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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

The Jazz Gallery will celebrate its twenty-first birthday with two nights of sonic exploration from Ben Williams and his all-star collective Sound Effect. The back-to-back evenings on August 19th and 20th will feature Williams on bass, as well as Marcus Strickland (saxophone), Alex Wintz (guitar), Christian Sands (keys), John Davis (drums), and Brevan Hampden (congas). It’s an ensemble dedicated to growth and discovery through exploration and self reflection, communicating through heavy grooves, swinging solos, and intricate compositions.

Williams began playing bass over twenty years ago while growing up in Washington DC, eventually obtaining degrees in music and jazz studies from Michigan State and Juilliard. He was awarded first prize in the 2009 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Bass Competition, securing a deal with Concord Records in the process. He released his first album “State of Art” in 2011 and his second, “Coming of Age,” in 2015. Between the two releases, Williams was awarded the 2013 DownBeat Critics Poll Rising Star Award. On top of his busy career as an acclaimed soloist and bandleader, Williams has been a member of Pat Metheny’s infamous Unity Band for several years, winning a Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Album in 2013.

“Coming of Age” embodies the inquisitive introspection of a rising artistic voice. It’s the kind of effort that comes at the intersection of a voracious musical appetite and a lifelong work ethic. Where does one turn, what new heights can they reach, when they find themselves garnered with awards and accolades? This was the setting for “Coming of Age,” where Williams showcases his growth as a musician and bandleader with lyrical and searching compositions. The music is anthemic, high-energy, and rooted in the joy of instrumental interaction between friends and colleagues.

Ben Williams and Sound Effect bring a group cohesion and sense of adventurous drive that accompany the spirit of The Jazz Gallery on its twenty-first anniversary. Join us for any or all of Ben Williams and Sound Effect’s four sets as we embrace the spirit of adventure in jazz and new music. (more…)

Photo by Alan Nahigian.

Photo by Alan Nahigian.

Guitarist Liberty Ellman is one of those rare sidemen who’s simultaneously able to support the ideas of the bandleader while being unabashedly himself. It’s no wonder that he’s forged long relationships with some of jazz’s most influential thinkers and bandleaders—Henry Threadgill, Joe Lovano, Vijay Iyer, and many more.

Last summer, Ellman stepped out to center stage with the release of Radiate (Pi Recordings), his first solo album in nearly a decade. This Friday at The Jazz Gallery, Ellman will reconvene the album’s high-powered band for two sets of thought-provoking yet deep-pocketed music. We caught up with Ellman by phone this week to talk about the lessons he’s learned from working with leaders like Threadgill and creating piquant and unusual ensemble textures.

The Jazz Gallery: So it’s been nine years since your last solo release, Ophiuchus Butterfly. What’s kept you busy between your last release and your most recent release, Radiate?

Liberty Ellman: In the time between releases, I was busy with Henry Threadgill. I’ve been in his band for a long time, and have learned a whole lot about different ways to deal with forms as a bandleader. He has so much to offer as a mentor in that role. It’s always busy. I’ve also been working with Joe Lovano, and I think there’s going to be some more of that next year. He’s an amazing player.

TJG: Could you talk a little more about what you’ve learned in terms of form and structure from Threadgill?

LE: Everything Henry does comes from the perspective of being a composer and a player. Music for him isn’t just a vehicle for soloing; it includes a lot regarding what he hopes to achieve in terms of ensemble sound. I always admire how varied and creative his forms are. For example, we don’t do traditional ‘ABA’ forms; there could be six or seven different sections. After he writes everything, he pretty much considers it modular, so when we rehearse, we might just play one or two sections at a time, and then reorganize the piece depending on what happens during the rehearsal. We might change who solos on what section, move melodies around, or rebuild structures as we go.

TJG: In light of that modular approach to form, how would you describe your approach to form on Radiate?

