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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Saxophonist JD Allen’s musical career seems to bring him such joy: He loves the exploration, growth, the hard work. Allen recently released an album of all ballads, titled Love Stone, featuring bassist Gregg August, drummer Rudy Royston, and guitarist Liberty Ellman. In a recent WBGO interview, Allen said that the all-ballads album was a real challenge: “I’ve listened to so many ballads. Whittled it down to nine tunes I thought I could play pretty on. Maybe it’s a love letter to myself. Maybe I’m the dearest, maybe I’m the pretty one.”

In a departure from his regular trio, Allen will be bringing bassist Ian Kenselaar and drummer Malick Koly to The Jazz Gallery for two sets for a group he’s calling his “young blood trio.” Once considered a Young Lion himself, Allen moved to New York from Detroit in the 1990s and immediately began working with an impressive cross-section of the jazz community, including notables such as George Cables, Betty Carter, Ron Carter, Jack DeJohnette, and Butch Morris, and contemporaries like Orrin Evans, Gerald Cleaver, Eric Revis, Marcus Gilmore, Meshell Ndegéocello, and Duane Eubanks. We had a wonderful conversation via phone this week, covering his exploration of these ballads, as well as working with young musicians, and his hope to one day score a film.

JD Allen: Alright brother, shoot away.

The Jazz Gallery: Great, let’s jump right in. Congrats on the new album, I really like it, it sounds fantastic. Have you been pleased with its reception?

JDA: Yeah, I’m pleased. People have listened to it. But already, I’m on to the next one. I’m recording in January, and now my energy is going toward putting together the material for that. I only look at the reception for a little bit to see if I can get any insight into what I could have done better.

TJG: What does that insight look like, in terms of the latest album?

JDA: I had some changes as far as my mouthpiece, and some people commented on the sound, which is good. Initially, I was pretty afraid to release an all-ballads recording, because it felt so anti-now, everything is about fast pace. But I can’t honestly say I ran across any press that was negative. People commented on tone, and I was working on my sound just for this ballads recording, you know. Now, I’m planning on going in another direction. Hopefully I’ll be doing a recording with tenor saxophonist David Murray, so I’m working on the material for that.

TJG: Duo saxophone, or with band? Gregg and Rudy?

JDA: It’ll be two tenors, bass, and drums, without piano or guitar. I’m thinking of probably having Gregg and Rudy, but I might make a departure on this one. I don’t want the water to get too still. Plus they’re both pretty busy, so I want to give them the space to do what they have to do. I might make a departure just for this record.

TJG: A couple more questions about the last album. I think it’s beautiful, and very much of-the-times, to have an all-ballads album. Everyone needs a moment to slow down. Did you have any artists in mind who have done similar all-ballad albums?

JDA: Definitely. Of course. Dexter Gordon, Ben Webster, John Coltrane. I considered Branford Marsalis’s record Eternal as a model of where I could go. I even tried taking it from a perspective as if Sonny Rollins had done a ballads recording, and was checking out a lot of his ballad stylings, and using that as a model also. The tenor saxophone has a rich tradition in ballad playing, so there was a lot to pull from.

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Photo by Zachary Maxwell Stertz via http://chrisdingman.com

Members of The Jazz Gallery community have recently been grieving the loss of Roy Hargrove, and grief, like so many facets of our musical lives, looks and sounds different for every person. Vibraphonist and composer Chris Dingman has also been contending with his own grief, in his own way. In the months before and since his father’s recent passing, vibraphonist and composer Chris Dingman developed a collection of improvised solo vibraphone pieces. The improvised music was meant to bring a meaningful experience to his father, who was in hospice at the time, and was also a means for Dingman to contend with his own grief. Today, using music in this way, in Dingman’s own words, makes “the purpose of it all seems stronger.”

This performance at the Gallery will represent Dingman’s first full-length solo vibraphone concert. Dingman is a regular on The Jazz Gallery stage, regularly performing with his own ensembles or in collaboration with Ambrose Akinmusire, Steve Lehman, Jen Shyu, Tyshawn Sorey, Ingrid Jensen, Fabian Almazan, and others. His most recent album, The Subliminal and the Sublime (2015) is a 62-minute continuous work blending layers of jazz, ambient electronica, and minimalism.

This week, Dingman is returning to New York from a tour with bassist Ike Sturm. When we spoke briefly on the phone, Dingman was somewhere in Ohio, en route back to the city. In our short conversation, Dingman discussed the backstory of this upcoming solo concert, and the circumstances that lead him to do take this leap into the unknown at The Jazz Gallery.

The Jazz Gallery: Could tell me a bit about the context of your upcoming solo vibraphone show?

