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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Alan Ferber’s previous album March Sublime (Sunnyside) marked the trombonist and composer’s first major foray into writing for big band and netted him his first Grammy nomination. For his latest album, Roots & Transitions (Sunnyside), Ferber has stripped down his palette, returning to his long-time nine-piece band. The album features a suite of new music commissioned by Chamber Music America and inspired by Ferber’s experience as a new father, watching his infant son grow and change.

The Jazz Gallery is thrilled to welcome Ferber back to our stage to celebrate the release of this beautiful and deeply-personal music. Jazz Speaks caught with Ferber by phone to talk more about his compositional process for the suite and balancing his work as a performer, composer, and father.

The Jazz Gallery: You’ve got two shows coming up at The Gallery–a two-night album release for Roots & Transitions. The liner notes for the album are written so beautifully and sensitively. Was that all your writing?

Alan Ferber: Yeah, I wrote most of it, and then sent it to Sunnyside to edit it. It’s a project that I’m pretty intimately connected with in a big way, on a number of levels.

TJG: You described this idea of subjecting these small musical cells to different translations and transformations in a way that parallels your own personal development during this recent period. Could you talk a little more about that?

AF: I guess to put it into context, this piece was the result of a grant that I received from Chamber Music America’s New Jazz Works commission. When I received the grant, my wife was pregnant, so I sort of knew what my life circumstances were going to be. I knew, and I also had no idea what that was going to be like. When I received the grant, with the reality of our son being born, during that first year of his life, I was starting to write the piece and, in a way, had very little time to do it, because of my family responsibilities. I tried to think about how life starts. In particular, having a child, you see how just a little seed can develop and get more complex. When he enters the world, you see it play out in front of you. And this was so inspiring to me, from a musical perspective.

Out of necessity, I didn’t have the time to focus on trombone and composition, which used to be two separate things. I started to practice compositionally on the trombone. So I was coming up with little motives and seed ideas on an instrument that severely limits you. You can’t play a chord on the trombone. You can’t have the immediate gratification of a chord voicing, which is advantageous, yet challenging. I realized that I had to come up with something, even if it was a three- or four-note idea that was compelling. Once I came up with it, I allowed the idea to gestate over a long the course of time. I would improvise with it, extend it, manipulate it, and approach it with different techniques. And depending on how I was feeling, if I didn’t get any sleep because my son was up all night, if I was anxious or edgy for example, the ideas I had would be a real reflection of that.

TJG: Could you give an example?

AF: One night, we were out and he was with a babysitter. He was in this really rambunctious stage. We came back, and he had just fallen onto a toy clock, and it was just a mess, man. He was crying his eyes out, and there was blood, and it felt really traumatic. Like, Oh my god, what do we do, should we go to the emergency room? Should we just clean it up? And this and that, and so on. It was the first time something like that had happened to us. But everything was cool in the end. And the next morning, I started to write, and was feeling this angst, which translated into angular ideas and intervals. And there’s a tune called “Clocks” on the album, which is angular, edgy, and not terribly comfortable-sounding.

TJG: On “Clocks,” Jon Gordon and Nate Radley’s solos are absolutely huge.

AF: Yeah. Their solos contribute compositionally to the piece. And I realized, as I was composing this tune, the ‘seed’ idea, a perfect forth surrounded chromatically that serves as the first part of the melody, I realized that I had sort of almost stolen it subconsciously from this free improvisation from one of Jon Gordon’s records. It had this kind of contemporary improvisation between him and Bill Charlap. It’s this strange and beautiful intervallic seed idea, and it became the main idea for “Clocks,” and so it felt appropriate to have Jon solo over it, considering how he informed it.

TJG: Did he know where you’d taken the idea from?

