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Photo by John Labbé.

Photo by John Labbé.

Any introductory sentence introducing Theo Bleckmann winds up being either underwritten, or convoluted, or a run-on. This is because Bleckmann has his ears and singing voice in so many different fields; he’s like a musical octopus. How do you appropriately sum up a musician who, in the past five years, has toured with trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, collaborated with Meredith Monk, the New York Philharmonic, the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble and Laurie Anderson alike, channeled Elvis via Schumann at the Stone, received “Best” labels in both jazz and opera polls…ack, it’s too much.

Bleckmann will bring his multitudes to The Jazz Gallery with a handpicked quintet on October 3rd. We caught up with him via phone, after rehearsal.

The Jazz Gallery: What rehearsal did you have today?

Theo Bleckmann: It was for a guest appearance on Shai Maestro’s gig at the Jazz Standard. I wrote some lyrics to Shai’s songs, and wrote lyrics for Ziv Ravitz, the drummer in the trio. I’m going to perform those tomorrow.

TJG: What will an average working day look like for you? What percent is rehearsing and what percent is composing?

TB: It’s so crazy and unpredictable that usually I’m looking ahead of what I have to do and preparing for the next thing—and then whatever is left I can use for myself. My composing process is very unpredictable and erratic. I’m not a composer who sits down every morning and writes a sketch. When I’m on the road, or when I have a piano in front of me, I get inspired. It’s very unpredictable, and I try to allow for that to not freak me out.

TJG: You’ve performed duos with Ben Monder, and John Hollenbeck, and Shai Maestro, who make up 4/5 of your quintet at your Gallery gig. [Chris Tordini is on bass.] Is it disorienting to play with these guys in this setting?

TB: Absolutely. Because everybody is so complete unto themselves that I have to figure out how to have them shine within the group—just trying to rotate them. All of them can pull out anything at any time. It’s almost an embarrassment of riches. I’m just learning how to use them best in this context, and not to be afraid to have them do less than they do normally.

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British Pianist John Taylor

British Pianist John Taylor

Pianist John Taylor, one of Great Britain’s preeminent jazz musicians, died this past summer at the age of 72. “It was a shock,” fellow pianist John Escreet remembers. “He hadn’t really been ill.”

Escreet is one of the busiest and most versatile jazz pianists working in New York today. He’s recorded with musicians from across the stylistic spectrum—saxophonists as different as David Binney and Evan Parker, drummers as different as Antonio Sanchez and Tyshawn Sorey. Escreet hails from Doncaster, England, and studied with John Taylor at the Royal Academy of Music in London before moving to New York.

“I still would run into him while on the road these past few years,” says Escreet. “He was always very nice to me and encouraging.”

Over the past several years, Taylor also taught at the Siena Jazz Workshop in Italy, along with many of Escreet’s friends and peers—David Binney, bassist Matt Penman, guitarist Lage Lund, and drummer Mark Guiliana, to name a few. After Taylor died, Escreet was asked to fill in for this summer’s workshop. When Escreet arrived, he found out that much of Taylor’s music had been archived in the institute’s library. “Binney and I asked if we could have some of that music,” says Escreet. “So we ended up getting a bunch of John’s original, handwritten scores.”

When Escreet returned to New York after the workshop, he began to practice and play through Taylor’s pieces. He found the music challenging to work through, and a welcome change from the music he had working on recently. Escreet notes that Taylor’s work is “…very pianistic, and a lot of it is very through-composed, with very specific harmony and counterpoint. It’s very detailed and intricate music, very much in the Kenny Wheeler school of composing.”

Knowing he had an upcoming performance at The Jazz Gallery, Escreet decide to put together a band to present Taylor’s music, music that Escreet feels should be better known on this side of the Atlantic. When it came to finding collaborators, Escreet wanted to work with people who had strong relationships with Taylor and his music. David Binney and Matt Penman were natural choices, as they both knew Taylor well from their time teaching at Siena Jazz. For a drummer, Escreet reached out to Bill Stewart. “I had never played with him before, but I sent him an email about the project and he said he would love to do it. Bill had been on tour with John Taylor back in the day as a sideman, and John, on one of his albums, recorded one of Bill’s original tunes.”

Even though each member of the band has a close connection to John Taylor, Escreet says that this isn’t going to be a straight tribute concert. “I want to interpret John’s music in my own way, ” Escreet says. “But that doesn’t mean I’m going to do crazy arrangements or anything. I want the tunes to be vehicles for everyone to express themselves musically. And I feel the music is open enough to allow that.”

