with Jazz Speaks, Ross spoke about the socio-political practices of his and his peers’ art:

Since I moved to New York about three years ago, I noticed that all of my peers are very cognizant and very vocal about what’s going on, both with music and outside of it. On social media, I feel we’re all really vocal about what’s going on. I think that’s a great thing.

Jazz has always been a political music, it’s always been a protest music. It’s not surprising to me then that so many jazz musicians are so vocal right now. I feel with people my age, in particular, we’re in an age of information, 24/7. You can always know what’s going on. Because of that, at some point, you can’t just stay silent. And we have a platform for it.

This weekend, Ross will return to the Gallery to revisit this project with a deepening perspective, both personal and musical. Ross will be joined by some original collaborators—including Immanuel Wilkins and Harish Raghavan—as well as new players with their perspectives on the material. To refresh your memory of Ross’s project, check out “Dad’s Song,” below; then come to the Gallery this weekend to hear the rest.

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