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Photo by Vincent Soyez, courtesy of the artist

Photo by Vincent Soyez, courtesy of the artist

You can’t pigeonhole saxophonist Jérôme Sabbagh. One night you might find him playing standards with a hard swinging trio. On another, he’ll be playing with a very different trio, playing music both gorgeous and abstract. But on Saturday, Sabbagh is coming to The Jazz Gallery with his home base quartet, a group that is celebrating their 10th anniversary together.

The group, which features Sabbagh along with guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Joe Martin, and drummer Ted Poor (Jochen Rueckert will be filling in on drums for this show), has released two albums together and is coming out with a third this fall entitled The Turn (Sunnyside Records). We caught up with Jérôme by phone this week to talk about what makes his quartet tick and what his new album has in store.

The Jazz Gallery: You’re celebrating the 10th anniversary of your quartet at this show. Can you tell us how everyone met and why the group has stayed together for this long?

Jérôme Sabbagh: I met all these guys 10-15 years ago. I really looked up to Ben as a guitar player and wanted to play with him, and then we experimented with different rhythm sections on several gigs. Kind of by accident, we ended up doing a gig with Joe and Ted and I just felt everything clicking.

After that we did our first record, which was in 2004, called North on Fresh Sound, and then we kept playing together. When you play on stage with a group over a period of time, I feel the music evolves and gets better, so this group feels like home base for me. I feel like I can write music that these guys can play really well. I write music with these guys in mind, and I feel that they can be themselves when they play with me as well as connect with the tunes.

TJG: Why do you think you all clicked when you played together 10 years ago? What about everyone’s playing makes the group so cohesive?

JS: First, Ben is a great comper. In general, I really like the sound of saxophone and guitar. But specifically, Ben uses a lot of different sounds: his knowledge of harmony is really thorough; he has all these colors that he can pick from. Ben knows when to leave space and knows when to support and knows when to egg you on and perhaps help you reach some stuff that you might not have thought of. He’s just a great comper and I feel really at ease playing with him.

Everyone in the group can really shape the music. At the same time, we can all be in the moment, but also step away and look at the big picture, and I feel they know how to shape music in terms of what this tune needs now and where we are going. Ben, Joe, and Ted do that naturally, in a way that’s not contrived or preconceived.

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Photo courtesy of the artist

Photo courtesy of the artist

Noted for her polyrhythmic capacity in the vein of M-Base Collective and dense harmonies reminiscent of McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock, The New York Times has referred to Michele Rosewoman‘s work as “cultural multiplicity in sound taken to a reasonable extreme, where a song can still be allowed to sound logical and beautiful.” Based in New York, the American jazz pianist has spearheaded a dynamic career for more than 40 years, working to explore both tradition and evolution with respect to two genres: modern jazz and Afro-Cuban folkloric music. While the pianist is noted for her work as a sidewoman alongside household names like Greg Osby, Billy Bang, and Ralph Peterson, she is best known for her work as a leader across two original ensembles: Quintessence and New Yor-Uba. From 1987 to 2006, Quintessence released five highly acclaimed albums and moved audiences along the way. Founded in 1983, New Yor-Uba is an Afro-Cuban jazz big band that featured Orlando “Puntilla” Rios until his death in 2008. In 2013, celebrating the 30-year anniversary of the ensemble, Rosewoman released the group’s first album: Michele Rosewoman’s New Yor-Uba: 30 Years! A Musical Celebration of Cuba in America. Warmly received, the album was voted #1 in Latin Jazz and #25 overall in The 2013 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll.

A protégé of Oakland-based pianist Ed Kelly, Rosewoman moved to New York in 1978 from California and established herself playing with jazz artists like Oliver Lake, Freddie Waits, and Billy Hart, as well as Latin musicians like Celia Cruz and Paquito D’Rivera, among many others. Education is also a passion of Rosewoman’s: she has frequently conducted educational workshops at colleges and universities, teaches privately, and has served on faculty at NYU, The New SchoolJazz House Kids in Montclair, NJ, and Berkeley Jazz School.

This Friday, Rosewoman brings a more recent configuration to The Jazz Gallery: the “Time In Textures Trio” featuring Rosewoman on piano, Liberty Ellman on guitar, and Gregg August on bass. We sat down with Rosewoman this month in Greenwich Village over coffee and got granular insight into her past, present, and future. Check it out here:

The Jazz Gallery: 2013 was a big year for you with the release of the 30th year anniversary record for New Yor-Uba, which won a laundry list of awards. How was that experience and what will you take away from it moving forward?

Michele Rosewoman: It was a great year, for sure! It was very fulfilling to put that much time, love, and energy into a project that I felt so close to. To have the album well received was also very gratifying. It marked the completion of an era for me, as I had all of this music from over time that needed to be recorded. It was a learning experience on many levels, of course: not only was it large scale, but it was my second self-produced project. I used Kickstarter for funding and social media for creative and promotional purposes—all new ventures for me. There was a lot of work that went into scheduling rehearsals, recording dates, and performances related to the album release. Musically, I definitely landed where I wanted. I was really pleased to have Oliver Lake on the recording because he presents a sound and a voice that I had to have. With respect to the horn section, I tried to find a balance across tradition and innovation. I was also happy to include folkloric masters Roman Díaz and Pedrito Martinez who were equally vital to the sound. (more…)

Riva Precil

Riva Precil

Singer-songwriter Riva Precil originally studied to be a music therapist as an undergraduate at Loyola University in New Orleans, but after a brief stint working as a musical therapist she decided to dive into the arts full-time. Working across traditional media boundaries, Precil has written a children’s book in Creole called Anaelle ak la Sirèn (“Anaelle and the Mermaid”) and also creates handmade metal jewelry, which she adorns with jewels and painted vèvè, religious symbols common to the practice of Haitian Vodou. According to Precil, her sense of self-expression naturally extends across media and unites her work:

I strive to create a perfect harmony among all my passions so everything works hand in hand. I pull my inspirations from the same sources so it works beautifully…Art is art regardless of its form.

