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So many aspects of Lara Bello’s new album Sikame are novel and fresh. The music comes from a combination of collaborators, songwriters, and musicians, such as Lionel Loueke, Richard Bona, Gil Goldstein, Leni Stern, and Rajiv Jayaweera. Born in Grenada Spain, Bello’s music stands on a rich foundation of flamenco, classical, jazz, and popular styles. Her new album is being released in a new physical and downloadable format, The Biopholio, on Fabian Almazan’s new Biophilia Records label. The details come together to create a rich musical, visual, and collective experience.

We’re thrilled to be hosting Lara Bello and her band for the release of Sikame. The show will feature Bello on vocals, as well as Julian Shore (piano & Rhodes), Vitor Gonçalves (accordion), Romero Lubambo (guitar), Samuel Torres (percussion), Rajiv Jayaweera (percussion), and special guests Hadar Noiberg (flute), Leni Stern (ngoni), and Janet Sora Chung (violin). We spoke with Bello on the phone about singing in Spanish, the new Biopholio, and the ins and out of building the new album from the ground up.

The Jazz Gallery: Congrats on the release of your new album!

Lara Bello: Thank you. After almost two years working on it, it’s nice, to say the least. The label, Biophilia Records, it’s amazing to work with them. It feels like harmony.

TJG: What kind of work did you do with the label?

LB: Everything. It’s a new format, The Biopholio, that Fabian Almazan has developed. The label, Biophilia records, is concerned about ecology and music. Fabian wanted to avoid CDs. Not for printing costs, but rather because CDs are not biodegradable. He wanted to give importance to the physical part of the experience by creating something new. It’s a paper design for people who want a physical piece of art. It’s like origami, with a digital download code inside. The cover isn’t square, it’s made of interlaced diamonds. Everything had do be done from scratch. My album is the first Biopholio out there, so it was a challenge for everyone. It’s a very creative label, and we did a beautiful video too. It was intense work.

TJG: Sounds like you all deserve a vacation! Tell me about the title, Sikame.

LB: Sikame is a word from Benin in Fon, the mother tongue of Lionel Loueke, who is featured on the album. The title song is a new version of his tune. Lionel likes to give names to people. I asked him, “Lionel, give me a name!” He said, “Sikame.” I asked, “What does it mean?” and he replied, “It means ‘the soul of the gold’.” It’s the essence of the gold, the thing that makes gold gold. Wow, I said. That’s a beautiful name. When I was thinking about my album, listening to his music, everything came together. Richard Bona came from Africa. Everything on the album is related to African grooves in some way. 

TJG: Leni Stern, who will be at The Jazz Gallery show, has African ties too, and seems like a terrific collaborator. Have you played before?

LB: She’s part of the album, yes, and we played a few concerts together. I met her some years ago. She liked the flamenco influence in my music, which is popular in some African traditions. I recorded some vocals on her album too. The whole album is filled with friends.

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A master of trombone multiphonics in the tradition of Albert Mangelsdorf, and a successful arranger for TV, Joe Fiedler can cover huge aesthetic ground during the course of single performance. Fiedler’s home-base trio with bassist Rob Jost and drummer Michael Sarin can slide in and out of abstraction on a dime, while his low-brass quartet Big Sackbut showcases a diverse cast of top-notch players.

This month marks the release of Fiedler’s newest record as a leader, Like Strange (Multiphonics Music), which augments his working trio with saxophonist Jeff Lederer and guitarist Pete McCann. On Saturday, March 25th, Fiedler and his quintet will celebrate the release of the record at The Jazz Gallery with two sets of this new music. We caught up with Fiedler by phone to discuss his music’s new directions and how he thinks about combining highly-contrasting musical influences.

The Jazz Gallery: This record marks a bit of departure from your work with your trio or Big Sackbut. What made you want to write for a quintet like this one?

Joe Fiedler: It’s a pretty simple answer, really. I’ve had the trio for thirteen years, I believe, and we’ve done four records. I love playing with those guys. But compositionally, I felt like I needed to step away from things like using multiphonics and other extended techniques to fill the space and make things interesting. I was hearing richer harmonies and textures, so I decided to keep the same trio, but then bring on a couple of extra players—people I’ve played with in different sideman situations for twenty-some years. I wasn’t really looking for a specific instrumentation,  but more for specific creative voices, so Jeff Lederer and Pete McCann were no-brainers. They’re guys I have a rapport with, and so I know the hookup will be right there. They can also range from freer playing to more inside playing.

TJG: What in particular about Jeff and Pete make them the right fit for this group? Why have you stayed close musical compatriots for so long?

