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Photo by Josh Goleman.

From L to R: Colin Stranahan, John Raymond, and Gilad Hekselman. Photo by Josh Goleman.

“I’m not really not a pyrotechnics, flashy kind of a player,” John Raymond says. “I’m more a subtle kind of guy.”

Don’t mistake subtle for boring, though. Raymond is a top-rate trumpet and flugelhorn player with a warm, assured sound and a keen ear for melody; his flexibility and craft allow him to excel in a variety of settings. In the New York Times, Nate Chinen praised Raymond’s 2015 “Foreign Territory” album, writing: “This is an album about finding new possibilities within a recognizable framework; it’s more rational than radical, with a thoughtful relationship to mainstream convention. It’s also a substantial leap forward for Mr. Raymond.”

Raymond leaps forward again this year with his stripped-down project Real Feels, which features the unusual flugelhorn-drums-guitar trio, featuring Gilad Hekselman and Colin Stranahan. He’s got a new live album coming out soon, and will give out an advance copy to anyone who comes to the show. We talked to Raymond via phone; here are excerpts from the conversation.

The Jazz Gallery: How did this unusual trio come about?

John Raymond: One of my main influences has been listening to Art Farmer. He has those great couple records with Jim Hall. I just love the sound of flugelhorn and guitar. There can be moments where you can sort tell which is which, but it’s less identifiable than a trumpet/guitar, or definitely a sax/guitar. It’s fun to weave in and out of each other like that. Gilad has played in pretty much every iteration of a band I’ve had since I moved to town 7 years ago—I sought him out.

This has been been a band where I don’t really want to bring in a lot of crazy difficult music. The joy of it is we’re playing these simple songs: “Amazing Grace,” “Scarborough Fair,” “This Land is Your Land.” But because of the trio setting, and moreso because how we’re all approaching the music, we’re taking this simple idea and able to then take it in a lot of directions.

TJG: Are there any trios that this group is inspired by?

JR: This group feels partly like a chordless group—but with chords. It has a certain sense of that openness that I really like in groups like Sonny Rollins, Live at the Vanguard, and Mark Turner’s chordless band. All that stuff, it places a different responsibility on each member of the group to carry the time and melody and the harmony.

TJG: Do you ever feel ungrounded without a bass player?

JR: I never do. Maybe part of it is that Gilad will plug in through a guitar amp and bass amp. He can play basslines if he wanted to. He at least gets a certain sense of bottom really fills out the band, so I’m never feel like I’m missing anything.

TJG: Why are you playing flugelhorn and not trumpet in this project?

JR: Playing flugelhorn feels really natural to me. I remember watching an Art Farmer interview and he said something like, “when I play the flugelhorn, I don’t have to think about my sound. It comes out exactly like I hear it, so I can focus on the notes or the melody.” I resonate with that. I feel like there’s a certain natural feeling I get when I play the instrument that I have to work harder for on the trumpet because I hear a different sound.

And playing flugelhorn has really made me a better trumpet player. Once I play the flugelhorn, it reminds me, “that’s what I sound like.” So then I can replicate that more quickly on the trumpet. (more…)

Album design courtesy of Sunnyside Records.

Album design courtesy of Sunnyside Records.

Violinist Scott Tixier and I are at Colson Patisserie in Brooklyn, and he’s telling what it’s like to be on tour with Stevie Wonder. “Sometimes, if we are hanging out at a bar and it’s four in the morning, Stevie will just go over to the drums and start playing.” Tixier scrolls through his phone to find a photo of him on stage with Wonder. He leans across the table and drops to a near-whisper. “Man. It’s crazy.”

It’s as though Tixier seems somewhat surprised by the way his musical career has taken shape. Continuing to flip through the photos on his phone, he pulls up a press release for an upcoming tour, and his eyes brighten with curiosity. He keeps scrolling and shakes his head, smiling as he shows me a picture from his recent wedding, another new development in his life which seems to have equally taken him by surprise. Even the notion of his upcoming show at The Jazz Gallery seems to have caught him off guard. Tixier remarks, “I’m really excited… I hope I play well.”

Tixier is uncommonly motivated and deceptively disciplined. Beneath a veneer of self-deprecation is an unshakable drive to master his craft. He has been feverishly practicing since before he knew he would be a musician.

“Even when I was a little kid, I practiced a lot. I started music at the age of three, in a French conservatory that introduces young children to rhythm and melody. I picked up the violin at the age of six. My mom is an Afro-jazz dance teacher, my dad is an actor, and my twin [Tony] is a pianist. Going to conservatory and brushing my teeth felt equally normal. I always knew I’d play music all my life, but I never thought I’d get paid for it.”

It’s not too difficult to picture Tixier as a kid. Leaning back in his chair at Colson, his contemplative and open demeanor is framed by deep eyebrows and an excited shock of hair. He speaks deliberately as he begins to recount how, within the span of a few teenage weeks, he became obsessed with jazz.

