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Photo by Chris Shervin, courtesy of the artist.

This Wednesday, February 21, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome bassist Chris Morrissey and his band Standard Candle back to our stage. The group has grown out of a 2015 Jazz Gallery Residency Commission, continuously building a unique repertoire of what Morrissey calls “singing, kind of asymmetrical, through-composed stuff with improvising.” We caught up with Chris to talk about the group’s development, his musical lineages, and his love of American musical theater.

The Jazz Gallery: What are you working on these days?

Chris Morrissey: I have a record coming out March 9th. It’s been done for a long time, so I’m happy to finally be able to share it. We’ve also been working on editing a music video for the first single that comes out next week, so that’s been occupying some of my creative brain. I have been writing a lot—this has been a strikingly slow few months, so I’ve been trying to navigate space that has no borders—no demands on my time. I’m normally pretty good at creating my own schedule—like incorporating time to practice, time to do yoga and run and everything, but this has been a longer than normal period for that. I’m happy with the writing and the music video I’ve been working on, but there’s also been a lot of looking out of windows, wondering what to do.

TJG: If another period like this comes up, would you approach it differently?

CM: Well these periods have come before. The last time something of this length happened was probably 9 years ago when I wrote most of what was my 2nd record, which is a rock record. I look back very fondly on that time even as stressed out as I was, and I try to apply that perspective to this time, even though this time is very different in a lot of ways because I have touring periods peppered throughout the next 18 months. Back then the feeling was more, “What am I going to do in New York?” And now I have a pretty firm grasp on what I do in New York, so it doesn’t have the same sense of freefall. These days, if things are just not moving, I try to let that be, knowing that it’s bound to change. January and February are notoriously like that—I’ve always felt immune to that, or have had some sense of entitlement to work but I’m learning that that’s not always the case.

TJG: Your approach sounds very Taoist. I know from other interviews you’re very into Buddhism and yoga.

CM: I love many Buddhist authors and speakers like Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chodron and a lot of others. What I was sort of paraphrasing, which I think got you to think that it was Taoist, was a Murakami quote from Wind Up Bird Chronicle. In the book, the main character has a spiritual advisor, and he references this one session where the advisor said something like “You are either moving upwards or you are moving downwards, or you are staying perfectly still. Your job is to assess which of those things is happening and then not resist. If you’re going down, go all the way down. And if you’re going up, go all the way up. And if you’re still, stay as still as you can be.”

TJG: Let inertia take you.

CM: Yeah, I think so. Knowing the influence that you have over your ability to enjoy your moment or be driven mad by your moment—even if it’s an unpleasant thing, knowing that it will shift at some point. That your state of being is the sum of controllable factors interacting with uncontrollable factors.

TJG: It seems like a lot of musicians are practitioners of or are at least “into” Eastern Religion. Where do you think that connection lies? Does your interest in Eastern tradition play into your music directly or is that more a mindset that occurs independently?

CM: There are parallels. I have a progressive family—from a line of progressive artist-type people, but we were in a suburban, Midwestern, not very diverse community, where religion was just Catholic or Lutheran. Our church was Catholic and very progressive. Our priest, who is no longer with us, went on to fight for women to be able to be in the priesthood, and fought for some things that you don’t normally associate with Catholicism and priests. But it was still Catholic, and never really resonated with me the way some of Buddhism has.

So as I got older I had the desire for some sort of spiritual community that felt like music did. Celebratory, current, honest…I’m fishing around a little bit, because I don’t know exactly where that spiritual desire came from. I just know that if you’re pursuing music, you have this sense that you aren’t creating by yourself, that there is some sort of mystical community in this pursuit. I think some religion, Buddhism specifically, in its celebration of inter-being parallels musical creativity’s dependence on the community and the social.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

In 1998, Fabian Almazan fell and injured his right wrist. He was 14. For weeks after his surgery, the young right-handed pianist was in full recovery mode, and couldn’t play the way he was used to playing. But what could have been a long and debilitating recovery period turned out to be an artistic awakening.

Not wanting his student to lose inspiration—or practice hours—Almazan’s piano teacher recommended he check out Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand. But the album Almazan wound up purchasing included more than the left hand concerto and, after playing the record in its entirety, he found himself digging into the G-Major Piano Concerto and a number of suites Ravel composed for piano, then orchestrated—an experience that set Almazan on the path toward exploring orchestral concepts in his own music.

“It made an instant impression on me,” he says. “It kind of opened up my mind. And in terms of how it’s affected me as a pianist, I really try to be more aware of my left hand, as well as inner voices, in general.”

Years after his wrist mended, Almazan continued working through arrangements of original music, paying what he considered close attention to voice leading and other fundamentals of orchestral arranging. But a commission by The Jazz Gallery would transform his relationship to orchestration, once again. “When I was commissioned a couple years ago, I decided to write a song for a choir,” he says.

“As musicians, we study voice leading all the time, but we kind of forget where that comes from. It’s literally ‘voice leading.’ So, writing for the choir was ear-opening, I would say, because there’s a lot of—not rules, but music theory that you try to apply as a composer, but when you actually do it for a choir, it really hits home. You have an immediate impression of why there are certain things—that in the Baroque era they used to do, and they still do—that really click when you have a choir singing what you wrote. It’s the human voice. You really can tell when something’s working, and when it’s not.”

