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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

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Photo via wikimedia commons.

Photo via wikimedia commons.

For every legendary and instantly-recognizable Blue Note album—Blue TrainMoanin’, Somethin’ Else, The Sidewinder, Out to Lunch, Maiden Voyage, Speak No Evil—there are many more that are just as strong, yet not nearly as well known. Three of those under-appreciated Blue Note classics were recorded by pianist Freddie Redd in the early 1960s—The Connection (1960), Shades of Redd (1960), and Redd’s Blues (1961).

Born in New York City in 1928, Redd taught himself piano growing up, but only became a serious student of jazz upon hearing recordings of Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie during a stint in the army in the late 1940s. Upon returning to New York in 1949, Redd frequented the Monday night jam sessions at Birdland and picked up gigs with the likes of Cootie Williams, Art Blakey, Gene Ammons, and Charles Mingus. He became quite close with tenor saxophonist Tina Brooks (another under-appreciated Blue Note artist), and the two frequently played in each others’ bands. Speaking to All About Jazz in 2005, Redd remembered, “Tina was just a young dynamo… he always kept turning it out. Tina was always my first choice—whenever I had a gig… I’d get him.”

In 1959, Redd was asked to write and perform music for a new play called The Connection, written by Jack Gelber and produced by the groundbreaking theater group, The Living Theatre. A play-within-a-play that explored taboo subjects like drug addiction, The Connection received immense acclaim including three Obie Awards, as well as subsequent productions throughout the United States and Europe, and even a film adaptation. The success of The Connection brought Redd to the attention of Blue Note executives Alfred Lyon and Francis Wolf, who signed Redd to a three-record contract. The soundtrack to The Connection, featuring the leader’s memorable tunes and energetic accompaniment alongside blistering solos by saxophonist Jackie McLean, would become Redd’s best-known work. Writing in the New York Times on the occasion of the record’s re-release in 1989, Peter Watrous noted that “[i]n one respect The Connection is a blowing date set up for Mr. McLean, who plays wonderfully, but like many Blue Note records of the period, it’s perfectly arranged, with each harmonic movement accented and intensified by changes of texture or rhythm… It is hard-bop at its best.”

Success proved unjustly fleeting for Mr. Redd, who bounced from one jazz scene to another, spending time in Europe, Mexico, San Francisco, and a longer stint in Los Angeles. He has recorded sporadically since his days as a Blue Note artist, but always at a high level with his trademark pungent chord voicings and explosive, on-top-of-the-beat lines that establish his roots in classic bebop. After settling in Baltimore in 2011, Redd has played regularly at the venue An die Musik with great local players and passers-through like bassist Michael Formanek, saxophonists Brian Settles and Brad Linde, and drummers Matt Wilson and Tony Martucci. In 2013, Redd embarked on a European tour, proving that he still has much to say musically.

The Jazz Gallery is proud to present Mr. Redd in a quintet setting this Saturday, July 18th. As one of the few living links to the bebop era, Freddie Redd’s performance is a truly special occasion.  (more…)

Photo by Xavier Chauvet.

Photo by Xavier Chauvet.

Pianist Shai Maestro is in the midst of a busy summer. At the end of May, Maestro was the latest musician featured in Ben Wendel’s year-long “Seasons” project. He’s already performed in France, and will be heading back at the end of the month with Avishai Cohen and Kurt Rosenwinkel. Maestro was also just signed to the Motema Music label, which will release his new album, Untold Stories.

And on top of all of this, Maestro has started a new quintet, a project he calls “Music for 5 Musicians.” The group made their debut last month at ShapeShifterLab and will grace the Gallery stage this Friday, July 17th. The group features both long-time collaborators and new additions, a rich color palette for Maestro to explore. (more…)

Photo by Lauren Desberg, courtesy of the artist.

Photo by Lauren Desberg, courtesy of the artist.

A year ago, Alex LoRe released his debut album Dreamhouse (Inner-Circle Music), featuring the young saxophonist stepping out in the risky saxtrio format, as well as going toe-to-toe with master saxophonist George Garzone. The album received positive notice throughout New York’s jazz press, establishing LoRe as a musician to watch.


Recently, LoRe has been performing with a quartet, augmenting the rhythm team of bassist Desmond White and drummer Colin Stranahan with pianist Glenn Zaleski. The group has recently been showing up at the Cornelia Street Cafe, Shapeshifter Lab, and the Bar Next Door, so they will surely be in top form when they play The Jazz Gallery on Thursday, July 16th. Word has it that LoRe and company are working toward a new album. If LoRe’s strong debut is any indication, this preview show is not to be missed.
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Photo courtesy of http://godwinlouis.com

Photo courtesy of http://godwinlouis.com

Last year, for his 2014 Jazz Gallery commission project, saxophonist Godwin Louis composed a set of music inspired by the music of Haiti and its links to the origins of jazz. Since then, Louis’s musical pursuits have taken him even further afield to Europe and West Africa. A keen musical observer and inveterate composer, Louis has continued to grow as a musician, incorporating these new influences into his personal style.

