This Saturday, April 1st, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome pianist Andy Milne and his band Dapp Theory back to our stage, after their previous engagement on February 9th was postponed due to weather. When the group last appeared at the Gallery, they presented music from Milne’s Chamber Music America-commissioned project, “The Seasons of Being.” This time around, the group will be fresh off a tour northeastern US and Canada and will be playing a mix of original compositions and unique approaches to jazz standards alongside special guests Ben Monder on guitar, and Loren Stillman on reeds.
What do Esperanza Spalding, Maceo Parker, Branford Marsalis, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Vijay Iyer, and countless others have in common? They’ve all played with Jure Pukl. Hailing from Slovenia, with degrees from Berklee, the Vienna Academy, the Haag Conservatory, and the University of Performing Arts in Graz, Pukl is a saxophone virtuoso and an adventurous composer. He’s recorded seven CDs as a bandleader, two of which were recorded in New York, and is featured on over forty as a sideman. According to pianist Vijay Iyer, “[Pukl] is one of those rare beings whose music reflects a higher understanding at a young age. With his album he has created a listening experience with something to teach us all. He knows.”
Pukl will be bringing his Abstract Society project to The Jazz Gallery this week, featuring Darius Jones (alto), John Escreet (piano/prophet synth), Harish Raghavan (bass), and Jason Nazary (drums). On the phone this week, Pukl spoke passionately about the concepts of originality, adventure, and the willingness to dare. Our conversation quickly left the realm of composition and technique, and ventured into the philosophy of artistry and creation. In addition, we touched on his formative studies with George Garzone, his current challenges, and his journey towards “a zone where improvisation and composition become one.”
TJG: Will you mostly be playing music from your 2012 album Abstract Society (Storyville Records)?
Jure Pukl: There will be some music from the album, but not all. I’m writing new music, Darius is going to bring a couple of tunes, so it’ll be a little mixture of my music and his music.
TJG: Tell me about your new compositions.
JP: I was thinking you were gonna ask me that. Hm. With the last Abstract Society, I was getting into more odd rhythms, and fewer chord changes, in favor of specific sounds and voicings. Not stuff from the jazz book. The harmony is predominantly inspired by contemporary classical music. The charts they look a little different already, they’re not jazz sheets with chord symbols. I write out what I expect from the piano player, same with the bass player. For the drummer, I keep things open, so the drummer can pick up their own vision on a certain tune, can keep it loose and open.
TJG: It sounds like the biggest feature is the notation, in terms of what you’re giving the musicians beforehand.
JP: It’s a continuation of some stuff I was doing on Abstract Society. For a while, I was trying to get better at the jazz language in specific ways. I left that on standby for a while, continuing where I left off: clarinet in music school, conservative path of European music school, classical saxophone, contemporary classical stuff and extended techniques. Then, I stayed away from that for a while, because I was digging more into traditional jazz, polyrhythms, modern playing. It’s a never-ending process. Sometimes you have to study for a while, and then you dig back into your originality again.
So many aspects of Lara Bello’s new album Sikame are novel and fresh. The music comes from a combination of collaborators, songwriters, and musicians, such as Lionel Loueke, Richard Bona, Gil Goldstein, Leni Stern, and Rajiv Jayaweera. Born in Grenada Spain, Bello’s music stands on a rich foundation of flamenco, classical, jazz, and popular styles. Her new album is being released in a new physical and downloadable format, The Biopholio, on Fabian Almazan’s new Biophilia Records label. The details come together to create a rich musical, visual, and collective experience.
We’re thrilled to be hosting Lara Bello and her band for the release of Sikame. The show will feature Bello on vocals, as well as Julian Shore (piano & Rhodes), Vitor Gonçalves (accordion), Romero Lubambo (guitar), Samuel Torres (percussion), Rajiv Jayaweera (percussion), and special guests Hadar Noiberg (flute), Leni Stern (ngoni), and Janet Sora Chung (violin). We spoke with Bello on the phone about singing in Spanish, the new Biopholio, and the ins and out of building the new album from the ground up.
The Jazz Gallery: Congrats on the release of your new album!
Lara Bello: Thank you. After almost two years working on it, it’s nice, to say the least. The label, Biophilia Records, it’s amazing to work with them. It feels like harmony.
TJG: What kind of work did you do with the label?
LB: Everything. It’s a new format, The Biopholio, that Fabian Almazan has developed. The label, Biophilia records, is concerned about ecology and music. Fabian wanted to avoid CDs. Not for printing costs, but rather because CDs are not biodegradable. He wanted to give importance to the physical part of the experience by creating something new. It’s a paper design for people who want a physical piece of art. It’s like origami, with a digital download code inside. The cover isn’t square, it’s made of interlaced diamonds. Everything had do be done from scratch. My album is the first Biopholio out there, so it was a challenge for everyone. It’s a very creative label, and we did a beautiful video too. It was intense work.
TJG: Sounds like you all deserve a vacation! Tell me about the title, Sikame.
LB: Sikame is a word from Benin in Fon, the mother tongue of Lionel Loueke, who is featured on the album. The title song is a new version of his tune. Lionel likes to give names to people. I asked him, “Lionel, give me a name!” He said, “Sikame.” I asked, “What does it mean?” and he replied, “It means ‘the soul of the gold’.” It’s the essence of the gold, the thing that makes gold gold. Wow, I said. That’s a beautiful name. When I was thinking about my album, listening to his music, everything came together. Richard Bona came from Africa. Everything on the album is related to African grooves in some way.
TJG: Leni Stern, who will be at The Jazz Gallery show, has African ties too, and seems like a terrific collaborator. Have you played before?
LB: She’s part of the album, yes, and we played a few concerts together. I met her some years ago. She liked the flamenco influence in my music, which is popular in some African traditions. I recorded some vocals on her album too. The whole album is filled with friends.
