A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Photo via Wikimedia commons.

Photo via Wikimedia commons.

We previously spoke with composer and saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock several times: about her 2015 Residency Commission Series premiere concerts, again in the summer of 2014 when the band returned under the name “Nor’easter,” and we when she released her Ubatuba record in 2015. She will return to the Jazz Gallery this Friday, October 21, with her band Anti-House 4, which also includes Mary Halvorson on guitar,  Kris Davis on piano, and Tom Rainey on drums. We caught up with Ingrid by phone; here are excerpts from that conversation.

Ingrid Laubrock: We’re driving through Oregon, through some severe weather, but it turned out to not be so severe after all [laughs], so we can talk now!

The Jazz Gallery: Oh, good! The group you’re playing with is Anti-House 4, your usual band minus the bass. Why did you pick that iteration for this concert?

IL: Last year when I was doing my big Jazz Gallery commission, I wrote a bunch of trio music for one of the days. Since that music has not been played by anyone since, and since the bassist couldn’t make the gig, I decided to resurrect the trio and perform with something else, by adding Tom Rainey.

We’ll be playing the compositions that I wrote for the Jazz Gallery commission last year, which will be new to us, because we haven’t actually played i, in this band. And what I will also do is add a couple of pieces from the full Anti-House repertoire.

TJG: You’ve been with this band for quite a while. How has the music changed as you’ve gotten to know the musicians better?

IL: I think once you know people’s voices, you kind of write differently, you tend to have them in mind when you compose. I kind of write for them, where there will be a sound and a feel, and make sure I write room to explore together, basically.

TJG: How do you feel that your compositions change with different instrumentations and different bands, since you have some very chordal bands and some that are horn-heavy?

IL: Yes. I think it’s a number of different things. I sometimes write pieces that are off instrumentation, they’re not really geared towards any particular orchestration. They tend to be more changable, so I’m experimenting with that. For other groups, for example my Ubatuba, which is saxophone, brass, and drums, I wrote all the material on my saxophone or in my head. When I write for groups like Anti-House I often compose at the piano. That changes a little bit how all the music turns out, I think. But even having chordal instruments in my groups—like in Anti-House I now have two chordal instruments—I don’t tend to use it in a heavily kind of vertical way, I think much more horizontal, using lines rather than stacks of chords.

TJG: So do you often start with melodies?

IL: I often take really varying approaches with different pieces. Sometimes I hear a melody and in that case I will write a melody. Other times I will just pick around a lot of material to choose from and play around with cells, or intervals. And then there’s other times where I have a big sonic structure in my head, and I will try and write down the shapes of where this music needs to go to, rather than melodies or chords.

TJG: How do you build improvisation into that?

IL: Improvisation’s always very open. Occasionally I’ll have a vamp, but even if I have vamps, I tend to make them quite long, so they don’t really feel that much like vamps. Most of the improvisation is open so the musicians who play with me can explore in different ways every time we play it. Other times, I prescribe the combinations of musicians that improvise. A few times, I write in cells of the notes that I want to hear at that point, but most of the time I leave improvisation up to the musicians.


Album art courtesy of Inner Circle Music.

Album art courtesy of Inner Circle Music.

Several years ago, we spoke with Alex LoRe around the time of his first release, Dream House (Inner Circle Music, 2014). In the years since, Alex has been busy. As the subject of a seven-episode web series about the lives of musicians in New York City, LoRe can be seen running across town to teach, record, and play, all while working in real estate and holding together a sustainable existence. Today, LoRe celebrates the release of his second album on Inner Circle, More Figs and Blue Things. Glenn Zaleski (piano), Desmond White (bass), and Colin Stranahan (drums) round out the record. LoRe continues to explore a fine balance between improvisation and composition, striving for a strong and direct narrative arc for the listener to follow. We caught up with LoRe via phone about the release of More Figs and Blue Things, while digging a little deeper about his mentors, influences, and love of Thai cuisine.

The Jazz Gallery: In a prior interview with us, you discussed the relationship you forged with George Garzone. Since moving to New York, who has most influenced your musical outlook?