The Jazz Gallery is proud to present John Escreet and company playing the music of John Taylor this Friday, October 2nd. Whether you’re familiar with John Taylor’s work or not, this concert promises to be an evening of top-notch musicians stretching themselves in new directions, exploring the past to find another way forward.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

A trumpeter of enviable chops and eclectic tastes, Peter Evans has his feet equally planted in the today’s experimental jazz and classical scenes. While jazz fans know him best for his long-time membership in the high-octane and puckish band Mostly Other People Do The Killing, as well as his rough-and-tumble Zebulon Trio, Evans is also the trumpeter in two highly acclaimed contemporary chamber groups—the International Contemporary Ensemble and Wet Ink Large Ensemble. Many of Evans’s own projects bridge the gap between these two musical worlds, including his home-bass quintet, which features downtown jazz players like drummer Jim Black and pianist Ron Stabinsky alongside live electronic processing by the composer and improviser Sam Pluta.

This Thursday, October 1st, The Jazz Gallery will present a newer project by Peter Evans that too straddles the divide between the contemporary jazz and classical scenes—a wind quartet of instrumentalists with diverse experiences. Steve Lehman is likely the most recognizable name for jazz listeners—the saxophonist and composer has released several highly acclaimed albums under his own name that combine athletic rhythmic interplay with bracing, spectral sonorities. Saxophonist Matt Nelson, an old friend of Evans from Oberlin Conservatory, was an active member in the San Francisco Bay Area experimental scene, playing with a variety of bands including the indie band tUnE-yArDs. Now a Brooklyn resident, Nelson is a member of the saxophone quartet Battle Trance and released his debut solo record last year. David Byrd is a French Hornist and fellow member of the International Contemporary Ensemble with Evans. Like Evans, Byrd has a strong jazz background (his father was a jazz French Horn player and school band director), and has played with a wide variety of groups, including the Brooklyn rock band The Lone Bellow.

This group of talented and versatile musicians will be sure to push a lot of musical boundaries this Thursday evening, and will be hopefully be the start of more exciting experimentation to come.

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Photo by Deneka Peniston.

Photo by Deneka Peniston.

Last December, The Jazz Gallery presented the debut concert of Mark Guiliana’s Jazz Quartet. Best known as a leader for his plugged-in Beat Music project, this fully-acoustic band was a marked shift for the drummer. In an interview with Jazz Speaks last year, Guiliana noted:

This quartet will be the first time as a leader that I present music in a purely acoustic way. I consider it a challenge because, again, the timbre is fixed and it puts more attention on the true content of the composition. I can no longer hide behind a really cool synth pad or beautiful melodic voice.

If you think about sax, piano, bass, and drums, that’s what John Coltrane used to express himself. And that’s really scary! I consider it more of an homage to all the music I’ve been influenced by.

Since that show, Guiliana and company—pianist Shai Maestro (Fabian Almazan will be filling in for this show), bassist Chris Morrissey, and saxophonist Jason Rigby—have recorded a pair of albums (that you should check out below) and are set to embark on a European tour. Come out to the Gallery this Wednesday, September 30th, to see how this quartet has grown and developed over the past year.

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Top row from L to R: Philip Dizack, Marquis Hill, Josh Evans. Bottom row from L to R: Keyon Harrold, Billy Buss, Ingrid Jensen.

Top row from L to R: Philip Dizack, Marquis Hill, Josh Evans. Bottom row from L to R: Keyon Harrold, Billy Buss, Ingrid Jensen.

This Saturday, September 26th, The Jazz Gallery is proud to present a special jazz trumpet summit as part of the annual Festival of New Trumpet Music. Since 2003, the festival has been presenting the work of all kinds of trumpeters, celebrating the immense range of possibilities on the instrument. The concert at The Jazz Gallery on Saturday—called “Signatures in Brass”—does just that, showcasing six very different trumpeters all working under the big tent known as contemporary jazz.

The curator for the evening—Marquis Hill—explains the concept of the project thusly:

This music presents the wide variety of sounds and styles that uniquely constitute contemporary jazz trumpet music. In earlier times, jazz was more easily associated with a singular specific sound. Today, we feel there is an immense increase in the stylistic breadth of jazz. Our goal is to demonstrate how diverse musical voices now authentically fall under the jazz umbrella. This program showcases these voices and personalities through a very special night of original compositions, both orchestrated and spontaneous. I’m happy to be working with the range of trumpeters and their musical visions in this collaborative effort.

All six trumpeters featured on the concert—Mr. Hill, Billy Buss, Philip Dizack, Josh Evans, Keyon Harrold, and Ingrid Jensen—have performed at the Gallery previously on multiple occasions, making our stage an ideal setting for such a gathering. And while trumpeters are stereotyped for hogging the spotlight, the crack rhythm team of pianist Theo Hill, bassist Eric Wheeler, and drummer Obed Calvaire will surely assert themselves and keep everyone on their toes. In addition, the entire ensemble will join together to perform a new piece commissioned especially for the occasion by trombonist and composer Kendall Moore. Whether you know all of these trumpet players or just one, this concert promises to be a truly novel experience, a fascinating journey for player and listener alike.  (more…)