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Photo via http://briangirleyjazz.com

When asked to describe his music to someone who has never heard it before, the saxophonist Brian Girley responds, “It’s a reflection of me—sometimes it’s fun, it’s beautiful and you can dance to it, or it’s aggressive. I want you to feel something emotionally or physically. The one common element to my music is that it’s moving and very passionate. That’s one of the main things I hear [in] my music. All of the people I enjoy listening to play from their soul, and that’s something I do too.”

Brian was born and raised in Orlando, Florida, and exposed to music through his parents, who frequently sang in church and at weddings. Music remained an interest until his college years at The University of North Texas, where it evolved into a love, and a career choice. After earning both his bachelors and masters degrees, Brian began splitting his time between the Dallas area and his hometown, performing with artists such as B.B King, Gladys Knight, Sam Rivers, and Ambrose Akinmusire, among many others.

When some of his friends migrated to New York and subsequently returned to perform in Dallas, Brian noticed a change. “They were just so much better,” he recalls. “I was seeing the difference in their life, perspective and how they played.” The experience inspired Brian to make the move himself.

Brian’s debut album, Faith, is an expression of Brian’s feelings following his move to New York:

My wife and I moved here with a one-way ticket, three bags, no jobs, and no apartment. But, I believed that this is where God wanted me to be. Everything I did, I felt like I was moving in faith. Every time I started something, didn’t have the money or people to make things happen, it just came. And, Faith is more than just a religious concept; you can have faith in yourself. That was something I was dealing with as well. When you come to New York, you’re dealing with a lot of amazing musicians and it’s easy to start doubting yourself asking, “why should I put out an album or even continue playing?” Every song has a little bit of a side story about faith.

Writing in the April 2012 issue of Hot House Magazine, Brian’s fellow saxophonist Adam Larson praises the effort as, “uplifting…[yet] decidedly modern. Intricate, yet singable melodies are often found paired between saxophone and guitar, supported by myriad contrasting grooves from the rhythm section.” “The richness of heart and soul is definitely refreshing to hear when I listen to his music,” remarks Quamon Fowler, another reedist contemporary.

Stream Faith in it’s entirety on MySpace.

Photo by Vincent Soyez

We’re half way through the 2012 Jazz Gallery Residency Commissions, and we’re thrilled with the way that the program is going so far. Our theme for the season has been Leading From the Bass, and we’ve heard exquisite premieres of new works from Matt Brewer and Joe Sanders. Matt’s performance and residency received an excellent feature in JazzTimes, which we highly recommend.

Our latest Leading From the Bass artist, Linda Oh, has been at The Gallery frequently since the start of her residency on March 19th. We caught up with the bassist-composer late last week during one of her afternoons in our space, and got the scoop on her project.

Like Matt and Joe, Linda is enjoying the full use of our space and the ability to work at all hours, except for during performance times. “It’s nice to be able to work here, and not to have to worry about neighbors or anything,” she remarks. Although Linda can practice at home, she notes that the residency allows her a new degree of flexibility: “I could be here [at The Gallery] until three in the morning and play the piano.” Although we usually see her here in the afternoons, the bassist has taken advantage of the all hours access: “I came in late at night after Miles [Okazaki]’s workshop [at The Gallery], which was great, because I went to see his workshop and I was so inspired and just stayed here!”

Linda has been using her time here primarily to focus on work she’s been developing for a string quartet + jazz quartet [piano, bass, drums, saxophone] format. “I’ve been working [in that context] for a little while, and over the years it’s evolved,” she notes:

I did one gig with strings here at The Gallery last year, and before that I did another string gig at a place called the Encore Music Forum at the Nabi Art Gallery.

I’ve been using this commission to keep working on that stuff. I’m taking some of the compositions that I started years ago that still haven’t been really polished, and revamping those, and starting some new pieces as well. It’s good…there’s a whole bunch of writing that I’m weeding out, and it’s difficult, because [I think to myself], ‘Oh! I spent so much time arranging this, but is this really what I want?’ I’ve been exing out a lot of things, painfully deciding, ‘You know what, I’ve got to let go of this.’

