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Photo by Jeremy Powell, courtesy of the artist.

Photo by Jeremy Powell, courtesy of the artist.

You never know where you’re going to find trumpeter Jonathan Powell on a given night in New York. He could be playing high-energy Latin music with Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, or backing up big-name Hip-Hop artists like Slick Rick or Snoop Dogg. Or you might find him holding sway at the Blue Note late at night with nu Sangha, a group that distills Powell’s varied musical influences into a potent whole.

This Thursday, April 23rd, Powell and nu Sangha will perform two sets at The Jazz Gallery. Last year, the group recorded a new album backed by 200 supporters via Kickstarter. The result, Beacons of Light, will be coming out later this year. We caught up with Powell to talk about his concept for the album and the joys and challenges of leading a band in New York.

The Jazz Gallery: You were named the Best Latin Jazz Trumpeter by the blog Latin Jazz Corner in 2009. What first inspired you to explore Latin music?

Jonathan Powell: Growing up in Florida, there’s a large Hispanic community there, so we had quite a bit of Latin music on the radio, what they call ‘Tropical,’ for the broad term of music from the Caribbean. I used to hear a lot of salsa, and various other forms of Latin music, so that was my first exposure to it. I always enjoyed listening to those stations with my brother. When I finally moved to New York in 2001, I knew a few of my friends from Florida who had also moved, the Garcia-Herreros Brothers, Juan and Victor on drums and bass respectively. They were heavily into Latin music, coming from a Colombian background. They had acquired a gig with a salsa band in New Jersey that worked quite a bit at the time called ‘La Creacion,’ so right when I moved to New York I started playing with them. It just kind of happened out of being at the right place at the right time, but also having respect for the music and having listened to it a lot as a younger man. From there it kind of took a long time to develop, as far as the high notes and everything, and physically be able to play the stuff that’s required in that music.

TJG: And your brother Jeremy also plays with you in the city a lot right?

JP: Yeah he’s in my band too playing sax. He’s a phenomenal musician and composer in whatever style he decides to do.

TJG: You describe your upcoming album Beacons of Light as having compositions that are meditations on or tributes to great spiritual or revolutionary minds of our age. Who are some of these people who have inspired these compositions?

JP: So each tune has it’s subject or person of interest, and just going down the line, it’s Aung San Suu Kyi. She was a democracy advocate in Burma, her father was the prince or king I think, and there was a military overthrow, and her father was killed. She was placed under house arrest for 20 years. So she’s the first subject. Then there’s a Christian Mystic from Cyprus named Stylianos Atteshlis, and then the original Siddhartha Buddah. Then there’s Rumi, the great Sufi mystic and poet. There’s a doctor named Robert Lanza who’s done a lot of work on stem cell research, but he’s also come up with a theory called biocentrism, a theory on why life exists. After him, (I’m just going down the track list in my head), there’s Mahatma Ghandi, then Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and then the last one is Tenzin Gyatsou, the 14th (current) Dalai Lama.

TJG: How did you decide on this particular theme for the album?

JP: I’ve already been really interested in this kind of subject matter—people that seek to better themselves and their environment in positive ways, and do it in peaceful manner. I’ve always been reading about these kinds of people and trying to find my own place in that. I want to do something good with my life with whatever talent I have, and with the music that I produce, so it was just logical. When I came up with this idea, it was amazing because as soon as I started writing these tunes, it was so easy. These are people that inspire me so much, and in my mind there was a sound behind each person, and kind of the vibe of what they did and what they accomplished.

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Photo by Peter Gannushkin, http://downtownmusic.net

Photo by Peter Gannushkin, http://downtownmusic.net

Kris Davis is an explorer at the piano—exploring different ways of playing the instrument and different ways of situating its sound in a composition. Her playing has both orchestral breadth and the utmost delicacy, a truly kaleidoscopic palette.

Next month, Davis will be releasing a new record on Clean Feed called Save Your Breath, featuring four bass clarinets and rhythm section. This weekend, however, Davis returns to The Jazz Gallery with another one of her acclaimed groups—the quintet Capricorn Climber. We caught up with Ms. Davis by phone to talk about her approach to writing for and playing with this group of adventurous improvisers.

