A look inside The Jazz Gallery

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“I often feel that modern jazz finds itself in a realm of such abstraction that it puts off many listeners who are less familiar with the jazz tradition,” says the saxophonist Remy Le Boeuf. “My introduction to jazz was through the music of Charles Mingus; his music was always about something and it fascinated me how he would recreate poetry, political events, and stories through music.”

Born and raised in Santa Cruz, California, Remy and his twin brother, the pianist Pascal Le Boeuf, developed their talents side by side: “We used to play for tips at a local farmers market in Santa Cruz, CA where we grew up. It was something we could do together that wasn’t competitive, but creative and had a positive effect on the community.” As Metroactive notes, “Even by the uncanny standards of identical twins, the Le Boeuf Brothers have forged a remarkably close connection. What sets them apart from other siblings who share the same DNA and a preternatural level of communication is that they practice it in public, on the bandstand, to unique artistic effect.”

The connections strengthened and grew deeper and more serious over time, as turns towards composing and improvising led Remy and Pascal to realize that they both wanted to keep playing music for the rest of their lives. The brothers moved to New York in 2004, and have continued to perform and record together to this day. They’ve also worked with some boundary-pushing elders and peers, including Chris Potter, Marcus Gilmore, John Benitez, Marcus Strickland, Ambrose Akinmusire, and others.

The twins latest recording is In Praise of Shadows (Nineteen-Eight), which you can stream in its’ entirety here. Downbeat proclaims, “Brothers in musical crime and creative invention with chops and a flexible pocketful of ideas about how jazz could go in the 2010s.  Their latest album freely incorporates electronics, digitized production modes and sounds from the pop realm, while slipping in tasty improvisational elements.” The magazine praises the brothers as “impressive young players with integrity,” and that the result is “coolly appealing.” JazzTimes adds, “Twin brothers Remy and Pascal Le Boeuf deftly blend elements of electronica with touches of indie rock and sophisticated jazz writing on this genre-defying project.  The brothers create their own provocative niche.”

This Thursday, we are pleased to present the premiere of Remy’s latest project, “A Dream: The Musical Imagination of Franz Kafka.” The work draws on and builds around elements of Kafka’s short story, “A Dream.” The piece was commissioned by Chamber Music of America and written for 9-piece chamber jazz ensemble plus narrator, and is designed to evoke “a blurry dreamscape of enchantment, inevitability, and one’s struggle with self-perception.” Remy speaks:

My goal is to engage the listener by blending the music and story into each other to create a synergy that highlights the beauty in both. The creative impetus behind modern jazz is often unclear, even to the musicians playing the music.  This project is about something clear, something engaging, and something with both literary and musical depth. Kafka’s story unfolds like a perfect song.

From Left to Right: Nate Wood, Harish Raghavan, Ben Wendel

According to The New York Times, the collectively-led trio ACT “pursues a style both hypnotic and rough-and-tumble, drawing freely from the saxophone-trio playbook but guarding its independence.”

Longtime friends and collaborators Ben Wendel, Harish Raghavan, and Nate Wood have each worked with some of the leading lights in music; between the three of them, the list includes Ignacio Berroa, Chaka Khan, Greg Osby, Vijay IyerWayne Krantz, Daedelus, Snoop Dogg, and many more. The three came together out of a mutual admiration, friendship, and interest in this particular instrumentation, and released their eponymous debut album in 2010 on Brooklyn Jazz Underground. At the time of the release, Ben described the groups’ history and process:

The three of us have known each other for quite some time – we’ve played in a lot of different groups together but always gravitated towards the trio format. Making this album has been something we’ve wanted to do for a while. We ended up with two free days last year and tracked the music down at Steve Wood’s private studio (Steve is Nate’s father and one of the best engineers on the West Coast).

The standards we chose came naturally out of a few warm up gigs leading to the recording. The originals were written with the trio in mind, and a few (like “Act”) were written quickly just before tracking. “News” was loosely inspired by a blues that my friend Walter Smith III wrote off of his first album. “What Was” is based on a sketch that has eventually turned into a movement of a jazz suite I’m writing for the Chamber Music of America New Works grant. Although this is mostly a trio format, I added piano and bassoon on a few tracks to change the soundscape up a bit.

