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Photo courtesy of the artists.

This Friday, March 2, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome saxophonist Andrew D’Angelo and his trio back to our stage for two sets. An inveterate musical searcher—whether in collectives like Human Feel or his own ensembles—D’Angelo’s music has taken a marked turn over the past few years. Before his previous show at the Gallery, D’Angelo described his journey:

As far as my approach to what I do, at this point, and pretty much ever since that period when I had brain cancer, is about having full conscious awareness about tapping into the energy from my higher self. I try to let that energy flow through and come out in a certain way. It’s interesting because I was in the studio last week with Human Feel. Kurt [Rosenwinkel] said “Man, what happened to the complicated, crazy music you used to write?” That’s not what the source is giving me right now. It’s giving me these more surreal, sublime, tonal, atmospheric, kind, calm sounds. It resonates to a different frequency than when I was twenty-eight. It’s not an age thing, but having gone through a personal and spiritual transformation, my creation process has changed. The focus is on a different place, on different vibrations.

Recently, D’Angelo has begun a collaboration with bassist Reid Anderson, while also continuing with his home base trio and Human Feel. Before coming out to see D’Angelo at the Gallery on Friday, check out this recent performance with Human Feel and Chris Potter’s trio, showing D’Angelo’s continuing ability to mix it up in exciting ways.

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Photo by Peter Gannushkin, courtesy of the artist.

Over the next couple of weeks, composer and cornet player Taylor Ho Bynum will develop a new body of music working with a nine-piece ensemble of some of his closest collaborators. Titled “The Ambiguity Manifesto,” the music is designed to blur the lines between composition and improvisation, between solo and ensemble, between different genres, timbres, and instrumentations. In a cultural moment when so much is left or right, right or wrong, in or out, “The Ambiguity Manifesto” celebrates the beauty and necessity of the unknown and the indefinable, the enigmatic and the subversive, the boundary-crossing Trickster spirit.

Bynum and company will kick off this new project at The Jazz Gallery on Wednesday and Thursday this week. We caught up with Bynum to talk with the impetus behind the new music, and his many hats as a composer-performer-writer-teacher-organizer.

The Jazz Gallery: From your moving tribute to Muhal Richard Abrams in the New Yorker to your stewardship of Anthony Braxton’s Tri-Centric Foundation, it is apparent that your life is marked by a engagement with the creative music of the AACM. How did you come to be acquainted with them and their work?

Taylor Ho Bynum: I first became aware of the AACM back in high school. One of my very first mentors is the trombonist and tuba player Bill Lowe, who does the honor of playing in my ensemble still, and will be with us at the Gallery. I met him when I was 15 or 16 years old, and he had worked with Muhal Richard Abrams and Henry Threadgill. He wasn’t an AACM member, but he worked closely with several of those musicians—so that’s the first exposure I got to that creative music practice. And then of course I went to Wesleyan as an undergraduate, where I came under Anthony Braxton’s extraordinary influence. And so, that then was a life-changer for me, and I’ve been working with him ever since. My understanding of that history and that collective came out of some very personal relationships, and my embrace of both that musical aesthetic and the organizational aesthetic, and the self determination, and the various messages of that organization that go up above and beyond musical practice.

TJG:How do see you the role of non-profit organizations, much like that one, in the music world that we’re living in today? As it seems to be in the midst of a lack of funding and, as you made reference to some of your liner notes, a flux in the way that we deal with recorded music and how we value it.

THB: I think I’ve been lucky to have mentors, like those gentlemen—Bill, Anthony—who’ve always been very aware of the need to apply the music lessons of non-hierarchical leadership and individual initiative being not at odds, but actually in concert with collective development and ensemble understanding. And I think those things need to be applied past the music itself, and really, past even the art field but especially the arts field. We need to organize ourselves as creatively as we play music [laughs]. You know what I mean?

I think the music presents lessons on how to do that that we too rarely look to, and I think we take for granted that we work as collaborators and dedicate ourselves to working with the people we love, and innovating and experimenting. We take for granted that we’re going to do that in our music but we really need to do that in our survival practice as a whole.

And so for me, I see the two as very related. I think that in an ideal world, I would love to not have to organizing [laughs] and have, you know, really wonderful competent people partnering with to do that. It’s sad that we haven’t lived in that ideal world. So I think having some skills and inclinations towards that, I’ve found myself really wearing those multiple hats and finding that to make possible the things that I want to have happening as an artist, I have to also step up sometimes as a presenter, or a producer, or an organizer, to make those things happen. But again, I think that’s always been a part of the tradition of this music.

TJG: The advocacy?