Chris Dingman: The primary influence in my decision to do the show was that, beginning late last spring and continuing through today, I recorded a bunch of solo improvisations. I actually recorded them for my dad, who at the time was in hospice care, and who passed away over the summer. I recorded all of the music for him, and we worked together on making it into a project that could be shared with the rest of the world. It was an intense time. I’m currently working on the production and mixing, which has been a long process, as I recorded around six hours of music. As I’ve been working, I’ve had a lot of time to consider what brings me to play solo vibes, and what playing vibes in general is about for me. When Rio approached me about doing something at the Gallery that would reflect where I am right now, I felt that doing a solo vibes show would be the best outlet to express where I’m coming from.

Simultaneously, I’ve still been playing with other people. I recently did this tour with Ike Sturm, which was great in terms of being an outlet for focusing on the kind of solo playing that I do. The instrumentation was bass, vibraphone, saxophone, and voice, so there’s a lot of space to play. Prior to that, I did an improv set at The Stone in October with Okkyung Lee and Sara Serpa. We improvised and had such a good time doing that. I love Okkyung and everything she does, she’s so inspiring to me, and is definitely another reason I’m drawn to playing solo.

TJG: You said you were working with your dad to get the music to where it could be “shared with the rest of the world.” What did the process look like?

CD: I performed and recorded all of the music for him at my parents’ house. I played and recorded it there so that he could listen to it. I did have a feeling that it was music that I would want to share with others, but at the time, it was really just for him. It was recorded in a basement, with no engineer, no studio. Because it’s such a large amount of music, I decided to mix it myself. Together with my dad, we named all the tracks together, because they were all improvisations. He named many of the tracks, and for others, we figured out together what they should be called.

It didn’t start out as an album or a bigger project, but everything you do to produce an album, we began to discuss together. We started talking about what it should be called, and who the music is for. In the past, my projects have been for everybody: I just make the music, and don’t really think about who or what the music is for. But in this case, the music was for him, and he wanted to share it with others who were experiencing what he was going through: The process of dying. So, this music is for people in hospice, people going through that transition. As I’ve played the music for others, people have thought of other contexts where it would be great, which I’m not opposed to either.

TJG: My instinct is to ask if you would consider playing this music for others who are in hospice, but that seems like it would be so difficult.

CD: That’s something I’d definitely consider. Going forward, once this project gets released, I will be doing exactly that, playing in person for people who are in hospice. It’s hard, but it’s really meaningful work. It’s so helpful to those who are going through that.

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Album art by Gaya Feldheim Schorr.

This Thursday, November 15, at The Jazz Gallery, pianist/composer Gabriel Zucker celebrates the release of his newest record, Weighting (ESP-Disk). The record features Zucker’s multi-movement composition inspired by Rachel Kushner’s acclaimed novel The Flamethrowers. Alongside trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, saxophonist Eric Trudel, and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, Zucker conjures moments from the novel with bewitching harmonies and fleet-footed cross-rhythms. Check out the piece’s third movement, “The Stream of New York/and art, of course,” below.

At the Gallery, Zucker and company will play Weighting in entirety for both sets, giving listeners the opportunity to hear this evocative work take on new shadings. (more…)

Photos courtesy of the artists.

On Thursday, November 15, the next edition of The Jazz Gallery Mentoring Series kicks off at The National Jazz Museum in Harlem. This edition features pianist Kris Davis mentoring saxophonist David Leon. Throughout November, the pair will play in four different configurations, from duo to quartet. The ensembles will feature many of Davis’s regular collaborators, including drummers Tom Rainey and Tomas Fujiwara, saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, and bassist Michael Formanek.

Like Davis, Leon is an improviser of enthusiastic versatility and catholic taste. He leads his own post-bop quartet, performs with the collaborative trio Sound Underground, and frequently convenes groups for free improvisation. A native of Miami, Florida, and a graduate of the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, Leon has won an ASCAP Herb Alpert Award for jazz composition and performed at the 2017 Newport Jazz Festival. Sound Underground has just released their third album as a group, which you can check out below.
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Album design courtesy of the artist.

Pianist and composer Sam Harris returns to The Jazz Gallery this week to celebrate the release of his second album of original compositions, HARMONY. The album was recorded earlier this year at Sear Sound and mixed in house by prolific engineer Chris Allen, and features Harris’s steady trio of bassist Martin Nevin and drummer Craig Weinrib. From the excerpts we’ve heard of the album, the trio sounds strong as ever. Harris’s bold, full voicings stride thoughtfully across cyclical, cascading harmonies, as Nevin and Weinrib provide decisive and expressive support.

In a prior profile of Harris discussing his debut release as a leader, Interludes (2014), our own Kevin Laskey described Harris as “one part Herbie Hancock, one part Paul Bley.” Harris has been featured many times by this blog, and can be found regularly behind the piano at The Jazz Gallery supporting Ambrose Akinmusire, Melissa Aldana, or Ben Van Gelder. Currently on tour with Aldana across Australia and Europe, Harris will return to The Jazz Gallery for one of his only shows as a leader in New York this fall. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to hear new original music from one of today’s creative and sought-after pianists. (more…)