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This Saturday, The Jazz Gallery is teaming up with the Polish Jazztopad Festival to present a night of international improvisational exchange. Representing Poland will be the Wójciński/Szmańda Quartet. Based in Warsaw, the group is made up of the Wójciński siblings on trumpet, piano, and bass, as well as drummer Krzysztof Szmańda. The group first gathered in the studio in 2014, releasing their electric interplay on record last year (which you can check out below).
Representing the United States is cellist Erik Friedlander. As a staple of the downtown jazz and improv scene for three decades, Friedlander has been a close collaborator of many musical luminaries, including Laurie Anderson, Dave Douglas, and John Zorn. He’s released dozens of diverse albums under his own name, including 2016’s Rings, featuring multi-keyboardist Shoko Nagai and percussionist Satoshi Takeishi. We caught up with Friedlander via Skype to hear about the origins of this project and his thoughts on the cello as a jazz instrument.

Piotr Turkiewicz invited me to the Jazztopad Festival in Wroclaw, Poland two or three years ago. He commissioned a premiere and what resulted was a piece called Kore, which was a piece for small orchestra and cello. It was super exciting. Piotr is one of these great presenters who has such a love of music and is curious and is just a good guy—I am really glad that I can call him a friend. He’s really been a great proponent of the Polish scene. The last couple of years, I’ve gone to Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola to see some of the Polish jazz groups and it’s been great.

This year, he invited me to participate in the New York edition of the Jazztopad Festival with the Wójciński/Szmańda Quartet. They like to do a lot of free improvisation, pieces with loose structures, and they’re very good at it. I have a feeling our concert will be a mix of organization and structures by design and free playing. One thing we’re going to do a lot of is dividing up into groups, like different combinations of duos—bass and cello, bass and piano, trumpet and cello, and so on.

In terms of fitting into a preexisting group, I feel it’s less about being a cello player and more about being a musician in general. It’s about getting on the same page in terms of how the music flows, and making sure we can all be creative together. I’m always looking for moments—moments of clarity, moments of inspiration, and hope to stay away from moments of boredom.

The cello in jazz is a tricky proposition. I feel when I play pizzicato like a bass player, it fits in really well. When I play with a bow, I feel it’s a much more modern sound—it’s less “jazz” per se, it’s something else. The cello can take on a number of different roles then—I’ll comp, I’ll play bass lines, I’ll play melodies, textures, sounds. With that in mind, the cello needs some kind of acceptance from the musical material and the other players. I’m really excited to see what happens.

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This Friday, June 23rd, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins back to our stage for two sets. A native of Philadelphia and a current Juilliard student, Wilkins has already been making a name for himself in the New York scene, building strong relationships with both peers like vibraphonist Joel Ross and bassist Daryl Johns, as well as established veterans like Shai Maestro and Nasheet Waits.

Last month, Wilkins played a key role in Ross’s Jazz Gallery commission project, “Being a Young Black Man.” Wilkins not only provided incendiary playing throughout, but he also contributed an original composition of his own to the project—”Dad’s Song.” As both a preview of the music in store for this Friday and a belated Father’s Day gift, check out the group’s performance of Wilkins’s tune below.

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Saxophonist Ole Mathisen has long looked to the processes that govern the natural world as inspiration for his music. He’s released an album called Periodic Table and composed a work for chamber orchestra, The Other Side of Night, inspired by Stephen Hawking’s book, The Grand Design. In his own groups and with collaborators like trumpeter Amir ElSaffar, Mathisen has been a thorough explorer of microtonality and different tuning systems—a musical means of engaging with these elemental, physical ideas.