“After I heard Stèphane Grappelli for the first time, I began listening to a lot of jazz recordings. I saw a live performance of Gypsy Jazz by Florin Niculescu, a Romanian violinist who plays with Bireli Lagrene. It was an enlightening experience. Soon after that, I was introduced to a VHS tape of Kenny Garrett playing with Jeff “Tain” Watts, Kenny Kirkland, and Nat Reeves. It gave me chills, this video. I was hanging out with other young kids who were into jazz, and everyone was exchanging videos, recordings, and other things. That was when I met Yvonnick Prenne, at a summer camp, who plays harmonica on my album.

“Suddenly, music went from something that I took for granted to something that defined me. Jazz went from something I took seriously to something that became personal. I didn’t practice because I was scared of the teacher; I was scared of me not being as good as I wanted to be. I’ve never wanted to stop improving and getting better. I’ve always had ideas in my head, and it’s always been about getting them out. When I was fourteen, I couldn’t really get them out on the violin. I’ve been trying to bridge that gap my whole life. I’m still working on it, every day! The only different is that now I have more methodology and awareness. I go straight to what I want to practice.” (more…)

Stephan Crump & Rombal Quartet in performance. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Stephan Crump & Rombal Quartet in performance. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Bassist and composer Stephan Crump is always keen on making music in a familiar environment—he has long collaborated with his wife, singer-songwriter Jen Chapin, for one. His latest project as a bandleader, Rhombal Quartet, also has a familiar source. In 2014, Stephan’s brother Patrick died after a courageous battle with sarcoma. Over the last few months of his brother’s life, Stephan composed music, not out of sadness for his brother’s death, but in honor and commemoration of a death well-confronted. With the Rhombal Quartet in tow, Crump will celebrate the release of the group’s debut album, Rhombal, at the Jazz Gallery this Saturday. We caught up with Stephan by phone to hear about working on such a personal project and how he assembled this band of multi-faceted players.

The Jazz Gallery: This show is a record release for your new album, Rhombal. Can you talk about the album and how it came to be?

Stephan Crump: This album is the first album by this quartet, and I put the quartet together around a body of music that I wrote for my brother Patrick, who passed away a little over two years ago, after battling a very aggressive and rare cancer for about a year and a half. So short story is the music was borne of my experience with him and the inspiration of how he dealt with what he was confronting.

TJG: The other members of this group, Ellery Eskelin, Adam O’Farrill, and Tyshawn Sorey, you’re all playing together as a group for the first time on this album.

SC: Yes. Tyshawn and I have been working together for over a decade. I guess maybe it was 2003 or 2004 that we did a record together with Vijay Iyer, with whom we both still play. So we’ve been collaborating a lot with Vijay since then, for over a decade, and in some other groups as well, and that includes a lot of touring. So we’ve had a lot of experiences with each other and have a deep connection.

I met in 2013 when I was on faculty at Banff, the creative music program in the summer. That’s where we first connected, and I was really drawn to him, as just a beautiful person but also I was just knocked out by his musicality. After that summer, we stayed in touch, and I invited him over to my studio to play on a number of occasions with various other people. So I had in mind wanting to put a group together with him. And then Ellery is someone who I didn’t really know before putting this group together, but I have certainly had a lot of respect and admiration for him from afar, for many years, and I introduced myself to him with this project in mind. So he was the only one who I had never really played with, and we got together, just the two of us, a couple of times, just to check out playing the music together. Then we started getting together as the band. That was a year and a half ago, when the band first played. Our first gig was in January of 2015.

TJG: How did you decide that this was the instrumentation that you wanted?

SC: Well, over the last ten years or so, for my own projects, I’ve been doing a lot of drumless groups. Largely because in some of the other bands I play in as a side person, I play in a number of bands with drums, and I’ve just been wanting to explore some other things with my own music of late. But I knew I wanted to try, I knew I was ready to lead a group again with drums and explore certain grooves with drums, and also my brother, who was also a musician and we grew up learning to love music together and eventually playing music together, he was a guitarist and drummer, and was obsessed with music and especially loved great drummers. So it just made sense, I was ready for drums and it made sense, and putting a band together in tribute to him it made sense to get a great drummer in there.

