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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

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Photo by Jati Lindsey.

Just over a year ago, vibraphonist Joel Ross premiered his evening-length project, Being a Young Black Man, at The Jazz Gallery as part of 2017 Residency Commission Series. The work is a series of compositions responding to different events in Ross’s world, organized around themes of family, faith, and the harsh realities of day-to-day life. In an interview with Jazz Speaks, Ross spoke about the socio-political practices of his and his peers’ art:

Since I moved to New York about three years ago, I noticed that all of my peers are very cognizant and very vocal about what’s going on, both with music and outside of it. On social media, I feel we’re all really vocal about what’s going on. I think that’s a great thing.

Jazz has always been a political music, it’s always been a protest music. It’s not surprising to me then that so many jazz musicians are so vocal right now. I feel with people my age, in particular, we’re in an age of information, 24/7. You can always know what’s going on. Because of that, at some point, you can’t just stay silent. And we have a platform for it.

This weekend, Ross will return to the Gallery to revisit this project with a deepening perspective, both personal and musical. Ross will be joined by some original collaborators—including Immanuel Wilkins and Harish Raghavan—as well as new players with their perspectives on the material. To refresh your memory of Ross’s project, check out “Dad’s Song,” below; then come to the Gallery this weekend to hear the rest.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

In a recent interview with Jazz Speaks, saxophonist Jure Pukl spoke about his notion of risk in improvised music:

Riskiness can be an open form, or taking a certain structure then opening it up, or getting inspired from a structure and then opening it up into a newer, broader thing, maybe returning the structure. Or, having only structure, trying to be creative and risking only within that structure, so that the players move with the same mission. Fish don’t always move in the same direction, but they outline the bigger shape. Some turn left a little early, some turn left afterwards, it’s all this one moving shape.

Saxophonist Darius Jones is an equally-committed risk-taker, always experimenting with new forms, instrumental configurations, and even made-up languages. At The Jazz Gallery this Thursday, June 28, Jones and Pukl will convene their collaborative quintet Meat—featuring pianist John Escreet, bassist Carlo DeRosa, and drummer Eric McPherson—for two sets of musical surprises. Before checking out the distinctive interplay of Pukl and Jones live, take a listen to their kaleidoscopic version of Ornette Coleman’s “Intersong,” below:

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Bill Frisell, Nels Cline, and Joel Harrison at a previous Alternative Guitar Summit. Photo by Scott Friedlander.

The guitarist and composer Joel Harrison has been producing, organizing and playing in the Alternative Guitar Summit since 2010. He also founded a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Lifeforce Arts Inc., in 2013 to commission works, stage performances and further music education (including a guitar summer camp, starting in 2017) related to the summit’s mission to share and celebrate experimental guitar approaches. This weekend marks the final day of this year’s festival and The Jazz Gallery is pleased to host two special events celebrating the full breadth of guitar playing today—an evening performance of first-time guitar duos, as well as a rare afternoon workshop with the legendary Bill Frisell.

We caught up with Joel to talk about the history of the summit, and what to listen for in these first-time duo performances.

The Jazz Gallery: You’ve been doing quite a few of these concerts, with a bunch of diverse guitarists, at all sorts of different venues (ShapeShifter Lab, (le) Poisson Rouge, National Sawdust, IBeam, and many others)—is it always in the summer?

Joel Harrison: This is our 8th year, and it’s a pretty wide-open concept focused on creating new creative spaces for guitarists who are doing something new and/or unique. It’s not always in the summer, but it’s usually three nights in a row (a mini-festival), and this year we are doing what we’re calling the “Bill Frisell Invitational” concert at LPR where he picked the band plus four guest guitarists and has sort of free reign to explore and open up this year. There’s also a Jazz-Rock-Funk Throwdown at Nublu with some of the best guitarists on the planet paying tribute to 70s-era fusion guitar; and last but not least these two events at The Jazz Gallery.

TJG: Can you speak about the idea of guitar duos, which have been a staple at many of the AGS concerts, including the one this Saturday night?

JH: Yeah I’ve always been a fan of guitar duos, and I’ve been trying to pair older players with younger ones, and the average age difference at this Jazz Gallery concert is actually somewhere around 25 years! I often try and steer the duos toward one jazz song and one free improvisation.

TJG: Can you tell us a little bit about each duo?

JH: Rez Abbasi & Jeff Miles
Rez has put out many great records which are interesting and complex, often incorporating Pakistani music. Jeff is a young player who has great technique and studied with Ben Monder.

Peter Bernstein & Gilad Hekselman
Peter is a legendary master of the jazz guitar tradition. Gilad loves Peter’s playing, learned a lot from him, and has a modern sound also steeped in the tradition; both are lyrical players and I’m excited to hear them play in this context.

Joe Morris & Matteo Liberatore
Joe is a leading voice in a more avant-garde tradition on the guitar and Elliot Sharp told me about Matteo—he’s a guitarist who’s been influenced by Joe Morris.

Joel Harrison & Anthony Pirog
When we play it’s freaky; we have the same thoughts at the same time. We’re both from DC and are way into that Danny Gatton guitar stuff… We’re both into a lot of other stuff too and our duet will reflect this eclectic language.

TJG: What are your thoughts on “the state of jazz guitar” today? Any new players that are inspiring you?

