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Album art courtesy of Criss Cross Records

With his new record It’s Alright With Three (Criss Cross), saxophonist and composer Will Vinson presents guitarist Gilad Hekselman and drummer Antonio Sanchez in a fresh, dynamic, bass-less trio setting. Each of the three musicians shines in his own way, exploring a balance of originals and standards with open interplay and spontaneity (and as to be expected, much effect pedal wizardry from Hekselman).

Born in London and based in New York, Will Vinson has been featured on stages around the world as a bandleader as well as with artists from Ari Hoenig, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and Miguel Zenón to Sufjan Stevens, Sean Lennon, and Rufus Wainwright. Vinson is also a member of the acclaimed OWL Trio, alongside guitarist Lage Lund and bassist Orlando Le Fleming. In a recent phone conversation, Vinson had much to say on the joys and constraints of making his new record on a tight timetable with a brand-new trio.

The Jazz Gallery: Your upcoming performance at The Jazz Gallery is the release show for this album. How much playing had you done with Gilad and Antonio before this project?

Will Vinson: Individually, quite a lot over the last several years. In this trio configuration, about ninety minutes [laughs]. We did a short rehearsal the day before the recording, and that was it. I’d done some gigs with Antonio’s band, he’d done some gigs with mine. The same with Gilad, who I met playing with Ari Hoenig not long after Gilad moved to New York. I don’t think Gilad and I had ever played on a record together, though Antonio and I appeared on Orlando Le Fleming’s first record. In New York, we all have our projects, we all gravitate toward doing a certain thing, but there’s a whole other cast of musicians who we each occasionally play with: Often, you can go years without properly collaborating with an artist.

The impetus with this record was getting a call from producer Gerry Teekens from the Criss Cross label. The way that Criss Cross often operates is that they call you at relatively short notice to do a record, and you come up with your personnel. Normally for a record, you have a project in mind and you try to make it work, but with Criss Cross, it works the other way around. So of course, given an opportunity like that, why not record with people I wouldn’t otherwise have? At the time I got the call from Criss Cross, I was having a parallel idea to do a bass-less trio record. Gilad clearly seemed the person for that, and I’d wanted to record with both Antonio and Gilad for a while. Miraculously, they were both available at six-weeks’ notice, so I took that as a sign. Well, as a sign of their availability, anyway [laughs].

TJG: Clearly, it was destined to be! Tell me about the balance of originals and standards on the album.

WV: One of the things I like about this short-notice recording session is that you don’t have endless months to ponder what you’d do on your next project. Instead, it’s much more spontaneous. I did write one tune for the record, which is called “The Pines.” We dug out an old tune from a record I’d made a long time ago, and in general, I just thought of tunes that would be fun to play in this context. Without a bassist, there are limitations and opportunities in trying to bring out the right aspects of a trio like that. I definitely wanted to have originals, but I wanted us to play in a way that was relatively free and unselfconscious, to have a good time. Between the bass-less constraint and the short timeline, those limits dictated to a large extent the material we played.

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Photo via www.jasonpalmermusic.com

Destined for a life lived prolifically, Jason Palmer grew up in High Point, North Carolina, two houses away from where John Coltrane spent his childhood. From a hometown legacy, the trumpet player/composer gleaned inspiration for his own creativity and output.

Palmer came to Boston in 1997 to study at New England Conservatory,  and now teaches down the street at Berklee College of Music. This weekend, Palmer brings his chordless quartet to New York for a live recording of brand new music and previously unrecorded compositions. We caught up with Jason to discuss his work ethic, a moment with Wayne Shorter he’s never forgotten, and the case for leaving space.

The Jazz Gallery: I can barely keep track of how many records you’ve put out as a leader. What’s the current total?

Jason Palmer: I’ve kind of lost track over the years. I have one coming out this month, and I had one come out last month. I did a double live disc at Wally’s, so I think it’s eight. I got two in the can.

TJG: Your rate of releasing album-length material is rigorous. Over the years, you’ve released many inspired recordings including your interpretations of Minnie Riperton’s music and more recently Janelle Monáe’s. Has that degree of output always come naturally to you? Do you ever struggle with the pressure of releasing new music, particularly in the age of streaming?