At the moment, Precil is working on her début album, a collection of traditional sacred Haitian songs that reflect American musical influences like soul and R&B. As she said in a May profile in The Brooklyn Reader, her music might be described “kind of like if Sade or Erykah Badu were to have a Haitian album.”

If you’ve only got a minute and a half to spare today, take a listen to the following minute and a half clip of Precil performing “Minis Azaka” duo with Haitian drummer Jean Mary Brignol. This and many more videos are available at Precil’s YouTube channel:

BOHIO MUSIC featuring Riva Precil performs at The Jazz Gallery this Thursday, June 12th, 2014. The ensemble features Riva Precil on lead vocals, Monvelyno Alexis on guitar and vocals, Jeremy Powell on saxophone, Motoki Mihara on bass, and Markus Schwartz on drums. Sets are at 9 and 11 p.m. The first set is $15.00 general admission and $10.00 for Members; the second set is $10.00 general admission and $5.00 for members. Purchase tickets here

Photo courtesy of the artist

Photo courtesy of the artist

We’re proud to present pianist Manuel Valera and New Cuban Express as they premiere Martí en Nueva York, a song cycle featuring the poetry of 19th century Cuban national hero, poet, orator, and philosopher José Martí. The work was commissioned by Chamber Music America in 2013 and will feature Valera’s NCX in collaboration with Argentinean singer Sofia Rei, who has been performing at the Gallery as a leader since 2008 and whom we commissioned as part of our 2009-10 “New Voices” series.

Manuel has been familiar with Martí’s work for decades, as he writes in his program notes:

Since I was a child in Cuba — along with virtually every Cuban I know — I’ve been learning about Martí…A political activist, Martí was instrumental in the uprising in the late 1800s of the Cuban People against the Spanish…He holds a very special place in all Cubans’ hearts for his relentless love and devotion to Cuba as well as his passion and deep understanding of the meaning of freedom.

In the same notes, Manuel says this of the music that you’ll be hearing:

The music is a mixture of Afro-Cuban folkloric music with contemporary harmonies and lyrical melodies. These poems were meant for everyday folks. So, when composing the music I wanted it to be accessible even for any listener. The work is broken up into eight sections. On some of the pieces I decided to use two poems for the same song, especially if the subject matter and rhythm of the prose were similar. Martí’s poetry has a wide range of emotions and Martí in New York has a similar approach: some of the music is sorrowful and introspective while some is joyous and exuberant.

Martí’s work is exemplary in its style, as Manuel writes:

Martí’s style of writing is difficult to categorize. He used many aphorisms — short, memorable lines that con- vey truth and/or wisdom — and long complex sentences. He is considered a major contributor to the Spanish American literary movement known as Modernismo and has been linked to Latin American consciousness of the modern age and modernity.

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Photo by Richard Koek

Photo by Richard Koek

Called “bracingly, craftily brilliant” by JazzTimes and “artistically complete” by The New York Times, vocalist Fay Victor and the Fay Victor Ensemble, a trio that features Anders Nilsson on electric guitar and Ken Filiano on double bass, will give their début performance at The Jazz Gallery this Thursday, June 5th, 2014. FVE released Absinthe & Vermouth (Greene Avenue Music), their third and most recent album, last November; it features all original compositions and the same personnel that will appear on Thursday (listen to the album here). Victor has described the compositions aswhole pieces and song combinations where blurred lines are integral to the core.” Prior to Absinthe & Vermouth, FVE released The FreeSong Suite in 2009, of which NPR wrote, “as if Joni Mitchell wrote lyrics for a lost Betty Carter prog-rock album,” and their début Cartwheels Through the Cosmos in 2007, which JazzTimes praised as “a borderless, cacophonous, in-your-face experiment in tone poetry and free-form expression.”

In a May profile of Victor that appeared in Wondering Sound, Kevin Whitehead, jazz critic for NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross and JazzTimes contributor, highlighted the unique insider-outsider stance that contributes to Victor’s distinctive musical personality:

Fay Victor knows the tradition, but stands outside of it, which is consistent with her life history: “I’ve had a passport since I was born.” That was in New York in 1965, to parents from Grenada and the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Her father was an UN economist soon posted to Zambia, where the family lived three years until he died in a car accident. Mom brought Fay and her younger sister home to Trinidad until she could arrange to get them all back into the States. That happened when Victor was five, but she continued to spend summers in the Caribbean. When she recorded exploded versions of vintage calypsos, as guest with the downtown quartet Other Dimensions in Music on 2010′s Kaiso Stories, she sang them in dialect. After the album came out a critic she knew asked her, “Are you even allowed to do that?”

We hope that you’ll join us this Thursday in welcoming FVE to our stage on their début performance, about which Victor writes, “We are over the moon.”

The Fay Victor Ensemble will give its début performance at The Jazz Gallery this Thursday, June 5th, 2014. FVE features Fay Victor on vocals, Anders Nilsson on electric guitar and effects, and Ken Filiano on double bass and effects. Sets are at 9 and 11 p.m. The first set is $15.00 general admission and $10.00 for Members; the second set is $10.00 general admission and $5.00 for members. Purchase tickets here