In previous performances with strings, Linda experimented with surround sound (in which the audience sat in the center of the room and the musicians walked around them while performing) and with performing in the dark (“which is another challenge, because everyone had to memorize everything”). Although she has all but decided against continuing those explorations in her Gallery performances next weekend, the bassist has been conducting rehearsals to try out some newer ideas:

This initial reading was more an exploration of different textural things and compositional things I wanted to try out, to see if the strings were okay with the fingerings. [There was] also an improvisational element; there were some parts that I wrote out, but the other day we tried [the same music with] chord symbols, and I asked them to ignore what I had written and just do what they wanted, but still in a comping manner. A lot of this is comping, either for saxophone or piano. I was trying different things, like having the cello be the main feature, and just experimenting with different roles. Some of the tunes have the viola [designated] as the groove element in the quartet, and the cello might carry the melody.

Linda has been working with the Sirius Quartet, a group that has a history of working with improvisers, including Uri Cane and Steve Wilson. “They’re pretty used to it,” she says, “and they are tight as well; they’re a working group.” Linda notes that balancing a string quartet with drums is “a constant challenge, especially when you bring drums in – just for them to be able to hear themselves, and intonation, and that sort of thing.” Having space to try new things has helped her discover what works and what doesn’t, and adjust her writing accordingly:

I’m slowly learning. The first few gos were okay, but the compositional aspect…I’m still having to ask, ‘Is this okay?’ Should I put this down an octave?,’ and that sort of thing. I think it’s a combination of the compositional sort of thing and being aware of what’s tricky and what’s not. You know, little stuff, like having to tune major seconds. There was one chord we were fussing over the other day with a minor ninth, and we figured out that cello had to finger just a little bit sharper…little things like that [present] a learning curve for me.

Linda is thinking about recording this music, and the performances on the 20th and 21st might be documented in some fashion or another. In the meantime, check out these recommendations from Linda below:

Recommendations:

One thing that I would really recommend listening to is this Arvo Pärt piece called Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten. It’s absolutely gorgeous; if it doesn’t reduce you to tears, you’re a robot! I’ve been getting into him recently. I think he’s amazing. Just…his patience, which is reflected when you see interviews of him, and he took two years off from writing anything, and when he came back, it was just like another monster.”

There’s a really cute one with him an Björk. It’s not incredibly detailed, which is why I like it. It’s so simple…when you read some of the stuff that he writes…there was one thing he said about a monk that he was talking to in the Soviet Union, [and he was] just asking the monk, “What should I do to become a better composer?” It just seems so childlike and simplistic, the way he talks about things.

Watch a performance of Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten, and check out the interview in question.

Photo courtesy of Angelica Sanchez

“[The saxophonist Tony Malaby and the pianist Angelica Sanchez] have been playing with their drummer pal Tom Rainey for years now,” writes Jim Macnie in The Village Voice; “their bedrock rapport doesn’t vanish for an instant when they’re truly hitting it. That gives their well-conceived abstractions an inner balance that often eludes others.”

All three members of the collaboratively-led trio have brought other groups to The Gallery in the past. We’ve been presenting Tony’s groups since 2007, and Angelica has led bands here since 2009, and Tom began performing here as a leader last year. We will welcome them back on Saturday night for two sets of sonic exploration.

Described as “modern improvised chamber music” by Gaute Solås, this group spontaneously composes with a particular predilection for narrative and form: “structure and exploration go hand in hand, not one sacrificed for the other.”

In a review of a 2004 Malaby/Sanchez/Rainey concert in The Chicago Tribune, Howard Reich notes, “for those willing to forgo the usual expectations that listeners often bring to jazz-trio sets, the performance in the Cultural Center’s Claudia Cassidy Theater proved a glorious musical joy ride.” He goes on to provide a compelling description of the ensemble interplay:

On tenor saxophone, Malaby unleashed a tremendous range of sound, from low-register murmurs to high-energy sonic bursts to soft wisps of sound. At one moment, Malaby swung hard in rhythmically agitated riffs. At another, he sidestepped rhythmic pulse altogether, unfurling sinuous lines that floated above the ensemble texture.