Each of ACT’s members has performed at The Jazz Gallery numerous times (here’s a video of Ben and Nate performing here earlier this year), and the trio celebrated the release of their album here in 2010. This Wednesday, Ben, Harish, and Nate will take the stage together for a rare appearance. The trio has kindly decided to donate all proceeds from this performance to The Jazz Gallery as we seek to stabilize our organization ahead of our transition to a new home. You can expect the trio to build upon the “hypnotic and rough-and-tumble” dichotomy of their album, and maybe also the guarded independence, but, no matter what, expect the unexpected.

Photo via the Missing Piece Group

Simply put, the music of Becca Stevens draws you in. It is, in the words of The New York Times, “impressively absorbing” from the first note, a captivating marriage of “big voice and no-bull emotional delivery” (The Boston Phoenix) and rhythmically invigorating acoustic guitar (and a host of related instruments).

Born and raised in North Carolina, Becca has been honing her craft as long as she can remember. Her father and mother are both musicians, and Becca started singing in the family band, the Tune Mammals, at the tender age of two. “My parents are both working musicians and performers,” Becca says. “The first sounds I heard in the delivery room were my dad playing an Irish slip jig on the fiddle. The tune was ‘The Kid on the Mountain’; I still cry when I hear it.” Childhood was a blur of singing, acting, and dancing, and a formative period in which the artist absorbed some of the most pronounced elements of her sound: the traditions of jazz and classical guitar, and folk music of North Carolina. Becca adds, “I grew up with the sounds of music and composing and singing and rehearsing around me all the time, so it was always a very natural thing for me.”

Becca moved to New York to attend The New School, and quickly became known as one of the city’s “best-kept secrets” (The New York Times). She formed her own group, the Becca Stevens Band, with fellow New School students Liam Robinson (accordion, keyboards), Chris Tordini (bass), and Jordan Perlson (drums, percussion), which has released two albums, Tea Bye Sea (self-released), and Weightless (Sunnyside). Becca is also sought after as a collaborator, having performed with the likes of Brad Mehldau, Taylor Eigsti, Eric Harland, Clarence Penn, and Travis Sullivan’s Bjorkestra, among many others. She and fellow songstresses Gretchen Parlato and Rebecca Martin co-led TILLERY. Becca speaks:

Every day I learn from the music of composers who have come before me and on whose shoulders I stand, and from my experiences from the profound to the trivial. My focus as an artist is to cast those exerpiences in a musical and poetic language that will resonate with the listener and affect a moment, a day or a life.

Becca has been performing on our stage regularly since her New School days, and we look forward to welcoming her back for two nights of solo performances this Friday and Saturday. Expect to be at the edge of your seat, with bated breath, drawn in.

Check out this video of Becca performing “Canyon Dust” alone, live at A-Trane in Berlin.

Photo via, Filter by Pixlr-o-matic

The drummer Antonio Sánchez is “a specialist in billowing pulse and sharp detail” (The New York Times). If you haven’t heard his own ensembles (many of which have been performing at The Gallery for years), you might have taken note of his contributions to groups led by Pat MethenyChick CoreaGary BurtonKenny Werner, and many others. (You can read an interview that we conducted with the drummer earlier this year here.)

One of Antonio’s long-time associations has been with the bassist Scott Colley, who has over the years been hand-picked for the bands of Herbie Hancock, Jim Hall, Andrew Hill, and Michael Brecker. Another is with the saxophonist Miguel Zenón, a Jazz Gallery veteran whose own work has been recognized by multiple Grammy nominations and a MacArthur Award. Both Scott and Miguel appear (along with the saxophonist David Sánchez) on Antonio’s 2008 double disc, Live In New York (Sunnyside), and the three musicians have been appearing together as a trio under Antonio’s leadership since at least 2006.

This Thursday, we present Antonio, Miguel, and Scott for the first time that the trio has performed together without a designated leader. The New York Times has selected the concert as a Critics’ Pick:

There’s a lot of overlapping history betweem the Puerto Rican alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón, the American bassist Scott Colley and the Mexican drummer Antonio Sanchez. There’s also a shared commitment to dynamic fluctuation, streamlined movement and cohesive cooperation — all good signs for this leaderless new trio.

Watch this live footage of Antonio’s quartet, featuring Miguel, Scott, and David, performing “Greedy Silence” at the 2008 North Sea Jazz Festival. It provides a good reminder of what these three musicians sounded like together in the past, and of how formidable their interplay is likely to be on Thursday night.