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Photo by Jessica Carlton-Thomas, courtesy of the artist.

Alongside being an educated and thoughtful young saxophonist, Kevin Sun approaches composition with clarity and discipline. In our interviews with Sun, our conversations have revolved around the intricacies of his processes, the development of his practices and patterns, and the specific points where he surrenders himself to the creative process.

Sun’s trio, consisting of bassist Walter Stinson and drummer Matt Honor, has been making waves along the east coast following the release of his album, Trio—according to Giovanni Russonello the New York Times, “This may be the first you’ve heard of Mr. Sun, a tenor saxophonist, but that will soon change.”

Kevin Sun’s upcoming show at The Gallery will feature a new hour-long work for quintet. The work, in the words of Sun, “explores stillness, space, and texture inspired by meditation and self-reflection.” His new quintet features Adam O’Farrill on trumpet, Dana Saul on piano, Simon Willson on bass, and Dayeon Seok on drums.

The Jazz Gallery: “The Rigors of Love”—What’s it all about?

Kevin Sun: Good question! I’m still figuring it out. With this project on May 23rd, I knew that I wanted to write a longer piece of music, and I wanted to use a larger ensemble. This is the largest ensemble I’ve written for: Five people doesn’t seem like that many, but going from three to five is a big jump. Especially writing for piano, which is kind of daunting—there’s a lot of information that you can give a pianist. But I don’t have that much to say about the title, though I’ve been thinking about it.

TJG: How did the title come to you?

KS: It kind of came out of nowhere, which happens often. I always have phrases, ideas, things I’ve read in my head. Sometimes I’ll be on a walk and will jot something down. I’ve found that I often have a better time writing music if I start with an interesting title. Words, phrases, or poetry can give me some abstract idea or feeling to work with.

TJG: Since you began with the title as a means of inspiration, where did you go from there?

KS: I’ve been wrestling with the practice and discipline of trying to compose more music in general. It’s something I love, but it’s hard. I’ve found that the more I commit myself to working through all the details, the more satisfied I am with the process, and I don’t give up and go for the first thing that pops into my head. When I first began writing, I would reach for what I already knew, what I thought might be a good melody, some pretty chords and accompaniment to go with it. But I got bored really fast, it all started sounding the same, and I wasn’t enjoying it. I stopped writing for a while, then a few years back I began trying some new approaches, to put a system in place or develop a system as I go.

Sometimes it can be time consuming because you have to work through information, sit with raw material, and think about how to put the elements together. That’s where the rigor comes in, I guess. It can be frustrating because you’re sitting there for twenty, thirty minutes with a piece of paper in front of you. You’re thinking through things, scribbling ideas down, and it doesn’t work. You abandon things that seem weaker because you’re going for the idea that seems strongest. It’s almost like a staring contest. You want to make the next move, and it’s testing your patience and willpower to think through your ideas.

This is something I got from taking composition lessons with John Hollenbeck. A large part of his approach is considering options as deeply as possible before taking action. I began to understand after a few lessons that we might never get to writing a piece, because his demands on really considering all possible options and making a strong decision was the whole point of the process. When composing this way, you might not even get to writing notes of music for a long time, it’s more about the process of trying to figure out the best possible choices.

That brings us back to the title. I don’t know if this is the most rigorous piece I’ve ever written, but I definitely spent a long time just sitting there, contemplating my options, writing things.

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Photo by Aljosa Videtic, courtesy of the artist.

Saxophonist and composer Jure Pukl is no stranger to The Jazz Gallery, and has been a guest on this blog many times. As we spoke this week, our conversation began to focus on the concept of risk. Many young musicians aspire to take musical risks, and teachers often encourage it, but rarely is the concept dissected and explored. Over the course of our conversation, Pukl laid out his thoughts and ideas on the subject of risks on stage and in the studio. One of those risks is revisiting Pukl’s older material with a new attitude. In Pukl’s words, “Whether it’s making something new or changing something old, it’s the same thing we’re pushing for: To take something that’s been done already, and do it in a different way.”

Pukl’s upcoming show is titled “Abstract Sound Pictures” and will be a kind of re-exploration of material from two previous albums, Abstract Society and Life Sound Pictures. Jure Pukl will play tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute, and bass clarinet, alongside Joel Ross on vibes, Charles Altura on guitar, Matt Brewer on bass, and Damión Reid on drums. We discussed the choice of revisiting his older material, his band’s sound, and (of course) taking risks.

The Jazz Gallery: I hear you’ve basically been on tour through the winter and spring. Is it shaping up to be a long summer for you as well?

Jure Pukl: It’s always something, but things aren’t too crazy right now. I’m working on bass clarinet and flute, and I’m playing alto in Melissa Aldana’s Sextet for her commission at The Jazz Gallery.

TJG: You’ll be playing bass clarinet and flute on your upcoming show too, right?

JP: That’s my plan. I mean, with bass clarinet, it’s always technical problems, something is always broken, or you don’t feel good about your sound, and then it’s like “Okay, maybe not today” [laughs]. I’ll definitely be bringing them, plus soprano and tenor.

TJG: It’ll be great to hear you on these other instruments—I think of you primarily as a tenor player.

JP: I actually started with clarinet. I’m not a huge fan of Bb clarinet, but with bass clarinet, I’m a big fan of the sound and textures you can get out of that horn. I’ve been playing on and off for years but never felt great about it, so recently have really been working at it. I love so many bass clarinet players, obviously Eric Dolphy, and Henry Threadgill on flute, which I’ve been working on as well.

TJG: Tell me a bit about the upcoming show.