JF: There’s definitely an intangible factor to it. With Jeff, one of the things we share is that as young guys, we shared a lot of influences—and those influences stay with you your whole career. I was always into a lot of saxophone players, and we both loved David Murray, Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp. But if you talk to Jeff, he’ll say that his favorite instrument is the trombone, so we’ve dug a lot of the same trombone players as well. There’s just a lot of commonality there and as a result, both of our musics are grown out of the same pot, in their own ways. With that, I don’t have to explain what I’m trying to get at in a certain tune—he gets it.

Pete is just a freak of nature. He covers more terrain than just about anyone I know. He’ll play with singer-songwriters, and then he’ll play this super avant-garde gig, and then he’ll play with Darcy James Argue’s big band where the guitar book is really complex. He’s just a chameleon. Whereas Pete’s listening influences and definitely different than mine, he’s just a supportive player that no matter what I want to do, he’s able to follow. If I’m blowing a certain way, he gets it immediately and just comps so well. He’s one of the best guitar players on planet earth as far as I’m concerned.

TJG: In a lot of the tunes on the record, I was really struck by the rich harmonic palette and the clear song forms, compared to what you’ve done with the trio. Why do you think you were drawn to these kinds of materials at this point?

JF: This goes a bit back to some of my heroes as I was coming up, like David Murray and Ray Anderson. What always struck me about those guys was that they were able to play tunes—both had great standards records—and also have this incredible avant-garde creative voice that they could fit within that. While I was a young guy, I couldn’t do that. I would play my crazy free stuff all over the tunes and it sounded awful. As I was developing my own creative voice as a composer at the start, I had other thoughts in my head. I wanted to play with much more angularity, and a lot of the compositions were driven that way. But I’ve always wanted to get to a point—and I don’t know if I necessarily want to stay in this place—where I was writing more traditional songs, things that had a lot of flexibility. I love that in Mingus’s music you can have this blues-based tune and then have this really free solo in there and then have a really tonal solo in there. I also loved the accessibility that Murray or Anderson or Archie Shepp had. Avant-garde fans loved them, and mainstream jazz fans would dig them too. Not that I’m naive enough to think I’m going to be some jazz star, but I like the fact that I can play this record for my mom and she would dig it, versus for the other records she would be like, “Oh that’s nice, dear.” But again, it’s without compromising my vision, and especially my improvising. That doesn’t change from record to record, it’s just how it gets set up by the tunes.

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Photo by Todd Chalfant.

In any context, be it joyous or unsavory, the word mercy evokes compassion, forgiveness, gratitude, even surprise. It appropriately matches the music of Jon Cowherd, who will bring his Mercy Project to The Jazz Gallery this Friday, March 24th. As a landmark in his dynamic and multifaceted career, the Mercy Project is an evocative and engaging venture, representing Cowherd’s first release under his own name.

Cowherd is a cofounding member of The Fellowship Band with Brian Blade, which released “Landmarks” (Blue Note, 2014) around the same time as Cowherd released Mercy. His touch on the keyboard is deft and bluesy, and his sound as a composer is expansive and engaging. A wide range of projects has lead him to collaborate and tour with Cassandra Wilson, Rosanne Cash, The John Patitucci trio, Claudia Acuña, The Grahams, Myron Walden, Scott Colley, and Mike Moreno, to name a few.

The Mercy Project encompasses a suite of compositions by Cowherd. It was originally documented on the album Mercy, recorded by Cowherd on piano, Bill Frisell on guitar, John Patitucci on bass, and Brian Blade on drums. The music has been performed by multiple incarnates of the ensemble, depending on the season and venue, including Tom Guarna on guitar, Doug Weiss on bass, Dan Reiser on drums. At The Jazz Gallery, the band will comprise of Cowherd (piano), Steve Cardenas (guitar), Tony Scherr (bass), and E.J. Strickland (drums). Regarding The Mercy Project, Cowherd has written that he “felt the need to make a statement under my own name.” In Mercy, that statement was sure-footed and compelling, garnering rave reviews and a swell of enthusiasm sustaining the project years after its release.

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A Brooklyn-based singer, composer, and multi-instrumentalist, Nerissa Campbell grew up on the west coast of Australia and on the island of Bali, where she became enamored of the island’s traditional gamelan music. She later studied jazz at the Western Australia Academy of Performing Arts and since then has released four records as a leader, showcasing her distinct and worldly musical personality. Her 2016 album After the Magic (Crooked Mouth Music) is a beautifully ethereal affair, featuring original compositions performed by a mixed ensemble of jazz improvisers and members of the New York gamelan ensemble Dharma Swara.