THB: The advocacy and the self-determination. You know, Duke Ellington didn’t make enough money to support his orchestra from the orchestra gigs. That was a choice he made because he had income coming from pop songs. One has to navigate within the industry in such a way as to support our creative practice and that’s always going to be a balance, and that’s always going to be a related but different identity that we need to keep fighting for. We need more good people as partners engaged in that. I would urge anyone who’s interested to consider that – it’s not necessarily the most [laughs] financially rewarding task but I think it really is vital when it’s done in partnership with artists, and artists definitely value that.

I think it’s also good for me as an artist, having done those others kinds of jobs and run an organizations and having produced festivals and having done all that—it really helps me learn how to converse with and partner with people coming from that field. I think too often, it’s easy in a field where, as you said, everything is so under-resourced, there end up being, even, antagonistic relationships between people who really naturally should be allies, y’know? In terms of artists and presenters, or in terms of artists and each other, or in terms of presenters and each other. We really all should be fighting together in this, but it’s easy, in a capitalist economy with limited resources, to have it become a competitive thing when in fact, there are ways in which we really could be helping each other out across the board. And that’s something that I think the music demonstrates at its best, and we have to learn how to translate out of the musical world into the practical one.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

At one time or another, those closest to Becca Stevens may have witnessed her hop up and leave the room in the middle of a conversation, to steal a moment with her guitar across the hall. When she’s in the midst of composing new music, the singer and multi-instrumentalist allows inspiration to follow her wherever she goes—even when the moment’s not entirely convenient.

“I’m a very intuitive and in-the-moment creator,” she says. “Even if I’m painting or writing a story or something, I really work on my toes and I come up with ideas as I go—I sort of figure out where things need to go when I’m standing in the middle of them. So, I’ll make a choice and start to go in that direction, and then making that choice and going in that direction is what reveals the next step.”

Allowing what she considers the natural momentum of creation to help develop her ideas into stories and compositions, Stevens views the practice of revising as an optional part of the process.

“I do revise, sometimes. It definitely does depend on the piece. There have been times when I’ve written a hundred versions of a song and then gone back to the first version. But that would be more rare. I tend to be committed to that forward motion and to the process of making decisions and sticking with them, and then working with those instincts. I find that if I trust the instincts that feel good, it tends to be the right decision.”

A prolific artist, Stevens has released four records under her band’s name and collaborated with a diverse cross-section of musicians throughout her career, from Snarky Puppy to Esperanza Spalding to David Crosby. When writing, she commits to herself and to her own vision of what’s honest and inspiring, rejecting the idea of writing what she anticipates the listener might want to hear.

“I think it’s really important to write the music—and this is not just to musicians, this is to any artist—to create the art that moves you—the stuff that sparks your inspiration and gives you the urge to come back to the canvas or come back to the guitar. That’s, I think, the most important thing because I’m the one that’s going to have to play it over and over again, and if it’s inspiring me, then I’m going to be inspired when I share it. And I think that inspiration when you’re sharing a song is just as important as accessibility or the impression that it makes on people, musically. And also, as a result of that approach, oftentimes my music evolves, and I think that’s a good thing. If you’re following your inspiration, then you’re staying open.” (more…)

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Pianist Theo Walentiny will present his Theo Walentiny Group at The Jazz Gallery this week, alongside a series of abstract paintings created his father, painter Joe Walentiny. The paintings, collectively entitled “Soundscapes,” reflect and explore the impressionistic and improvisatory nature of Theo Walentiny’s compositions. Theo’s septet will include Adam O’Farrill on trumpet, Jasper Dutz on woodwinds, Kalia Vandever on trombone, and Lee Meadvin on guitar, in addition to Nick Dunston on bass and Connor Parks on drums who, with Walentiny, constitute the Aurelia Trio. We spoke with Walentiny, who gave us a sense of his compositional style, his affinity for thinking visually, and his thoughts on the New York scene from a childhood across the Hudson.

The Jazz Gallery: Could you tell me a little about the new group?

Theo Walentiny: Absolutely. It’s a mix of new and old music. We’ll play some older pieces, orchestrated for this newer instrumentation, as well as a few new things. In addition, my dad is an abstract painter, and he did a series of paintings in collaboration with a group of my compositions. We’re going to have the physical canvasses on display at The Gallery. When I’d visit home throughout the project, he would show me his progress. The work took a long time to develop and complete, so I was able to really see them grow.

TJG: How did this concept for the paired paintings come about?

TW: He proposed the idea after one of my shows. He took my recordings and spent a few months just painting and listening to the music. Each painting corresponds to a specific composition. It wasn’t a literal thing, where you might have certain brushstrokes corresponding to certain notes: It wasn’t systematic like that. Instead, he took the overall aura of the piece and allowed it to emerge visually. There’s one piece called “Short Story,” which is a tribute to Ravel, who’s been an important figure to me. The finished painting goes really well with the piece, with a very impressionistic atmosphere. “Short Story” is probably the most extended work we’ll be playing, with different sections and layers, which also translates well in the painting.