This Thursday, June 22nd, Mathisen will celebrate the release of his newest record, Floating Points, with two sets at The Jazz Gallery. The album features a suite of new music once again inspired by natural phenomena—in this case, turbulence, wave patterns, wind shear, and currents. Mathisen describes his process from inspiration to composition thusly:

I found inspiration to write the Floating Point suite as I was reading about mathematical equations developed by the two mathematicians: Navier and Stokes. It’s stated that these equations are versions of Newton’s 2nd law of motion for fluids, and as I have a fairly good understanding of how to use Newton’s law, I thought I might be able to get an idea what the Navier-Stokes equations were about as well. However, I was wrong about that. These equations are exceedingly complex, and having abandoned the idea of finding ways of musically plotting strict translations of solutions to the equations, I rather decided to reflect on how fluids (and air) is in constant motion and to try to give the music the feeling of never quite coming to defined resting points and to imbue the music with a sense of inner forces and turmoil.

Come to the Gallery this Thursday evening to hear Mathisen’s thoughtful and richly-layered compositions played by a top-notch band, including trumpeter Amir ElSaffar, pianist Bobby Avey, and bassist Gregg August. (more…)

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This Thursday, June 15th, The Jazz Gallery is proud to welcome drummer Kenneth Salters and his band Haven back to our stage for two sets. Salters has established himself as one of the true chameleons in New York’s music scene, as comfortable playing with jazz groups, hybrid new-music groups like Andy Akiho’s Foundry, and even the Boston Pops Orchestra with Tony award-winning singer Leslie Odom, Jr.

As a composer, Salters’s main outlet is Haven, a group filled with similarly-versatile instrumentalists that allow Salters to explore myriad musical ideas and forms. Before coming to the Gallery to check what new material the group has been working through, check out our previous interview with Salters and the video describing Haven’s debut record, Enter to Exit, below.

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Photo by Amy Mills

For the occasion of her 2017 Residency Commission, the saxophonist, vocalist, and composer María Grand has expanded the quintet featured on her EP TetraWind, released earlier this year, and brought both dance and rap into the fold for Embracements. We caught up with her by phone to discuss the upcoming premiere and the creative inspirations in this latest work:

The Jazz Gallery: When The Jazz Gallery reached out to you about writing a commission, where did you start with the process?

María Grand: I actually had the idea of doing a project with a rapper before I heard about the Gallery commission. When Rio [Sakairi] told me I had the commission, it seemed like I could finally get a larger ensemble together, budget-wise, and I was interested in creating some kind of chamber work that also was working with a rapper.

That was my beginning idea, but I also had this idea about learning about what the feminine side of God means for different cultures and using that to create music, and also using that to create lyrics, which was all connected to the rapper. So I kind of had the whole project in my mind, and I was waiting for somebody to give the money for me to do it, so it all came at the right time.

TJG: Had you worked with the rapper Amani Fela previously?

MG: I met him at the Marc Cary Harlem session, and I had never worked with a rapper. What I liked about him was that he was interested in music as a whole: I remember showing him a drumbeat that was maybe in 5 or something, and he said, “Oh, cool—I know what this is.” It wasn’t like musical information was going to be an issue for him; it wasn’t like he was going to be intimidated by any kind of musical information I wrote for him, because he plays drums, too, and he plays some piano, so I felt that he would be flexible.

I should tell you the whole story of how I wrote the music: I went to Cuba and did a three-week sabbatical there, and I took five books with me that were all about different goddesses: Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood, by Merlin Stone; The Goddesses’ Mirror, by David R. Kinsley; Images of Women in Antiquity, by Averil Cameron and Amélie Kuhrt; Women’s Roles in Ancient Civilization, by Bella Vivante; and Promiscuities, by Naomi Wolf.

I was trying to find parallels between goddesses and also the stories and the legends, and my experience or in general the female experience in this culture that I’m living in. So this is what I thought of when I was writing the music, and each song is  dedicated to a certain goddess or dedicated to characters that represented something similar in my mind. They may not be from the same culture, but they represent a certain aspect of life that was similar.

So I read all these books and then I wrote the music, and then when it came time to write for Imani, I had already written the music. What I did was, I learned the music that I had written by heart and then wrote these poems that were related to whatever symbolical or allegorical energy I was working with when I wrote the music. I used that to create a poem, and then I rapped the text over the music, but made it fit in specific ways. It was super specific, and once I was happy with that, I recorded it and I sent that to Imani. So it was basically like I was sending him a chart.

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