This Saturday, Godwin Louis returns to The Jazz Gallery for the first time since his commission performance, presenting new compositions alongside some old favorites. We caught up with Louis last week to talk about his travels, his new band, and the preparations for his debut album.

The Jazz Gallery  I’d like to start with a pretty general question—what have you been up to musically lately? Have you been working on a new album?

Godwin Louis: I’ve been continuing the writing process. I enjoy writing a lot, so I’m always trying to keep up. I was fortunate enough that when I lived in New Orleans during my days in the Thelonious Monk Institute, I got to study with the great Roger Dickerson. He taught Terrence Blanchard, several of the men in the Marsalis clan, and so on. We spent two years studying counterpoint, and I remember he would always tell me, “Write! Write! Write every day, write drafts, put them away, bring them back later and finish it.” So I’ve been writing a lot.

Actually since my commission to premiere some work last year by The Jazz Gallery, I’ve spent a little bit of time in West Africa. I went to Benin, Senegal, and Ghana, and then spent a lot of time in Haiti trying to understand that connection between the two regions. I’m also trying to understand who I am, because as someone who is American-born of Haitian descent, I found that a lot of Haitians, slaves came from West Africa, so I wanted to see for myself.

In terms of performing, I’ve been touring a bit. I was fortunate to go to Europe with the great drummer Al Foster, so that was a wonderful lesson for me. We did a tribute to Art Blakey that was with Doug Weiss on bass, and Dave Bryant on piano. It was a little weird for me at times, as I’m a very rhythmic player, and I worked hard trying to understand his rhythmic falls. It was a great learning experience.

Also, I’ve been working on an album—my debut album actually. The work is based on the compositions that I wrote for my residency at the Gallery last year, plus some other works, I should be out soon—I’m just looking at whether a label will pick it up and things like that. I just have to mix and master it. I was gonna try to release it in July, but once again I have to figure some stuff out so hopefully it will be out in the fall. 

TJG: Do you have a name for the record yet?

GL: Yeah, it’s gonna be called Global, because of my global perspective on the world. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel and see a lot, and I think that the album features influences from where I’ve been. For example, I wrote this prayer that’s in different languages. I have my great friends Ilan Bar-Lavi and Shelly Tzarafi doing a Hebrew version of a prayer, then there’s a Korean verse. I have songs in Spanish, some stuff that include some Haitian influence, some African influence, some “ding ding-a-ling” straight ahead… That’s why I feel like it’s definitely a global album. It stems from all my influences, all my favorite composers—like Hermeto Pascoal, Haitian composers Ludovic Lamothe and Occide Jeanty, Angelique Kidjo who’s this African singer, and this great English composer Django Bates.

TJG: How specifically have these travels impacted your writing?

GL: It definitely has—not so much from the Benin side, in terms of authenticity—but I think it definitely has influence on the way I compose. I’ve noticed that there is a lot of similarity in terms of rhythm to Haiti, a lot of the 6/8 forms, but the difference is in Haiti and the Afro-Caribbean world, you still have a lot of duple-meter. I feel like over there at least from my experience was a lot of triple meter, 6/8, 3/4. But in Haiti and Cuba, the Afro-Caribbean world, I feel like you find a lot of mixing between the duple meter and the 6/8. I love that concept, and I’ve been trying to add odd meter to that. I feel like as an American from the American continent, we are mixed some way. I feel like I am a mix of all these different cultures, so I try to present that—with the jazz harmony, the Caribbean rhythm.

Of course the rhythmic components of jazz come from the Caribbean, and we don’t hear that stressed enough in jazz history or in school, but it’s absolutely taken from the Caribbean. The rhythmic component of jazz was conceived in New Orleans, but through the influences of Haiti and the Caribbean. So I’m trying to bring all those components together.

And whenever I travel to Benin or wherever I’m going, I try to make a conscious effort to digest what I’m hearing, and if it inspires a composition, sure, but if not, I don’t want it to be forced. Again, I always think of Roger Dickerson—write a draft, put it away, come back to it, well ok I hear this now, ok, and if I happen to hear influence from a place that I visited, sure, but I believe in the natural process.

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Colin Stranahan (Photo by Brian Payne)

Colin Stranahan (Photo by Brian Payne)

“Pacemaker” is an appropriate name for a band led by a drummer, the beating heart of the rhythm section. But for drummer and bandleader Colin Stranahan, the name has a deeper, more mysterious meaning. Colin’s grandfather Glen had a pacemaker, and the device seemed to posses special powers in the mind of young Colin.

Pacemaker made its Jazz Gallery debut this past winter, playing wide-ranging sets of original compositions by Stranahan and his bandmates, as well as music by the drummer Paul Motian. The group returns to our stage this Friday with a slightly reconfigured lineup. Joining Stranahan is the stalwart pianist Pete Rende, as well as bassist Matt Penman, and saxophonist Ben Wendel. Expect the group’s pensive explorations to take on new colors.  (more…)