LE: I certainly try to be more experimental, in terms of reevaluating how things are structured after writing, rehearsing, and playing them. All of the pieces have different thematic material as starting points, so it’s not fair to apply the same typical process to each piece when the music is so varied. I definitely have some of Henry’s influence in my own arrangements. Take the track “Rhinocerisms” for example. I didn’t necessarily plan on having a tuba solo at the beginning of the piece. But after we rehearsed it and tried playing that section that way, everyone felt as though it was a great place to start. We wouldn’t have known that if we hadn’t tried it that way in rehearsal.

TJG: On your website, “Rhinocerisms” is the first track that greets us on the landing page. Do you feel that the piece is broadly representative of your voice on Radiate? In other words, what’s the relationship between “Rhinocerisms” and the rest of the album?

LE: Well, that piece has a lot of different things going on. It’s sort of through-composed, in the sense that once certain themes are stated, we don’t necessarily revisit them. Steve Lehman and I have solos over different parts of the pieces, and we employ different styles of playing. That piece tends to be the one I share with people because it’s got a bit of everything. It has a nice guitar solo, different kinds of grooves, etc. And I really like the laid-back grooves that Damion and Stephan got into on the recording, particularly in the sections before the solos.

TJG: What were some of your initial thoughts towards harmony, especially given your brass-heavy instrumentation?

LE: A lot of the music isn’t based on a typical approach to jazz harmony. I’m not really thinking in terms of voicings, diminished 6th chords and so on. Rather, it’s all based on the ways the melodies contrapuntally fit into the grooves. One exception is the tune “Furthermore,” which is a sequence of chords that I wrote a while ago. The chords go forwards and backwards in a certain pendulum effect. But even there, I changed some things in rehearsal so it ended up not being completely symmetrical. It goes up, comes back about halfway, goes up again, then repeats. There’s a nice motion in the chords that I really like. The voicings there are a little more straight-ahead, and the guitar melody is the top note of each voicing. That was fun. But for me it’s all pretty intuitive. I’ll start with a bassline, a melody, or some rhythmic structure, and build it up around that. I fill it all in around the main idea, rather than starting with a theoretical concept.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Caroline Davis is a true Renaissance woman: a singer, a storyteller, a saxophonist, a scholar, a teacher, and more. This Thursday she performs with her quintet at the Jazz Gallery; we spoke with her on the phone about her upcoming performances, and her new experiments in rhythm, neuron-tracking, and more.

The Jazz Gallery: You’ve performed with a quartet in the past. What prompted the transition to a quintet?

Caroline Davis: I really wanted to push myself to write for two melodic voices, with harmony behind it, which is kind of another step for me, in terms of my own composition. I wanted to add another voice. It’s really my own goal of adding another voice, and I like trumpet, I’ve always wanted to have a trumpet player in my band. I guess maybe it also comes from hearing Cannonball Adderly playing with his brother Nat Adderly in his quartet, hearing that sound. I had that sound in my head and wanted to incorporate that sound into my music.

TJG: And you’re a singer and a saxophonist too, in your bands, right?

CD: Yeah, but in this context I’m just going to be playing saxophone.

TJG: Can you talk a little bit about the way you incorporate history in your music? You’ve done some work featuring storytelling.

CD: The album I came out with in November was kind of an homage to this community in Chicago that mentored me. I wanted to know where they came from, and how they found influence when they were my age. So now those musicians who mentored me, they’re in their 50s, their later 50s, and I wanted to know what their stories were from my age standpoint. So that was the reason why I wrote that music.

Nowadays, though, I feel like some of the music I’m writing is coming from a different place. I can’t necessarily verbalize where that place is… I’ve written two new pieces for this show. Those two new pieces are more interested in rhythm, and transpositions between rhythms, metric modulations, and this way of superimposing a different meter on top of a standard 4/4. I’m more interested in rhythm these days. But I think there’s a longstanding history of people being interested in rhythm. I have been reading the composer, Elliot Carter, who cared a lot about rhythm, I read some of his works and looked at some of his music. Steve Coleman has always been a huge influence on me, historically, and I’ve been listening to his music for years now but trying to figure out what’s going on more specifically in his music. I’m trying to look a little deeper into the input I’ve had for years, so I guess you could say I’ve been incorporating history in that way, but it’s a little different  than before.