Alex LoRe: I got to study with some great teachers when I was at the Manhattan School of Music. George was one of them, as he was there for a short period of time. I also got to connect with people like Steve Wilson and John Riley, among others. In the composition world, I took a course with Mark Stambaugh. People can get down on the whole ‘school scene,’ but it’s what you make of it. You seek out the people who offer what you’re looking for, and you can turn it into a positive experience. Additionally, I’ve been able to study with Lee Konitz for some time now. It’s been remarkable. We talk, we’ll play duo, and do a combination of singing and playing. One of his main ideas about music is that you shouldn’t really be doing anything superfluous. It’s about making sure you’re really playing what you’re hearing. If you sing over a standard for eight bars, and then you play for eight bars, how similar can they sound? How true are you being to your ear? I think it’s enlightening and humbling. Coming from a school environment where you’re given tons of information to regurgitate, one can lose sight of truly making music. Things like that can help bring it back and keep it in perspective.

TJG: Do you ever push against Konitz and his particular approach? After all, if we’re trying to get as close as we can to the voice and the musical ear, we could get rid of the instruments altogether and just sing.

AL: Haha, that’s true. But I find merit and logic in what Konitz says, so I haven’t pushed back on that in particular. We’ve definitely had our back-and-forths about music, though. He likes certain things and I like certain things. It’s nice to have an engaging conversation where we don’t have to see eye to eye.

TJG: Tell me a little about your musical upbringing—what were some of your formative sounds and influential figures, before NEC and MSM?

AL: I transferred to NEC after two years at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. I got to study with one of the greatest teachers I’ve ever had, Bunky Green. He’s one of the warmest human beings and is an incredible musician. He opened my ears to all sorts of different harmonic and musical possibilities. I credit him for the musical path I’ve gone down, even though aesthetically we went different ways once I found about Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh. I started to shape my sound in a way that I thought was more fitting to the way I heard music. Bunky was a monumental figure in my life for those first years of school. At the time he was in his mid seventies, and he would be running around the music building playing pranks on people. So much fun to be around, and a great influence to absorb. He’d say, “No matter what, try to find the beauty in everything that you do.” Whether music or life in general, having that helps puts things in perspective when the going gets tough or you’re feeling lost.


Photo by Cisza Nie Istnieje.

Photo by Cisza Nie Istnieje.

Pianist & keyboardist John Escreet is wonderfully hard to pin down. Escreet’s two most recent albums, Sound, Space and Structures (Sunnyside) and the forthcoming The Unknown – Live in Concert, feature a group of musicians usually associated with the experimental edge of jazz and improvised music, including the English avant-sax master Evan Parker. Yet he’s also recorded a live-in-the-studio post-bop date for Criss-Cross Records, and a blazing, fusion-heavy set for David Binney’s Mythology Records. For his last performance at The Jazz Gallery just over a year ago, Escreet presented music by pianist John Taylor, one of Escreet’s teachers at The Royal Academy of Music in London. Though the concepts of Escreet’s projects seem wide-ranging on the surface, they are always executed with his trademark sensibility; his personal voice always comes through.

This Saturday, Escreet returns to The Jazz Gallery with a plugged-in band. Escreet himself will be playing Rhodes piano and a Prophet Synth and Matt Brewer will be playing electric bass. Saxophonist Will Vinson and drummer Eric Harland round out the potent and funky outfit. One can only imagine the kind of energy this group will bring to the Gallery’s stage. (more…)

Photo by Alex Chaloff.

Photo by Alex Chaloff.

Bassist Matt Brewer can really settle in to The Jazz Gallery this weekend. Before Brewer joins an all-star group lead by keyboardist John Escreet on Saturday evening, he will present two sets of varied music on our stage on Friday evening. Joined by longtime collaborators Damion Reid on drums and Mark Shim on saxophone & EWI, Brewer will present his musical ideas in solo, duo, and trio configurations. To get a sense of what Brewer can do in these contexts, check out the audio and video below.

Solo – Nardis

Nardis from Matt Brewer on Myspace.

Recorded for a radio show several years ago, Brewer’s take on this standard showcases his both his effortless technique and lyricism. He makes instrument spanning runs, yet always keeps the tune in the foreground, swooping into notes like a vocalist and phrasing with a sense of breath that’s hard to achieve on a percussive instrument.

Duo – March, with Ben Wendel

This stunning duet with multi-reedist Ben Wendel from Wendel’s “Seasons” project is a beautiful evocation of March. The instrumentation creates a wintry starkness, while Brewer’s buoyant groove points toward the blooming of spring.