AF: He didn’t, until I told him eventually. He was like “Oh. Really?” And I actually saw Bill Charlap the other night and told him too, and he was like “Woah, crazy!” [Laughs] It was an improvised track from one of their records, where they grabbed that motif and played around with it for a while. It got into my subconscious and informed the piece. The fact that it was also informed by this traumatic life experience says something to how certain musical ideas can surface or resurface depending on how you’re feeling.

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Andy Milne and Dapp Theory performing at The Jazz Gallery. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Andy Milne and Dapp Theory performing at The Jazz Gallery. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Like his friend and mentor Steve Coleman, pianist Andy Milne has been an inveterate musical explorer since coming to New York in the early 1990s. He’s worked closely with a huge range of artists, from to Coleman to saxophonist Ravi Coltrane to trumpeter Ralph Alessi to famed rock singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn. Milne’s band Dapp Theory has been the pianist’s main creative outlet for over fifteen years, and The Jazz Gallery is proud to welcome the group to our stage this Thursday, May 12th.

This past autumn, Milne and Dapp Theory premiered their newest project, “The Seasons of Being,” an evening-length work commissioned by Chamber Music America, and featuring an expanded ensemble and spoken-word elements. The group has since gone into the studio to record the suite, so keep an eye out for a new album coming soon. In the meantime, check out the piece “Three-way Mirror” from the premiere performance, below.

Dapp Theory is likely to draw from both this material and their previous work at the Gallery on Thursday, showcasing the tight interplay they have developed over the many years working together. (more…)

Photo by Peter Gannushkin.

Photo by Peter Gannushkin.

This week, pianist Craig Taborn heads into the studio with a quartet of longtime associates—saxophonist/clarinetist Chris Speed, bassist Chris Lightcap, and drummer Dave King—to record his next album for ECM. But before then, Taborn is stopping by The Jazz Gallery to put the new music through its paces. Jazz Speaks caught up with Taborn this past week to discuss the concept for his new album, how he keeps creative, and how his compositions grow and develop over time.

The Jazz Gallery: How is the interaction between players in this group different than say your trio?

Craig Taborn: I’ve played with all these guys for a long time. It’s similar to the trio in that sense, and also in the sense that they’re very individual players, rather than players coming out of a certain bag. I’m not as interested in super-pro guys who just do what’s required in terms of style. I need that, because I like to throw stuff to people and let them do what they’re gonna do with it.

TJG: And so they can throw stuff back at you.

CT: Yeah. I need it! Otherwise, my creativity kind of bogs down. I need people to throw curveballs and make some executive decisions on their own. I’m an improviser in that way—I’m not that much of a control freak.

TJG: That’s interesting, because with your solo work, I feel that you can get so much going on your own.

CT: Yeah. That was the big thing with the solo project—trying to figure out how to make that spontaneity happen for myself. If I’m too set, if I know what’s going to happen and it’s just a question of executing it, then I can lose the thread. It’s hard to find inspiration when that happens. I need to be challenged in the moment.

TJG: What do Chris, Chris, and Dave bring to the group in this regard?

CT: It was definitely based around a certain concept: a sound, an affinity. It stemmed from using organ—not a Hammond organ, but a transistor organ—so it had a certain 1960s Sun Ra inspiration. I don’t want to say too much about style because I’m not really thinking that way, but everyone has a certain sound-approach coming from an appreciation of electric sounds. It’s not as much of an electronic thing as Junk Magic is, but it’s definitely an electric thing, if that makes sense. It might be a bit of a rock thing, or have this other ’60s kind of stuff in there.

Chris Lightcap is a really great electric bass player as well as upright, and so he does a lot of stuff with that. And I’ve known Dave since we were twelve. Dave likes to play with electronic drum pads as well as his regular kit, and Chris Speed plays both tenor saxophone and clarinet, so there’s definitely a broad palette between all the players. We can go fully into a more synth world, or fully into an acoustic world. The group has that mobility, and I like playing with that. It can have more of a chamber vibe, or go straight-ahead or go electronic at will. Everybody is up to that task and really into that.