At a point in his career when he had a strong working concept of each instrument’s strengths and limitations, Almazan found arranging for the choir to broaden his understanding of how to develop those strengths and limitations in a way that serves the arc of the composition. (more…)

Design courtesy of the artist.

When three professional jazz musicians, composers, and friends in New York get together to take musical risks and strengthen their voices, you end up with something like Aurelia Trio. Co-lead by Theo Walentiny on piano, Connor Parks on drums, and Nick Dunston on bass, each member provides a strong individual voice, both in the written ink and while performing. In a previous interview with the group, each member told The Jazz Gallery a bit about their perspective on what fuels the trio. The trio will return to The Jazz Gallery, with Colin Avery Hinton subbing for parks on drums. We caught up with bassist Nick Dunston about his take on the group’s growth and development, as well as his own compositional contributions to the group.

The Jazz Gallery: I’m really enjoying the last Aurelia Trio recording, and am looking forward to the next one this spring. Will the upcoming gig at The Jazz Gallery feature the trio’s original personnel?

Nick Dunston: For this gig we’ll have Colin Avery Hinton on drums instead of Connor Parks. Connor is a founding member of Aurelia, which is a complete collective, just to be clear. We all co-lead and write for the group. A conflict came up that Connor couldn’t get out of, so we called Colin Hinton. Theo met Colin at Banff, and I’ve played in a couple of his bands. We’re really excited; Colin is a great musician and composer. It’ll be good, and intense. We’ll likely feature his compositions as well.

TJG: In your previous group interview with The Gallery, you discussed how your rhythmic concept and group energy have been strong from the start, but your goals have continuously evolved. How have things changed as the group has matured?

ND: At first, we were playing “original jazz tunes” in the way a piano trio would approach them. That was our basis for becoming comfortable interacting, rhythmically and texturally. Now, we’re trying to compose in ways that give us opportunities to explore our improvisational and rhythmic comfort levels. Connor writes a lot of beautiful, simple songs that invoke a gentle attitude that we can feel free to disobey. It can be both wholesome and sarcastic, just like our normal conversations. Theo’s compositions push against the idea of the ‘piano trio’ as a piano-centric thing. He uses orchestration concepts that I think are still mostly unexplored in the context of piano trios.

TJG: Since you write with such different styles, does that put limitations on your own compositional voice? For example, “Oh, I won’t write this, that’s more something Theo would write.”

ND: I can only speak for myself. But whether we’re talking about established artists, legends who have passed, or my musical friends, they all influence me a great deal. I’m not afraid to be influenced by Theo and Connor, or anyone for that matter. Since we’re all composers in our own rights, with strong senses of self, we don’t reject the influence we get. Rather, we cherish it and make it our own, especially when writing music. I’ve never felt self-conscious that I’m ‘trespassing’ on someone else’s compositional style. When you have a compositional voice, your music is never really going to sound like someone else. For example, I mentioned that Connor writes more song-type compositions. I have a tune called “Motian Sickness” with a simple, singable melody, kind of folksy in a way. On paper, it’s pretty similar to how Connor writes for this group. But every time we’ve played the tune, it sounds nothing like how Connor’s music is ever performed. We’re great friends, so we’re naturally going to have things in common, but we’re all very independent, and we respect each other for the differences we have.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Wednesday, February 14, The Jazz Gallery is thrilled to welcome vocalist Gema Corredera to our stage for a special Valentine’s Day concert. Corredera is one of the most renowned and accomplished Cuban vocalists of her generation, having forged a unique style from influences as diverse as Nueva Trova, jazz, Bossa Nova, and Flamenco. For many years, Corredera was one half of the acclaimed duo Gema y Pavel, but has recently focused on her solo work. Check out the exuberant song “Chévere” from her 2013 album Derramando Luz, featuring many Gallery regulars, including saxophonist Yosvanny Terry, pianist Osmany Paredes, and drummer Obed Calvaire.

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Photo by Jati Lindsey.

This weekend, The Jazz Gallery is proud to present vibraphonist Joel Ross’s newest project, Parables. The project reflects Ross’s growth as a composer and arranger, featuring an octet of both peers and experienced heavy hitters including trumpeter Marquis Hill, saxophonist Darius Jones, and bassist Matt Brewer. Ross describes the group’s concept through an etymology of the word parable:

The word parable is from the root word “paraballo” or in the Greek “parabole.” This compound word comes from “para” which means “to come along side or compare” and “ballo” which literally means “to throw” or “see” with //

The parables are used in giving one or more instructional lessons or principles and can be an allegory and may include inanimate objects (like trees, plants, or things) or people in various societal positions. There is often a tension between good and evil or sinful and holy meaning that they can proclaim what is good versus what is bad and what is evil in contrast to what is holy or God-like //

A parable is often a significant comparison between two objects that may be used as a mirror image of a comparable object to teach a single concept or teaching //

Before coming out to see this exciting new group, check out Ross and Marquis Hill going at it at Duc de Lombards in Paris.

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