TJG: With your rhythmic explorations, do you start by scoring it, or by feeling the rhythm you want and then figuring out how to notate it?

CD: The latter, feeling and then notating. Sometimes that takes a little longer than I’d like, but it feels more natural that way, feeling and then notating. I write it from there.

TJG: How do you feel your identities as a scholar and a performer interact?

CD: I always try to do a lot of research. Like going with that theme of rhythm– reading what people have written about rhythm; there’s a lot of scholars who have written about superimposition of polymeter in music theory journals, so I checked that out. I know how to look for articles that are relevant to the way I want to compose. Also, when I was in graduate school, I was taught that if I was interested in a scholar, I should contact them. I still do that these days; Steve Coleman for example, I contact him and ask him a lot of questions. Sometimes people are too busy to answer my questions, but sometimes they’ll take the time to answer. So those are a couple things that I was taught to do, and I still use those ways of being, and of getting in touch with people who I’m interested in.

In the future also I’m trying to incorporate this idea of the way music is represented in the brain, trying to represent that better. So that I can potentially write music that complements that. Our brains interpret music in certain ways, and it’s not the easiest to understand the ways that our brains interpret music, but I want to try to represent that in a piece of music. If our neurons respond to a pitch in the brain in a certain way, I want to see if I can try to write a piece of music that eventually describes how the brain interprets music. Something that musically represents the way it looks: I want to explain the way the brain interprets music through music. I’m trying to figure out a way to do that, but I’m still learning a lot more about neuron response.

I have a couple friends who are working on projects where they write music based on the response of the brain. A friend of mine has played a piece where they hook up electrodes to her scalp and she’s interacting with her brain; the sounds that are emanating from her brain– we can hook up a system that measures the response of the brain and turns that into sound, and then it powers that through a speaker, and she’s playing along with that, which is really cool. I’m really interested in that kind of thing—she had a really good time doing that piece.

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Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Raga Massive.

Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Raga Massive.

Some 55 years after John Coltrane began his foray into the study of Indian classical music, cultural exchange between raga and jazz culture is flourishing within the borough of Brooklyn. Brooklyn Raga Massive was founded in 2012 with the aims of both bringing classical Indian music to a new audience, and updating the music itself to match the time and setting. These simultaneous backward and forward-looking impulses will be on display at The Gallery on August 10, when the Massive will present two distinct sets, including a workshop.

The Massive draw from a myriad of sources: Hindustani music of northern India, John Coltrane, George Harrison & the Beatles, and modern Western classical composers like Terry Riley. Of course, Ravi Shankar has an outsized influence on the group. And as opposed to the guru-driven hierarchy typically found in Indian musical studies, the collective prides itself on being collaborative and democratic, and hosts open jam sessions on a regular basis.

The early set will feature a face familiar to The Jazz Gallery: drummer Dan Weiss, who will man the tabla along with singer Samarth Nagarkar and Rohan Prabhudesai on harmonium. The late set features a group called DRONE GHOST, which consists of Kane Mathis on kora and oud, Joshua Geisler on bansuri flute, Max ZT on hammer dulcimer, and Rich Stein on percussion and hydra, an instrument of Stein’s own design. (more…)

Album art courtesy of the artist.

Album art courtesy of the artist.

This Thursday, August 4th, The Jazz Gallery is proud to welcome ARK Trio to our stage for two sets. Led by bassist Karl McComas-Reichl and featuring pianist Carlos Homs and drummer Colin Stranahan, the group specializes in a distinct kind of collective improvisation that draws from experimental electronic music traditions as well as from jazz. The trio released their self-titled debut record earlier this year, receiving strong praise from Anthony Dean-Harris at Nextbop. Before coming out to see ARK Trio make their Jazz Gallery debut, check out their evocative music embedded below.

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