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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.:

Saxophonist Ben van Gelder has been such a regular presence at The Jazz Gallery over the past several years that it’s surprising that he will be returning to the Gallery this weekend as a leader for the first time in almost a year. The last time van Gelder graced our stage last June, he was performing new music for sextet as part of our 2013-14 Residency Commission series. He also played last March with chordal instrument-less quartet, showing the range of his interests and musical approaches.

This Saturday, van Gelder will split the difference between those two groups with a quintet featuring longtime collaborators Matt Brewer on bass and Craig Weinrib on drums, along with a pair of relative newcomers to van Gelder’s groups: Pete Rende on piano and Alon Albagli on guitar. Both Rende and Albagli are expert orchestrators on their instruments, so Saturday’s show is sure to be filled with both exploratory improvisation and piquant textures.

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Photo by Ian P. Clifford

Photo by Ian P. Clifford

The Jazz Gallery is hosting it’s annual Gala on June 8th at the Players Club in New York City and we have the distinct pleasure of honoring four living jazz legends: George Avakian, Junior Mance, Bob Cranshaw, and Hank O’Neal. Over the next few weeks, we at Jazz Speaks will be introducing you to these men and their lasting influence on today’s music.

To listen to more music by artists that today’s honoree George Avakian produced and managed, check out our YouTube playlist below.

And for more information about our gala, visit us at http://www.jazzgallery.org/links.php?psi=120.

Photo by Monica Garcia, courtesy of the artist.

Photo by Monica Garcia, courtesy of the artist.

There are high school buddies…and then there’s Robert Glasper, Kendrick Scott, and Jamire Williams. When guitarist Mike Moreno attended High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston, the school was flush with talent, and these musicians hung out, listened to records, rehearsed and gigged together, and pushed each other creatively to new heights. “It was just a really influential time,” says Moreno.

Those high school bonds remain strong, as Moreno still tours with Kendrick Scott’s Oracle band. But Moreno’s also built up his own distinct crew and sound, namely with pianists Aaron Parks and Jon Cowherd. After playing at The Gallery with Cowherd just a couple months ago, he’ll be returning this Friday, May 15, with a quartet that includes Parks, Doug Weiss, and Adam Cruz. In anticipation of the gig, we caught up with Moreno by phone to discuss his high school days, molding his sound, and his future projects.

The Jazz Gallery: How does your role change from being in a sideman, with Kendrick Scott or Will Vinson, to performing your own work?

Mike Moreno: In Kendrick’s band, my role is more of a color. My band, that’s like being on vacation. I’m not struggling to remember any changes, and it’s much more of a free feeling. Also, the way I function in my band, the tunes are written in a way that the guitar and piano should sound like one instrument.

Really, the reason why I have piano is not because I’m not comfortable playing without piano—it’s because the music, the sound of it, is the sound of guitar and piano playing melodies together and comping together. In the last few years, I don’t hear any other way of bringing my tunes across except for piano and guitar. That’s the way me and Parks or Cowherd play together. There are only a few guys I can do that with, where the piano and guitar sounds like one instrument.

TJG: How did you develop that chemistry with Aaron Parks?

MM: It’s not very difficult. It’s the way that he plays and I play just work together. The way we played together has always been really natural.  We talk about some things here and there, but for the most part they just happen naturally. It’s not like we sat there rehearsing tunes a lot. They sound the way they sounded the first time we ever played them together.

Jon Cowherd is another one. When I put a chart in front of him, the very first time he plays it, it’s almost like he wrote it. I feel a really strong kinship with those guys.

TJG: What did you listen to growing up?

MM: Straight up metal, like Metallica and Iron Maiden. That’s what I was into when I was a kid, when I got my first guitar. I was learning everything by ear without music theory or taking lessons. That was a really good start: I kind of learned to play the guitar playing with records, and I always attribute my rhythmic strengths to that.

A drummer I was playing with started going to college and studied jazz. He got me into Tony Williams and Miles Davis, I started looking into jazz and crossover stuff like Steely Dan and Larry Carlton. There was kind of a segue from rock slowly morphing into jazz, where I felt like I had a better chance of saying something original.

TJG: Tell me about your time in high school.

MM: That’s where everything just took off. There were people there that were very focused and knew what they wanted to do—Robert Glasper, Kendrick Scott, Mark Kelly, Jamire Williams. These guys, we joined together and just influenced each other. I was bringing in tons of music for us to play in school.

It was a time when people were still buying records—you would go out, buy records, bring them to school, sit in the practice room and listen to records together. The Young Lions movement was at its height at that period: Brad Mehldau, Josh Redman, Roy Hargrove, Nic Payton, were all at their height. That was super inspirational for us.

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Photo by Fabrice Journo, courtesy of the artist

Photo by Fabrice Journo, courtesy of the artist

As you may have heard, The Jazz Gallery went quiet last weekend to undergo a little cosmetic makeover. While a weekend without music at the Gallery hardly seems like a weekend, I am happy to report that we will be back on this Thursday evening in our spruced-up space.

To inaugurate our new look, we are proud to present pianist Tony Tixier and his trio, featuring Alan Hampton on bass and Craig Weinrib on drums. Born in France of Martinequean descent, Tony (and his violinist twin brother Scott) now call New York home, at least when they’re not touring around the world. Much of Tony’s music has an expansive quality to it, and he has a knack for creating large-scale forms that still allow his talented bandmates to stretch out, like on the piece “Calling Into Question,” below:

But Tony can mix it up too, especially in an intimate trio setting. Check out this recent performance at ShapeShifter Lab in Brooklyn:

Tony will be presenting some new music on Thursday evening—a perfect accompaniment to the Gallery’s new look. (more…)