The marvel was that Malaby, through all of these solo flights, somehow sustained a coherent narrative…

Malaby’s work found a nearly ideal setting in this trio, for keyboardist Angelica Sanchez and drummer Tom Rainey share Malaby’s predilection for constantly shifting sonic landscapes.

On electric keyboard, Sanchez provided an appealingly spiky, pointillistic accompaniment; …she showed that there’s a place for lyricism in abstract jazz improvisation.

Rainey, meanwhile, used mallets, brushes, sticks, hands and what-not to draw more sounds from a traditional drum set than one might have imagined possible. Yet his work consistently matched the ebb and flow of the trio’s improvisations, never overshadowing his colleagues’ statements but never receding into the background, either.

Granted, this is not music for all tastes. But listeners with open ears will find enticing sounds in this trio’s best work.

Photo by Will Boisture

While covering Winard Harper‘s band in The Chicago Tribune in early 2009, Howard Reich stumbled upon a noteworthy young artist: “The other revelation was saxophonist Adam Larson, 19, a player for whom the word ‘prodigious’ was coined.”

Now 22, Adam is currently a senior at the Manhattan School of Music, where he continues to earn the respect of those who have an opportunity to hear him. Several artists have recruited the young saxophonist for their own projects, including Matt Wilson, Justin Brown, Otis Brown III, Jaleel Shaw, and John Escreet. The pianist and educator Ted Rosenthal featured Adam in his “Tenor Madness” series at the Dicapo Opera Theatre, where Adam performed alongside the tenor saxophonists Frank Wess, Lew Tabackin, Joel Frahm, and Wayne Escoffery. Adam has also kept a busy schedule performing and recording with his peers, including appearances at The North Sea, Monterey, Iowa City, and Telluride Jazz Festivals.

On one occasion a few years ago, the trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire invited Adam onto our stage to sit in with the band. The results were electrifying, and we’ve been presenting Adam’s groups ever since. This Friday, we welcome Adam back to The Gallery for his graduation recital. The band will feature the guitarist Nils Weinhold, the pianist Can Olgun, the bassist Sam Anning, and the drummer Jason Burger. There will also be special guests, including the alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw.

Watch a video of Adam’s group performing his original composition “Forbidden Last Words” last year at The Gallery.

Photo via http://nataliecressman.com

When it comes to the vocalist and trombonist Natalie Cressman, the guitarist and Phish frontman Trey Anastasio proclaims, “she’s an incredible player.” The acclaimed trombonist Josh Roseman praises her “strong sense of time,” and her “really beautiful phrasing.”

Natalie comes from a musical family: her mother is a vocalist, and her father is equally in demand as a trombonist and as a sound engineer. Growing up in San Francisco, the young artist received formative opportunities to perform alongside Miguel Zenón, Joe Lovano, Ambrose Akinmusire, and Carlos Santana, all before graduating high school. During this period, she also broadened her outlook as a regular member of Peter Apfelbaum and the New York Hieroglyphics.

After high school, Natalie moved to New York to continue her studies at the Manhattan School of Music. Since arriving here, she’s performed regularly both as the leader of her own group (Secret Garden, formerly known as The Natalie Cressman Sextet), and as a sideperson with Apfelbaum and Nicholas Payton. When her father had to turn down a tour with Anastasio in 2010, he nominated his daughter to replace him. Natalie spent three seasons touring sold out venues across the country with Anastasio and his band, and can be heard on the group’s live album, TAB at the TAB (Rubber Jungle).

Natalie has been hard at work on her debut album, Unfolding, which features her collaborators in Secret Garden: the tenor saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, the trumpeter Ivan Rosenberg, the pianist Pascal LeBoeuf, the bassist Ruben Samama, and the drummer Jake Goldbas. On Thursday night, we will celebrate the completion of Unfolding with a pre-release party at The Gallery.

We first heard Natalie when she performed at The Gallery in 2009 with Apfelbaum, but this will be her first time leading a band on our stage. We heard through the grapevine that the group will be premiering new originals, including songs from Unfolding, as well as covers of St. Vincent, Hanne Hukkelberg, and Bon Iver. And, although her album won’t be officially released until August, you’ll be able to buy copies of it at the concert.

Watch a video about Unfolding and support the project on Kickstarter.