TJG: Does this interest in electric instruments and those kinds of sounds relate at all to your work with the quartet Prism, with Dave Holland, Kevin Eubanks, and Eric Harland?

CT: I play a lot of Rhodes in that group and with this group, and in Tim Berne’s and Chris Potter’s groups. I wanted to get away from that sound a little bit. I love that sound, but I thought about what would happen if I played with something completely different. A Farfisa or Vox organ has a trashy and kind of limited sound. Those limitations are important to me, which is why I don’t want to bring the full battery sounds that a computer can make. So I’m working with a piano, a transistor organ, and a small synth, and seeing what I can get out of that setup.

This is related to using the Rhodes in Prism and in Chris Potter’s Underground. I wanted to focus on Rhodes to create a limitation for myself. With all the possibilities of electronics, it can be overwhelming, and it can limit creativity in a way because there are too many options. I feel my creative reaction to things is spurred on by having access to a more limited palette and then trying to force it out. A transistor organ is perfect for that, because you have to work with it more to make it do stuff.

TJG: Igor Stravinsky has a quote about how he felt most creative when he put the most restrictions on himself.

CT: Exactly.

TJG: What kind of material have you guys been working on for the Gallery gigs? Is it more open or more composed?

CT: It’s all my compositions. It’s all newish music, some very new music, some older pieces that I haven’t documented before. We’re recording this material on Thursday and Friday for ECM, so the gig is a bit of preparation for the recording. Because of that and time constraints, we’re really focusing on the new stuff. We’ve done arrangements of tunes from other projects, like Beat the Ground from Chants, but we’ve got to really lock in this new stuff when we rehearse earlier in the week.

Like with the trio, I like to go into a bit of a sprawl with each set—like have a structured set list but then let some pieces merge into others and figure out how to get from one place to the next, basically have a set be uninterrupted in that way. I’m not sure if we’ll completely do that at the shows. Since we’re going in to record, we might do some shorter versions of some pieces. We have to decide as a group on that.

Interesting things happen when you play tunes a lot over a short period of time, like you go in the studio all day and then you play it again in a show. Playing the same music that you’ve been recording all day has a feeling of being unleashed. All the things that you were uptight about in the recording studio are now gone, and there is a different energy. Even if you’re tired, there’s another level.

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Photo by Peter Gannushkin.

Photo by Peter Gannushkin.

The pianism of Craig Taborn has the rare ability to suggest infinite possibility from one note to the next. He is a musician of immense range, equally comfortable playing hard-driving fusion with the Chris Potter Underground and as he is doing free improvisation with the collaborative trio Farmers by Nature. His own records as a leader, whether solo or with his working trio or with plugged-in projects, are able to distill his multifaceted playing to a singular essence, by turns lyrical and pointed and mysterious.

This Wednesday and Thursday, May 4th and 5th, The Jazz Gallery is proud to welcome Taborn to our stage with a quartet of long-time associates: saxophonist and clarinetist Chris Speed, bassist Chris Lightcap, and drummer Dave King. Be on the lookout for an extensive interview with Taborn coming to Jazz Speaks tomorrow, but in the meantime, check out Taborn play an exploratory set with his trio, below:

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Photo by Harrison Wood

Photo by Harrison Wood

For 2016, The Jazz Gallery has commissioned new music from three guitarists of distinctly different musical temperaments—Gilad Hekselman, Mary Halvorson, and Rafiq Bhatia. While Hekselman is known for his warm, slightly distorted sound and fluid technique, Halvorson has a pricklier approach that prizes space and a wide range of articulations. Bhatia, on the other hand, is a real soundscaper, using an array of analog and digital effects to make the guitar sing or snarl.

This weekend, the Gallery presents the first of these residency commission projects—Rafiq Bhatia’s “Walk Right Up To The Sun.” We caught up with Bhatia at his home to talk about his underlying motivations for the project and get a sample of the enveloping sound-world Bhatia has constructed.

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