JH: I would say jazz guitar is in a fine state. There are a lot of young, talented players, more every day. Many of them seem to come from higher educational institutions than ever. Some get good very young, partly because of access to tremendous resources. I ask young people all the time who their favorite players are. Often they mention Julian Lage.

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Photo by Kuo Heng-Huang, courtesy of the artist.

Bassist Ricky Rodriguez is a model of versatility on his instrument. Whatever idioms flow into the music that he’s playing—jazz, Afro-Cuban, R&B—Rodriguez speaks them with conviction. It’s no wonder that he’s held down the bass chair for bandleaders as diverse as Joe Locke, Arturo O’Farrill, and Branford Marsalis. In his own music, Rodriguez likes to explore the fluid spaces between different styles, pushing the music in different directions from gig to gig. In a previous interview with Jazz Speaks, Rodriguez described this shape-shifting approach:

As a double bass player and electric bass player, I respect the instruments’ different sounds, from classic and acoustic to electric and crazy, you know what I mean? The bass lines that I originally wrote on acoustic, I can play on electric too, and it doesn’t sound out of context. When I compose, I try to think of those days when the airline might not let me travel with my acoustic, so I have to bring the electric. So I try to make my music work for both. I can play with Fender Rhodes or acoustic piano, and it sounds good either way.

This Friday, June 22, Rodriguez returns to The Jazz Gallery with his home base group, featuring a deep lineup of heavy hitters—saxophonists Miguel Zenon and Dayna Stephens, pianist Luis Perdomo, and drummer Rudy Royston. Before coming out to see the band take on both new and old material, check out this video of Rodriguez’s record release show at the Gallery for Looking Beyond, below.
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Photo courtesy of the artist.

On June 21st, New York City-born pianist Lex Korten will premiere a new body of original work with a hard-hitting young quartet. This will be his first outing at The Jazz Gallery: According to Korten, The Jazz Gallery is “a special venue I’ve turned to for inspiration ever since I attended as a starry-eyed high school sophomore. This is the debut of my first project as leader in a very long time with a formidable new generation of songs written almost entirely in 2018.” The quartet features saxophonist/drummer Morgan Guerin, vibraphonist Joel Ross and bassist Benjamin Tiberio who, in various configurations, have been Korten’s bandmates for over two years.

During our conversation in anticipation of the show, Korten brought two ideas to the forefront. The first was that this show represented an opportunity for Korten to write new music that would inspire and challenge his bandmates. The second was that Korten partially conceived of these songs as “tributes to the actions of others,” where the music forms a loose narrative about the importance of agency, observation, and activism. Read on for more about the inspiration and impetus behind Korten’s new music.

The Jazz Gallery: You must be getting excited for the upcoming show at the Gallery.

Lex Korten: It’s crazy, the way it happened. At the end of 2017, I set a goal for myself to bring a new project to The Jazz Gallery as a leader in 2018. I’d had writer’s block for a long time: When I was at University of Michigan, I was a factory, spitting out tunes all the time. I brought a really nice body of work with me to New York, and have been playing it for the last year and a half. But it had been a long time since I had anything new. So I used the idea of playing at The Jazz Gallery as an impetus, since it’s one of the places I love which supports experimentation and creativity. Of course, a lot has gone into the music in other senses, but in the sense of having a deadline and a goal, The Jazz Gallery got me moving again. One thing lead to another, and here I am.

TJG: What was it about the idea of The Jazz Gallery that could help you clear that block?

LK: It was a mix of things. I grew up in New York City, and when I was in high school, I went to The Jazz Gallery’s old location on a semi-regular basis. At that time of my life, I had no sense of whether or not I was going to become a jazz musician. Everyone I saw at The Jazz Gallery was someone I was infatuated with musically, who I put on a very high pedestal, which I still do. So when I moved back to New York after school, and was starting to play out with some of my peers, I realized that the Gallery was a major bridge between generations of musicians. It provides a very natural incline from being a young artist who’s trying to find their voice, and the more established musicians in creative music, Jazz, black music, who are willing to use The Jazz Gallery stage to showcase new ideas.

TJG: So when you began doing the work of assembling this project, what came first? The group, the musical ideas, the message, the narrative?

LK: When I first played with the group which is going to be on this show, I had about half of this music written. At that time, I’d put together a session with no specific expectations, and it was before I’d been offered this date at the Gallery. I got these guys together because I’m close with all of them, and I wanted to see what my music sounded like with them. There was an incredible mix of intuition and commitment. As far as intuition, the music was coming so naturally to them: They were listening and making musical decisions while still reading new material. In terms of commitment, this music isn’t easy, and though naturally it didn’t sound right the first time we read it, they were on the ground and ready to workshop this music.

After that point, I was like, “I can’t believe how well that went. That’s the band I want to use.” The date at the Gallery was extended to me, so then I did a weird thing: I actually said, “Look, I played this music with the band during the session, and they killed it. I know what sort of music they’re going to make sound good. Now, instead of writing for them, I’m going to write against them, because I trust them so much, and I want to see what comes out of that.” Sometimes, it’s easy to write within this idiom when you’re dead-set on the language that’s going to be used. So I challenge myself to write differently than I normally do, and to challenge these guys to play in a different way than they’re used to playing.

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