The Jazz Gallery: In an interview with the New York Times, you mentioned that you’ll often “try to write as little as possible,” in the sense that you’re looking for certain ideas or sounds, but you don’t want to control your bandmates. In that sense, what form do your compositions take?

Kris Davis: Well, there’s a lot of interweaving between improvisation and composition. Composition is often a catalyst, a spinning-off point for where the piece has the potential to go. So I try not to plan that too much; I hope that the other musicians will come up with the shape of the piece, though that’s not always the case. Sometimes part of the writing is the shape, more so than the actual harmonic or rhythmic or melodic material. Sometimes I do write a lot. There’s a lot of material. But I try to find ways to weave spontaneity into the piece.

TJG: Could you give us an example of how that might look in one of your pieces?

KD: There are a bunch of pieces on my record, Capricorn Climber (Clean Feed, 2013) that utilize different shapes, different forms, to provide a chance for the musicians to do some shaping themselves. One of the pieces, the title track, has twelve to fifteen little fragments, and between them there’s improvising among the musicians. Everyone’s open and free to do what they want, but the viola’s supposed to stick with creating kind of like an E pedal, almost, a high E texture behind the lines. He comes in and out of it, with these different suggestions to help give direction to the improvising without getting too specific. The written fragments keep building up to this climactic point, a planned part of the piece, and it’s supposed to be about a 10 minute arc to get to that place. Everyone plays a unison melody to bring it back down, and then there’s a second section that’s completely written out, a sort of slow-moving string trio sound. The drummer Tom Rainey and I, meanwhile, are doing a sort of drum n’ bass thing, with prepared piano, super active and rhythmic. To connect all those parts together, the piano hooks up with the horn lines intermittently—a connection between two separate worlds.

TJG: So is it a similar process on “Pass The Magic Hat”? We hear a lot of counterpoint, yet we also hear freedom, especially in the second section.

KD: The second section is completely written out, for the viola solo, where he’s just playing over the form. But the form is actually just a slow blues, which is probably hard to hear if you didn’t know that ahead of time. The form is completely set, and so are the parts. It’s this one line, but the direction is that the accompanying musicians grab parts of those lines. We’re not playing the entire line, but rhythmically, it’s staying pretty set. I’m just trying to get away from finding obvious ways of playing the material. How can we make it a little more elusive? That’s kind of the main idea.

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Photo by Alex Chaloff, courtesy of the artist

Photo by Alex Chaloff, courtesy of the artist

In the world of the TV show Futurama, the holophonor is a musical instrument of the 31st century, a colorful oboe-cum-holographic projector. In the world of today’s jazz, Holophonor is a bright young musical collective of recent graduates from the Thelonious Monk Institute. While it is tempting to read into the band’s futuristic name and call Holophonor the jazz group of tomorrow, they’ve made a strong claim to be taken quite seriously now. Just check out this studio performance of the tune “Personal Sloth.”

All seven members have both chops and imagination to burn, from the rock-solid rhythmic foundation of bassist Dave Robaire and drummer Jonathan Pinson, to the gnarly atmospheres of vibraphonist Diego Urbano and pianist Miro Sprague, to the precise melodic acrobatics of saxophonist Josh Johnson, trumpeter Mike Cottone, and trombonist Eric Miller. Several group members have recently relocated to New York and are already making their presences felt in the scene. (more…)

Photo by David Andrako, courtesy of the artist

Photo by David Andrako, courtesy of the artist

On Tuesday, April 14th, The Jazz Gallery is proud to welcome back vocalist Imani Uzuri and her group Praise House. Filled with a host of free-thinking improvisers, Praise House explores different African-American musical traditions to create music that is adventurous, socially conscious, and distinctly contemporary. In particular, Uzuri is concerned with exploring “improvisation as an ecstatic tradition;” music as a means of creating transcendent experiences.

2015 is shaping up to be a very exciting year for Ms. Uzuri. In September, Uzuri will curate a second edition of the Sinners and Saints Festival, an exploration and celebration of the enduring resonance of traditional forms of African-American musical expression in contemporary culture. Uzuri has also been named a 2015 Park Avenue Armory Artist-in-Residence, alongside acclaimed jazz drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. and musician/comedian Reggie Watts, among others.

We hope you join us on Tuesday evening for a dose of transcendence to start your week.