With the horns, I had been dealing in my groups with my Rosetta trio for instance, which has acoustic guitar and electric guitar and bass, and we’ve done a number of records over the last ten years, and I have some duo projects, with Mary Halvorson on guitar, and others—I’m in plenty of groups with chordal instruments. I wanted to explore a palette that didn’t include a chordal instrument, that the band could, at times, become that instrument, sometimes in a vertical fashion where we’re moving together through harmonic implications, and sometimes in a linear fashion or even a more additive fashion where things are implied in a more abstract way. Different approaches, and a different kind of openness, but also a different challenge and a different responsibility.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Adam Larson grew up in the cornfields of Illinois which, as he puts it, was “about as boring as it sounds.” But despite being a big fish in a small pond, Larson exploded onto the jazz scene at a young age, showcasing his talents through The Grammy Band, the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, a YoungArts Jazz Fellowship, and a number of other equally weighty institutions. Having completed two degrees at the Manhattan School of Music and recorded three records under his own name, Larson finds himself these days looking ahead to bigger questions of destiny and purpose. It may just have something to do with the fact Larson and his wife are expecting a baby this fall. We caught up with Larson and talked about how he reconciles his upcoming Jazz Gallery show with his impending fatherhood and his continued search for musical growth.

The Jazz Gallery: You’ve got quite the who’s-who of musicians for your upcoming show, including Gilad Hekselman, Fabian Almazan, Matt Penman, and Ari Hoenig. Tell us a little bit about how you put the band together.

Adam Larson: Sure, I’ve been playing with Matt and Fabian for the better part of the last three years. They were on my latest record, along with Jimmy Macbride and Matt Stevens on guitar. I started playing with Ari Hoenig in his Nonet over the last few years, so I called him for one of my gigs a few months ago. It worked really well, so I was excited to invite him for The Jazz Gallery show. I’ve know Gilad Hekselman since I first moved to the city eight years ago. I’ve wanted to play with him for a long time, but never had the chance to have him on a gig. Ari is new to the music and Gilad will be playing it for the first time, while Matt and Fabian have been playing my tunes for a while.

TJG: Have you all played together before?

AL: Not in this configuration, though I’m sure they’ve all played together in different formations. I know Fabian hadn’t played with Ari until we had a gig of mine recently, so I think the chemistry may be fresh. Matt and Ari play together often too. It’ll be cohesive for sure, but the surprise factor will still be there, given that the five of us have never shared a stage. It’s been a while since I’ve done a quintet show. I put out my latest record Selective Amnesia (Inner Circle Music, 2015), and Matt Stevens was on the record, whose playing I love. He got busy working for Esperanza Spalding and has been on tour with her since May. In his absence I didn’t call anyone else for guitar, and I’ve mostly been playing quartet. So I’m looking forward to having the guitar sound folded back into ensemble with Gilad.

TJG: In this new configuration, what specific interactions are you looking forward to hearing?

AL: I’m not sure I’ve done a gig with the core rhythm section of Ari, Matt, and Fabian, but I’m looking forward to seeing how everyone fills in the information. I think Fabian is the best piano player in New York, for whatever my opinion is worth. He’s able to consume musical information and flush it back out in an orchestrated way that supports everyone. A lot of times in the quintet, I can get confused about who’s doing what. The incredible thing about Fabian is that he can work seamlessly with another comping instrument. As a soloist, that’s exciting. I’m looking forward to hearing how Gilad and Fabian interact.

Regarding Ari, certain rhythmic things he does can get overwhelming; it’s hard to know where to focus my attention sometimes. It actually becomes a great problem to have, because there’s so much great stuff happening on the bandstand. I feel like if I’m doing my job correctly, the least amount on my mind is when I’m playing, and it’s more about having awareness of what’s going on around me. It may be cliché, but these four guys are going to bring the music to a different place. And with the addition of guitar after months of playing quartet, it’ll be great to hear some of these intricate melodies doubled.

TJG: What music will you be playing on Friday?

AL: It’ll be a mixture of old and new. Every time I’m at The Gallery, I try to present some new music. Right now, I have almost an entire record’s worth of new stuff. At The Gallery, it’ll be a mix of a few tunes off my recent record Selective Amnesia, as well as some newer material. There will be a few things that I’ve been playing throughout the past months, and even several brand-new things that I’ll finish before next Friday. Both sets will be a mix of old, recent, and new music. I’ll be sticking with tenor and soprano saxophones, most likely. I played a lot of alto in high school, I’d be stepping out of my comfort zone to play alto in New York. I spend most of my time on tenor, which feels most conducive to my compositional voice. There are things I love about the alto though, so maybe I’ll make a game-time decision.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Over the past several years, saxophonist Mario Castro has found a real artistic home at The Jazz Gallery. Not only has Castro participated in our Mentorship Series, but has continually returned to our stage to further expand his long-running jazz + strings project. It is no surprise then that Mr. Castro has elected to celebrate his birthday at the Gallery with two sets of music on Thursday, September 15th (rumor has it that Castro will be leading a dance party in between sets as well).

Castro has been keeping busy this month, having just finished a four-night run with drummer Jonathan Pinson’s Boom Clap at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola. Castro definitely held his own when saxophonist Dave Liebman stopped by to sit in. Castro’s show on Thursday is sure to be filled with good vibes, so to get in the mood, check out Castro’s performance of his original composition “Amor y Soledad,” performed live at the Gallery, below:

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