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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

At the end of March, saxophonist Steve Coleman will embark on an extended European tour with his trio Reflex, featuring stalwarts Anthony Tidd on bass and Sean Rickman on drums. But before Coleman takes his powerful and influential music overseas, it is only appropriate that the group steps out on their old proving ground—The Jazz Gallery stage. We are proud to present two nights of Coleman, Tidd, and Rickman this weekend, March 3rd and 4th.

These are concerts not to be missed, as Reflex has rarely performed as a group in the United States. The trio presents Coleman’s music in a nearly elemental state, transparently showcasing the subtle and sophisticated rhythmic counterpoint these musicians have developed over many years of playing. Check out the group playing at The Blue Whale in Los Angeles, below, but know that this only scratches the surface of what can happen this weekend at the Gallery.

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Even among a generation filled with prodigiously talented guitarists, Nir Felder stands out. Felder cuts an imposing presence on stage with his low-slung Stratocaster, and effortlessly rattles off complex and knotty lines. He’s proven to be an endlessly versatile sideman, working with artists as varied as Esperanza Spalding, John Mayer, Joe Lovano, and Ken Thomson of the Bang on a Can All-Stars. And he’s developed a unique voice as a composer and bandleader, complementing his technical abilities with a deeply-lyrical, rock-influenced melodic sense.

Before heading out on a European tour with trumpeter Keyon Harrold, Felder will bring his trio—featuring Orlando Le Fleming on bass and Jimmy MacBride on drums—to The Jazz Gallery on Saturday, February 25th. To get a sense of the rhythmic fireworks and tight interplay Felder’s trios can produce, check out this recent video of Felder playing at 55 Bar.

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At Hamilton’s Bakery in Harlem, Adam Larson shows up early for coffee. Purple Rain shakes the place at full volume, followed by Superstition. We sit and I ask him about the neighborhood. Larson quickly gives me a rundown: “Tazo Coffee on 157th, Tsion Cafe on 148th, where Wayne Escoffery plays some Thursdays, Sylvana on 116th, the old St. Nick’s Pub, now closed.” Larson is a living vault of venues, musicians, and opportunities in New York City. His knowledge of the industry extends beyond the names of clubs and owners. At only twenty six years old, self-managed and self-motivated, saxophonist and composer Adam Larson has turned the elusive art of booking gigs into a tangible science.

It’s all in service of the music. Larson, now a father, still premieres new work with new ensembles on nearly a monthly basis at venues across the city. His upcoming show at The Jazz Gallery with Can Olgun (piano/nord), Desmond White (electric/acoustic bass) and Jonathan Blake (drums) is presented in partnership with Composers NowOver coffee, between texts to his wife and calls to the plumber, a very busy and hyper-focused Adam Larson discussed his upcoming gig schedule, his thoughts on composition, and the ways in which he pursues personal and musical growth.

The Jazz Gallery: You’ve been living in Harlem for a while?

Adam Larson: About five years, yeah. I’ve steadily been moving north since I graduated. Next we may move to Queens. In the 2008 brochures from Manhattan School of Music, it was like, ‘Don’t go above 125th street’ [laughs]. Now it’s all different. I love this spot, Hamilton’s Bakery. It’s pretty hipster, but this is my spot.

TJG: Last time we talked was before your previous Jazz Gallery show in September, right before your son was born.

AL: We were expecting him on Halloween. The 30th came, and we thought he was going to be late. Then, late in the morning, my wife feels these kicks. Eighteen hours later, he was born. Healthy, happy, great.

TJG: You were saying that show at The Gallery would probably be your last for a while, so you could spend some time with your son.

AL: I didn’t travel until two weeks ago. I stayed in the city from September to early February, which is new for me. Usually I’m out every single month doing something. And I took a month off from performing outside of New York, aside from playing at Birdland in November. I knew I had that on the calendar months in advance, and I considered cancelling since I wouldn’t be able to get a big turnout. But I had actually drafted up all my press emails a week before he was born, so in the recovery room, I had my phone and hit ‘send’ on these emails. The music is important, but getting people to the show is one of my major priorities.

TJG: So what was it like to be away from your son for the first time?

AL: It was difficult, but it was only about 36 hours. I didn’t really have time to think about it. I was so busy doing stuff while I was away. I have to provide, it puts things in perspective. My wife’s a stay-at-home mom, and the financial obligations fall on me. It’s not impossible, but it’s not easy. It’s a pleasure to have opportunities to create. It helps a lot. 

TJG: You seem like someone who’s always done the most to capitalize on your time. What’s it like having your time squished even more?

AL: It’s all about managing expectations. I can’t play four hours a day, like I did in college. And it’s okay with me: I want to be a part of my son’s life. I’ve always been conscious of my time, but can compartmentalize things. I can look at the clock and say, ‘Okay, I have 30 minutes right now, and 30 minutes this afternoon. How can I use these minutes effectively? Am I going to write? Play saxophone?’ It’s a tightrope act, making sure I’m being a good husband, a good father, and am taking care of my music.

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This Wednesday and Thursday, February 22nd and 23rd, The Jazz Gallery is thrilled to welcome the illustrious trio of Henry Threadgill, Vijay Iyer, and Dafnis Prieto back to our stage. As three of the most decorated composer-improvisers working today (with two MacArthur grants and a Pulitzer Prize between them) and longtime friends of the Gallery, Threadgill, Iyer, and Prieto need almost no introduction. Their regular appearances as a collaborative trio are among the most sought-after events on our calendar, and their performances this week are sure to be no different.

As you head over to the Gallery website to purchase advance tickets (the first set on Wednesday has already sold out), you can listen Vijay Iyer’s trio perform Threadgill’s knotty and energetic composition, “Little Pocket Size Demons.”

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Photo by Caterina Di Perri.

This Saturday, February 18th, The Jazz Gallery welcomes drummer Ferenc Nemeth and his two-piano band to our stage for two sets. A native of Hungary, Nemeth studied at Berklee and the Monk Institute before relocating to New York in 2003. Since then, he has established himself as one of the most rhythmically-agile players on the international scene, lending his talents to diverse groups led by the likes of pianist Kenny Werner, singer Jo Lawry, and oudist Dhafer Youssef. But Nemeth is perhaps best known for his work with guitarist Lionel Loueke, both in the collaborative group Gilfema and on Loueke’s solo records.

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