Imani Uzuri’s Praise House plays The Jazz Gallery on Tuesday, April 14th, 2015. The group features Ms. Uzuri on vocals, Marika Hughes on cello, Darius Jones on saxophone, Graham Haynes on cornet, Aruan Ortiz on piano, and Nasheet Waits on drums. Sets are at 8 and 10 p.m. $15 general admission for the first set, ($10 for members), $10 general admission for the second ($8 for members).Purchase Tickets Here. 

Photo by Antonio Rossa, courtesy of the artist

Photo by Antonio Rossa, courtesy of the artist

It’s not that much of a stretch to call cornetist and composer Rob Mazurek the Zelig of Chicago’s experimental music scene: he seems to show up everywhere, whether playing with luminaries of the jazz avant-garde like Fred Anderson, Roscoe Mitchell, and Bill Dixon; experimental rockers like Tortoise and Jim O’Rourke; or leading his own groups like the Chicago Underground that distill these diverse musical experiences into Mazurek’s own indelible style.

But while Mazurek is most commonly associated with the music scenes of Chicago, he lived and worked in Brazil from the year 2000 through 2008. It was in Brazil where Mazurek put together his long-running group, Sao Paulo Underground, featuring multi-instrumentalists Mauricio Takara and Guilherme Granado, as well the group’s augmented cousin, Black Cube SP, featuring Swiss string player Thomas Rorer. This past October, Mazurek and Black Cube SP released their latest record, Return the Tides: Ascension Suite and Holy Ghost (Cuneiform). The album was recorded after the death of Rob’s mother Kathleen and is dedicated to her memory and her ever-powerful life force.

This spring, Sao Paulo Underground and Black Cube SP are presenting music from this album on a US tour, and will be stopping by The Jazz Gallery on Saturday, April 11th for two sets. Rob Mazurek was kind enough to answer some questions about his work with these groups from the road via email.

The Jazz Gallery: Can you tell us a little about how you first ended up living and working in Brazil back in 2000? How did the change of scenery affect your artistic interests and output?

Rob Mazurek: I moved to Brazil in 2000. My first wife is Brazilian and a researcher in the Amazon. She was offered a position there so we moved to Manaus, a city in the center of the rain forest. It was thrilling to say the least—a natural and urban wonderland of new sounds and experiences. I have always been interested in collected sound and using this as material for constructing music. I collected sounds of electric eels, screaming monkeys, insects, storm systems, and urban dance music (through over-blown car stereos) in and around Manaus.

TJG: How did you first meet Mauricio and Guilherme? What drew you to their playing and what were your first collaborations with them like?

RM: I met them at a show by the Chicago band The Eternals I was attending in the city of Belo Horizonte. I was surprised that they new my music with Chicago Underground and Isotope 217. They had a genuine interest in what I was doing and we hit it off immediately.

Mauricio invited the Chicago Underground Duo (myself and drummer Chad Taylor) to play in Sao Paulo soon after and I stayed in the city for a few weeks and started the Sao Paulo Underground at that time with Mauricio. Guilherme joined a little later. Their playing is rooted in hardcore, free jazz, psychedelic Brazilian, and traditional musics. We have the same mind set on many levels. I also thought that this combination of synth bass with samplers and keyboards, drums, electronics and cavaquinho, cornet and electronics would be quite an interesting sound.

TJG: What strikes me about much of your music with Sao Paulo Underground is how it reflects both the process of using the compositional possibilities of the studio, and the process of working out different materials spontaneous on the bandstand. Can you talk a little about balancing those two working environments when making music?

RM: Sound is Sound and this is how we approach the making of the stuff. We are all well versed in acoustic and electronic musics and ways of using these things to enhance and build sound worlds. The challenge is to present that in a live setting with the right sound and integrity. We have been developing this for 10 years now, and we’re still trying to balance and project the ideas of fixed sounds and surprising wonder-sound.

TJG: Along those lines, how does the music change when you take it on tour? Are you consciously trying to do new things and go off the map, or are you focusing on playing the material well and seeing what happens in the moment?

RM: We try to stay focused on the music we are presenting. Within this fixed situation, we attempt to explode the form in new ways in a very rigorous and disciplined way. It’s a kind of controlled ecstatic chaos.

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