A master of trombone multiphonics in the tradition of Albert Mangelsdorf, and a successful arranger for TV, Joe Fiedler can cover huge aesthetic ground during the course of single performance. Fiedler’s home-base trio with bassist Rob Jost and drummer Michael Sarin can slide in and out of abstraction on a dime, while his low-brass quartet Big Sackbut showcases a diverse cast of top-notch players.
This month marks the release of Fiedler’s newest record as a leader, Like Strange (Multiphonics Music), which augments his working trio with saxophonist Jeff Lederer and guitarist Pete McCann. On Saturday, March 25th, Fiedler and his quintet will celebrate the release of the record at The Jazz Gallery with two sets of this new music. We caught up with Fiedler by phone to discuss his music’s new directions and how he thinks about combining highly-contrasting musical influences.
The Jazz Gallery: This record marks a bit of departure from your work with your trio or Big Sackbut. What made you want to write for a quintet like this one?
Joe Fiedler: It’s a pretty simple answer, really. I’ve had the trio for thirteen years, I believe, and we’ve done four records. I love playing with those guys. But compositionally, I felt like I needed to step away from things like using multiphonics and other extended techniques to fill the space and make things interesting. I was hearing richer harmonies and textures, so I decided to keep the same trio, but then bring on a couple of extra players—people I’ve played with in different sideman situations for twenty-some years. I wasn’t really looking for a specific instrumentation, but more for specific creative voices, so Jeff Lederer and Pete McCann were no-brainers. They’re guys I have a rapport with, and so I know the hookup will be right there. They can also range from freer playing to more inside playing.
TJG: What in particular about Jeff and Pete make them the right fit for this group? Why have you stayed close musical compatriots for so long?
JF: There’s definitely an intangible factor to it. With Jeff, one of the things we share is that as young guys, we shared a lot of influences—and those influences stay with you your whole career. I was always into a lot of saxophone players, and we both loved David Murray, Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp. But if you talk to Jeff, he’ll say that his favorite instrument is the trombone, so we’ve dug a lot of the same trombone players as well. There’s just a lot of commonality there and as a result, both of our musics are grown out of the same pot, in their own ways. With that, I don’t have to explain what I’m trying to get at in a certain tune—he gets it.
Pete is just a freak of nature. He covers more terrain than just about anyone I know. He’ll play with singer-songwriters, and then he’ll play this super avant-garde gig, and then he’ll play with Darcy James Argue’s big band where the guitar book is really complex. He’s just a chameleon. Whereas Pete’s listening influences and definitely different than mine, he’s just a supportive player that no matter what I want to do, he’s able to follow. If I’m blowing a certain way, he gets it immediately and just comps so well. He’s one of the best guitar players on planet earth as far as I’m concerned.
TJG: In a lot of the tunes on the record, I was really struck by the rich harmonic palette and the clear song forms, compared to what you’ve done with the trio. Why do you think you were drawn to these kinds of materials at this point?
JF: This goes a bit back to some of my heroes as I was coming up, like David Murray and Ray Anderson. What always struck me about those guys was that they were able to play tunes—both had great standards records—and also have this incredible avant-garde creative voice that they could fit within that. While I was a young guy, I couldn’t do that. I would play my crazy free stuff all over the tunes and it sounded awful. As I was developing my own creative voice as a composer at the start, I had other thoughts in my head. I wanted to play with much more angularity, and a lot of the compositions were driven that way. But I’ve always wanted to get to a point—and I don’t know if I necessarily want to stay in this place—where I was writing more traditional songs, things that had a lot of flexibility. I love that in Mingus’s music you can have this blues-based tune and then have this really free solo in there and then have a really tonal solo in there. I also loved the accessibility that Murray or Anderson or Archie Shepp had. Avant-garde fans loved them, and mainstream jazz fans would dig them too. Not that I’m naive enough to think I’m going to be some jazz star, but I like the fact that I can play this record for my mom and she would dig it, versus for the other records she would be like, “Oh that’s nice, dear.” But again, it’s without compromising my vision, and especially my improvising. That doesn’t change from record to record, it’s just how it gets set up by the tunes.
In any context, be it joyous or unsavory, the word mercy evokes compassion, forgiveness, gratitude, even surprise. It appropriately matches the music of Jon Cowherd, who will bring his Mercy Project to The Jazz Gallery this Friday, March 24th. As a landmark in his dynamic and multifaceted career, the Mercy Project is an evocative and engaging venture, representing Cowherd’s first release under his own name.
Cowherd is a cofounding member of The Fellowship Band with Brian Blade, which released “Landmarks” (Blue Note, 2014) around the same time as Cowherd released Mercy. His touch on the keyboard is deft and bluesy, and his sound as a composer is expansive and engaging. A wide range of projects has lead him to collaborate and tour with Cassandra Wilson, Rosanne Cash, The John Patitucci trio, Claudia Acuña, The Grahams, Myron Walden, Scott Colley, and Mike Moreno, to name a few.
The Mercy Project encompasses a suite of compositions by Cowherd. It was originally documented on the album Mercy, recorded by Cowherd on piano, Bill Frisell on guitar, John Patitucci on bass, and Brian Blade on drums. The music has been performed by multiple incarnates of the ensemble, depending on the season and venue, including Tom Guarna on guitar, Doug Weiss on bass, Dan Reiser on drums. At The Jazz Gallery, the band will comprise of Cowherd (piano), Steve Cardenas (guitar), Tony Scherr (bass), and E.J. Strickland (drums). Regarding The Mercy Project, Cowherd has written that he “felt the need to make a statement under my own name.” In Mercy, that statement was sure-footed and compelling, garnering rave reviews and a swell of enthusiasm sustaining the project years after its release.