JP: I’m calling this show Abstract Sound Pictures. The music we’re going to perform is going to be a fusion of my music, between the Life Sound Pictures and Abstract Society albums. I’m recomposing and arranging the older tunes and slicing them into smaller sections, throwing out sections, adding new parts, making changes. It will be those two records combined, with additions of music I’ve been writing lately. It’s all my music, different periods of my life mixed up together. I’m arriving at a point where I can play my older tunes with a different attitude. I use different improvising tools.

You can change something a little rhythmically, and becomes a new tune. I see this a lot with Wayne Shorter. I love Wayne Shorter. If anybody, I would want to be Wayne Shorter [laughs]. With his quartet, they play some of his older music, but the way they approach it and play is so fresh and new. Composing always has different stages, but a strong composition can always be played and revisited. When I write, I rarely think “This is a trio tune” or “This is for quintet” or “This is for a certain person.” I try to just write, and leave space for musicians to add their own thing.

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Photos courtesy of the artists.

This Sunday, May 20, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to present a concert from the Blueprints Piano Series. Curated by pianists Erika Dohi and Daniel Anastasio, the series brings together pianists from diverse backgrounds, putting classical, jazz, and contemporary concert music in dialogue.

This concert at The Jazz Gallery is entitled Ships of Theseus, and focuses on the art of transformation through transcription and improvisation. On the classical side, the program features Franz Liszt’s piano transcription of Schubert’s lied Gretchen am Spinnrade. Jazz pianist John Stetch will put his own spin on transcriptions of Mozart and Chopin. Fabian Almazan will offer an improvisation of his own, and Kris Davis will premiere her work, Abyss, commissioned by Blueprints and inspired by Cecil Taylor.

Before coming to the Gallery on Sunday, check out Glenn Zaleski’s improvisation from Blueprint’s Ephemera concert, last April.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

This weekend, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome drummer Eric Harland and his Explorations project to our stage for four sets of performances. While still one of the top-call sidemen out there, working with everyone from Walter Smith III to Charles Lloyd, Harland has become increasingly busy with different projects as a leader or co-leader. This year has marked the release of two new singles by Harland’s new collaborative project Stem Sounds, alongside keyboardist James Francies and producer Josh Giunta. The result is a heady blend of Harland’s slippery grooves and rich atmospherics from Francies and Giunta. Check the most recent single, “Stars,” featuring vocalist Chris Turner, below.

For the Explorations project at the Gallery, Harland will be joined by Turner on vocals, as well as saxophonist Chris Potter and guitarist Gilad Hekselman. Alongside musicians of inimitable technique and aesthetic range, one can only imagine the places this band will go at the Gallery this weekend. (more…)

Photo courtesy of the artist.

When a 13-year-old American kid uprooted and moved with her nuclear family to Croatia, she felt shocked and suffocated. But at 31, Thana Alexa can’t imagine a life lived any differently. Finding in her cultural duality the “full version of [her] identity,” the singer, composer and arranger invites a range of life experiences and musical encounters to inform her work.

Alexa debuts as a leader at The Jazz Gallery this Thursday, May 17, performing a live preview of her forthcoming record ONA that explores another realm of her identity: strength in femininity. In her interview with The Jazz Gallery, Alexa discusses the origin of her effects pedal, combining American and Balkan musical influences, and the afflicted paradigm of the contemporary artist.

The Jazz Gallery: You’re known to explore percussive elements of music in your arrangements and compositions and also in your improvising. When you’re writing, do you tend to feel these thematic patterns and rhythmic pads as you’re writing, or do they develop later in the process?

Thana Alexa: Every song is completely different. It kind of comes to me in a different form. Sometimes there is a very percussive element of it; sometimes it’s all harmonic and then the percussive element comes later. It’s really a case-by-case basis. I do think that since I was a kid who grew up in the States, I’m very influenced by traditional American music, which is jazz. But then having also this Eastern European part of me, there’s an element of Balkan music which has a lot of odd time signatures and minor sounding tonalities and things like that. So I think there’s a really interesting mix of the two identities that affect me personally and then, musically, they just come out naturally.

TJG: Well let’s talk about harmony, specifically for this upcoming record. But before we go in, what’s the release date for ONA?

TA: There’s not a specific release date yet; it’s going to be early 2019. We went into the studio in January of this year, and I was hoping to release it by the summer, but then I wound up going on tour for basically all of February, March and April, and there was just no way to get it finished for the summer. And I didn’t want to release it in the fall, because releasing something in the fourth quarter of the year, if you’re not a super famous artist, is not the best thing to do. So I decided to wait and really put all my time and effort into the post-production of this project. Just like my first record, there are going to be a lot of songs that have very in-depth post-production, lots of voices, lots of percussion, lots of electronic sounds—[the latter of] which is actually very different from my first record. This is going to be a much more electronic sounding record. And then there are going to be a lot of “bare bones” songs, as well, just stripped down, acoustic.

I wanted to give myself time to really find out what this record is all about. You know, I have the story behind it, but musically, even though we recorded everything, it’s still steering me in all these really interesting directions as I edit and as I do all the post-production. It’s been kind of—I don’t know if cathartic is the right word—it’s just been a very interesting, liberating experience to work on this project so far.

It started out as me writing songs about things that I was experiencing throughout the [2016] election process, and feeling kind of left aside as a woman—seeing all the things that were happening in our political situation, not only in the States, but around the world. And then I realized a lot of the things I was writing had this common theme about women. And it wasn’t about me writing and complaining; it was really about this introspective look at being a woman and expressing musically what being a woman means to me. And I realized, through the music, I was kind of giving light to how I discovered the wild woman spirit within me, and how I’ve become comfortable with her. And it’s not a very easy thing to do, for any woman to be comfortable with who they are and how they. I think that’s a daily struggle. We’re all trying to be who we are as individuals, but as women, we’re all trying to be who we are and still fit into society. So I just started seeing all these really interesting things come up in the music, and then that led me to the project.

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