Trio – Pure Imagination, with Steve Lehman and Damion Reid

Brewer teamed up with Damion Reid to form a powerhouse rhythm team for saxophonist Steve Lehman’s 2012 album, Dialect Fluorescent (Pi Recordings). Check out how their athletic propulsion creates a very different feeling of wonder from the wistful classic “Pure Imagination.” (more…)

Photo by Antonio Porcar, courtesy of the artist.

Photo by Antonio Porcar, courtesy of the artist.

Even after spending over a decade in New York, pianist and composer Mara Rosenbloom still holds fast to her Midwestern roots. Her 2013 record, Songs From The Ground (Fresh Sound) drew from her experiences growing up in Madison, Wisconsin. This Friday, October 14th, Rosenbloom will release a followup on Fresh Sound with more music evocative of the midwest, Prairie Burn. Featuring bassist Sean Conly and drummer Chad Taylor, Prairie Burn features a continuous set of original compositions that blur the line between composition and free improvisation. This Thursday, Rosenbloom and her trio will convene at The Jazz Gallery to celebrate the release of this album with two sets of music. We caught up with Rosenbloom by phone last week to hear about the music on the record is a vehicle for her own personal growth.

TJG: I find that your playing has a particular kind of dexterity that reflects some kind of classical training. What’s your background as a pianist?

MR: I started taking piano lessons when I was five—your standard lesson books. I don’t consider that classical music, rather than middle-C, square one stuff. Eventually I did take a more classical route, because that was the only route that I knew of, and where my teachers led me.

TJG: You’re from Madison, Wisconsin, so was there not much of a jazz scene there?

MR: Well there’s a decent jazz scene. I’d say compared to other cities of its size, it’s not bad. It’s small, but there are some good players there, and some have been in New York for a time. Some stay, and some return, wiser. Johannes Wallmann is now the director of Jazz Studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison and I originally met him in New York when he was teaching at NYU.

So I studied classical music up through high school to the point of doing local concerto competitions. I guess I was decent to a certain extent, I was memorizing long pieces. But I knew that I didn’t really fit there while I was playing it, and it caused a lot of anxiety for me, especially when delving into these long Beethoven pieces. I felt like that this was not me.

I would actually say that a lot of the technical dexterity that you’re hearing has a lot more to do with jazz technique than anything I learned from classical music. The big takeaway that I assume I got from classical music is that I internalized a lot of melody and a lot of forms and harmonies and structures just through the playing of that music. I know that has laid a foundation for my sense of how music fits together.

TJG: What caused you to make the jump into playing jazz and improvised music during high school?

MR: The more I learned about jazz, the more I was drawn to it. It became about finding people that knew about it, finding people who were willing to teach me, finding records. My first real turning point memory about this was in eighth grade, hearing Thelonious Monk’s “Misterioso.” I had an eighth grade teacher who was a huge jazz fan. He would do “This Day in History” at the beginning of class and when it was a jazz musician’s birthday, he would play a record and talk about it a little bit. That record was really a turning point for me, partially because it was piano, and it called out to me—that was the stuff I wanted to be doing. It was an immediate response. There were a lot of things about it. The simplicity—which I don’t mean easy or trivial—but the relationship between its simplicity and its complexity. There’s so much personality, that really struck me. The humor.

When I heard that track, I went up to my teacher and was like, “I want to learn this,” and thought that I would just get the sheet music. I didn’t even know that it was improvised music. At the time, my teacher was like, “I can’t teach you that, you need to find someone else.” So eventually I found a local teacher who showed me some basic stuff, like gave me a lead sheet and wrote out some chord voicings. Just a couple of bits. But I was able to get into my high school’s jazz band and it was a good learning experience, having to count off a tune and try to play from chord symbols, which I had never done before. I was lucky to meet other musicians in high school who knew way more than I did and were down to play. We took some little gigs around town. One friend who played guitar was always checking out new records and passing them on.

TJG: All of your records really showcase your compositional voice. When did you begin to explore that side of your musicianship?

MR: I always improvised, as far back as I remember. I didn’t think about it much at the time—I felt I was just playing around—but in a way, I was beginning to build my own language. It definitely wasn’t in the context of a jazz language, which I didn’t know anything about.

It was later in high school, when my music teacher Steve Morgan really started to get on me about starting to write some stuff down. My senior year, I had a free study period where I basically had the music room to myself and so I would meet with him. It also came from college auditions. I auditioned as a composer major, so I had to submit written work. My first three pieces were basically written for my application.