This Thursday, March 23rd, Ms. Campbell will take The Jazz Gallery stage to perform selections from After the Magic, as well as new material. We caught up with Campbell by phone to talk about working with traditional folk instruments in a new context and how she’s carved out a niche for herself in New York’s busy and diverse jazz scene.

The Jazz Gallery: I wanted to talk about your latest album, After The Magic. The gamelan ensemble, Dharma Swara, is in New York, and it’s one you’re a member of. How did you get connected to that scene?

Nerissa Campbell: When I was a kid, we spent a lot of time in Bali, living there, but I wasn’t allowed to play gamelan, since I was a girl. I was always totally fascinated with it, and always asked if I could play, but it was like, “no, no, no, you can’t.” So I was living in New York for a while, and I saw this Balinese gamelan, Dharma Swara, was going to be playing at BAM café, and I was super excited and wanted to take my husband to see it, so he could see the music that I grew up amongst. So we went along to that show, and there were women in the group! So I was like, “maybe I can play gamelan finally!”

I’d already been thinking about writing some music that was an exploration of our time in Bali, using the sounds that I remembered and my background in jazz, trying to combine the two, so I was really excited at the prospect that I could actually join a gamelan and learn more about the music. I’ve been playing with Dharma Swara on and off since 2010. I’m not playing in the group at the moment, but I feel very much a part of it, and hope to get back to it soon.

TJG: What was the composition process of the album like for you?

NC: It was really challenging, actually. Not so much compositionally but more personally and emotionally. I felt a really strong pull to write for gamelan in a technical way that honored how gamelan is played traditionally, but the more I explored that, the more I realized that it wasn’t going to be true to the project. I had some concerns about that, because I didn’t want to take away from what gamelan music was. I was lucky to meet Balinese composer and musician Dewa Ketut Alit who was here teaching Dharma Swara as an artist in residence. We became good friends and had a lot of conversations about writing new music for gamelan and what it meant for Balinese music and new music in general. Alit, along with a few people close to me, were a great help in me getting my head around what I wanted to do and being true to the project.

TJG: You came up with this idea in 2007, and the album came out in 2016. Clearly, a lot of things must have changed, because it was a long process—can you talk about that?

NC: Yeah. I had the idea in 2007—I started writing the songs after a return trip to Bali, and played some of them in a jazz setting over the years. So they came into being in a more traditional jazz combo setting. The songs on the album were always sort of mulling around, becoming, and in that time, 2007-2016, I actually released two other albums of completely different music. This allowed for the After the Magic material to really develop itself, which is an amazing luxury to have.

It went through different iterations, I was always revisiting the material, thinking it needs to be more of this and less of that, and it was kind of a confusing process. It was an album I was really glad to have had so much time to contemplate, and in the end it came out how I imagined I wanted it to be; it’s a simple album, very dreamlike and haunting, and very close to my heart.

TJG: I’m interested—not that it has to be one or the other—in if you felt your presence more as a vocalist or as a composer, or how both those things are present for you in your work.

NC: I see them both as being entwined. Performance is an important part of what I do, and then the other side of being a composer is just as important, it’s just a different process. I guess a lot of musicians can understand that, if they write and perform. It’s been my focus for a really long time to write original music, so they’re both who I am. My background is in jazz, so I came up singing standards and doing a lot of gigs in that setting, but I felt like personally I didn’t have anything additional to contribute to that particular world, which I love, and which is always a part of who I am musically. But at an early point in my career it became clear that I wanted to write original music; it has been a way for me to really develop my personal style, both in performance and writing, and contribute that way.

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The IU Plummer Sextet with guitarist Dave Stryker on tour in Austria, Spring 2016. Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Tuesday and Wednesday, March 21st and 22nd, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome the Indiana University Plummer Sextet under the direction of Walter Smith III. Named for alumnus-saxophonist Paul Plummer, who gave a landmark gift to the university jazz program in 2012, the group began in spring 2016 and features some of IU’s most talented jazz students.

This year’s ensemble is composed of trumpeter Tim Fogarty, saxophonist Matthew Babineaux, pianist Evan Main, guitarist Connor Evans, bassist Philip Wailes, and drummer Jake Richter. At the Gallery this week, they will be joining trumpeter Marquis Hill, performing tunes off his recent Concord Records release, The Way We Play. Before coming out to see how these talented students sink their teeth into Hill’s hard-driving compositions, check out the album in the playlist below.

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