TJG: It’s great that the painting process is as impressionistic and improvisatory as your music. Talk to me about your compositions, and how improvisation comes into play.

TW: My music is definitely improvisation-driven, and much of how it sounds truly depends on the people playing it. That’s one of the reasons I’m so excited about this date at The Gallery. I love how passionate everyone in the group is, and I don’t like to be too restrictive or possessive, because everyone has such a voice. I’ve worked with this specific group of people in different capacities, and it’ll be really special to have everyone together like this.

In my music, I’m often not trying to simply have a melody, changes, solos, and a recap of the melody. It’s more like there are points where the music opens up, and improvisation becomes something people bring to the table. There’s this piece “Apprehension,” which starts out with a piano riff, or a duo with guitar, then a melody, and a form for soloing which can go almost anywhere. It’s not limited by the page. I’m focused on transitions between songs as well, and strive for a continuous set of music. I try to bridge the pieces with pairs of duos within the group. Horns might do a cadenza, there might be a short chorale, nothing too strict. Overall, we have a full sound where guitar and piano add a lot of warmth, and especially with bass clarinet, we have a lot of great options in terms of timbre.

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Photo by Chris Shervin, courtesy of the artist.

This Wednesday, February 21, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome bassist Chris Morrissey and his band Standard Candle back to our stage. The group has grown out of a 2015 Jazz Gallery Residency Commission, continuously building a unique repertoire of what Morrissey calls “singing, kind of asymmetrical, through-composed stuff with improvising.” We caught up with Chris to talk about the group’s development, his musical lineages, and his love of American musical theater.

The Jazz Gallery: What are you working on these days?

Chris Morrissey: I have a record coming out March 9th. It’s been done for a long time, so I’m happy to finally be able to share it. We’ve also been working on editing a music video for the first single that comes out next week, so that’s been occupying some of my creative brain. I have been writing a lot—this has been a strikingly slow few months, so I’ve been trying to navigate space that has no borders—no demands on my time. I’m normally pretty good at creating my own schedule—like incorporating time to practice, time to do yoga and run and everything, but this has been a longer than normal period for that. I’m happy with the writing and the music video I’ve been working on, but there’s also been a lot of looking out of windows, wondering what to do.

TJG: If another period like this comes up, would you approach it differently?

CM: Well these periods have come before. The last time something of this length happened was probably 9 years ago when I wrote most of what was my 2nd record, which is a rock record. I look back very fondly on that time even as stressed out as I was, and I try to apply that perspective to this time, even though this time is very different in a lot of ways because I have touring periods peppered throughout the next 18 months. Back then the feeling was more, “What am I going to do in New York?” And now I have a pretty firm grasp on what I do in New York, so it doesn’t have the same sense of freefall. These days, if things are just not moving, I try to let that be, knowing that it’s bound to change. January and February are notoriously like that—I’ve always felt immune to that, or have had some sense of entitlement to work but I’m learning that that’s not always the case.

TJG: Your approach sounds very Taoist. I know from other interviews you’re very into Buddhism and yoga.

CM: I love many Buddhist authors and speakers like Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chodron and a lot of others. What I was sort of paraphrasing, which I think got you to think that it was Taoist, was a Murakami quote from Wind Up Bird Chronicle. In the book, the main character has a spiritual advisor, and he references this one session where the advisor said something like “You are either moving upwards or you are moving downwards, or you are staying perfectly still. Your job is to assess which of those things is happening and then not resist. If you’re going down, go all the way down. And if you’re going up, go all the way up. And if you’re still, stay as still as you can be.”

TJG: Let inertia take you.

CM: Yeah, I think so. Knowing the influence that you have over your ability to enjoy your moment or be driven mad by your moment—even if it’s an unpleasant thing, knowing that it will shift at some point. That your state of being is the sum of controllable factors interacting with uncontrollable factors.

TJG: It seems like a lot of musicians are practitioners of or are at least “into” Eastern Religion. Where do you think that connection lies? Does your interest in Eastern tradition play into your music directly or is that more a mindset that occurs independently?

CM: There are parallels. I have a progressive family—from a line of progressive artist-type people, but we were in a suburban, Midwestern, not very diverse community, where religion was just Catholic or Lutheran. Our church was Catholic and very progressive. Our priest, who is no longer with us, went on to fight for women to be able to be in the priesthood, and fought for some things that you don’t normally associate with Catholicism and priests. But it was still Catholic, and never really resonated with me the way some of Buddhism has.

So as I got older I had the desire for some sort of spiritual community that felt like music did. Celebratory, current, honest…I’m fishing around a little bit, because I don’t know exactly where that spiritual desire came from. I just know that if you’re pursuing music, you have this sense that you aren’t creating by yourself, that there is some sort of mystical community in this pursuit. I think some religion, Buddhism specifically, in its celebration of inter-being parallels musical creativity’s dependence on the community and the social.

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