JP: The whole streaming thing hasn’t really bothered me as much as I think it should. I try not to worry too much; I try to focus more on putting work out there to hopefully inspire people. I don’t necessarily think of it as a revenue generating endeavor as much as other projects that I do—teaching and composing and commissions.

So yes, it’s been easy for me because I’ve written a lot of material I haven’t had a chance to record and put out. I probably have a waiting list of about 100 tunes that I want to eventually record and put out there. And it’s a great opportunity to do it next week [at the Gallery], which is going to be a mix of old tunes I’ve written but haven’t recorded, and I recently composed a set of original music that we’re going to do, as well. I think we’re going to have enough to do a double disc. If all goes well, we’ll have enough takes between the four sets on Friday and Saturday.

TJG: Because you don’t put that revenue-driven pressure on yourself to put out these records, I wonder if that helps the process remain natural for you, year to year.

JP: Yes, and I’m lucky because I’ve been working with Steeplechase for six or seven, maybe eight albums. I have one in the can for them now; we did the music of Anita Baker. I recorded that back in December. And my agreement with them is that I can release one record every year. This year I happened to be able to put out two. So they offer me that commercial platform, and I’m sure if I didn’t have them, I would do it independently, which is what I’m going to do with the new record that’s going to be live at the Gallery.

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From L to R: Abhinav Seetharaman, Anjna Swaminathan, and Roopa Mahadevan. Photos courtesy of the artists.

This Thursday, June 14, marks the season finale of The Jazz Gallery’s Thursday Night music series at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning in Queens. Over the past year, the Gallery has presented several emerging artists and bands at the JCAL, from Secret Mall, to Maria Grand, to Sam Harris.

For our final show of the 2017-18 season, The Jazz Gallery is proud to present an evening of Carnatic music, featuring vocalist Roopa Mahadevan, violinist Anjna Swaminathan, and mridangam player Abhinav Seetharaman. All three artists have graced the Gallery stage for performances co-presented with Brooklyn Raga Massive. In a prior interview with Jazz Speaks, Mahadevan described the group’s traditional Carnatic musical practices:

Carnatic musicians often don’t rehearse ahead of time, or make decisions collaboratively before they get on stage. Often the “main artist”—in this case it’s a vocal concert, so the vocalist becomes the main artist—will have a sense of what they want to do, but they may not necessarily tell the accompanists ahead of time. Because if you are a professional Carnatic artist, you’ve already spent years and years learning the technique and repertoire, so even if you don’t know a specific song, if you know the raga, or the scale, and the tala, or the rhythmic structure, you should be able to just go with it.

Before coming out to Queens to see the trio’s set, check Mahadevan and Swaminathan performing alongside pianist Guy Mintus and percussionist Rohan Krishnamurthy in the video below.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Thursday, June 14, The Jazz Gallery welcomes the Theo Walentiny Group back to our stage for two sets. Walentiny and company last appeared at the Gallery in February, performing Walentiny’s original music alongside abstract canvases by painter Joe Walentiny, Theo’s father. The artistic pairing was a natural fit, as Walentiny’s compositions are rich in visual imagery, balancing impressionistic swaths of color with ample space for unpredictable exploration.

At the Gallery this week, the group will present original compositions both old and new, displaying their deepening rapport. Before checking out the young group’s progress at the Gallery, watch Walentiny and the collective Aurelia Trio perform Walentiny’s episodic “Interlude//Swaying Steel.”

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Design courtesy of the artists.

With their recent album Weatherbird, pianist Cory Smythe and trumpeter Peter Evans used “Weather Bird” by Louis Armstrong as a compositional point of departure. The piece, recorded by Armstrong and pianist with Earl Hines in 1928, is something of a landmark in the world of jazz duets. To quote musicologist and Earl Hines scholar Jeffrey Taylor:

“Unmatched in its passion, innovation, and brash sense of fun, “Weather Bird” is perhaps the most famous jazz duet ever recorded… As an intensely focused performance, undertaken without the support or distraction of a rhythm section or any accompanying instruments, it has invited both inquiry into the styles of two of jazz’s greatest artists and a detailed examination of the improvisational process itself.” (Taylor, Jeffrey: Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, and “Weather Bird”, American Musics, 1998)

Smythe and Evans grasped the spirit of this seminal recording and ran with it, using the material to build a program of new duets for trumpet and piano. The collaboration began in 2014 as a commission from the International Contemporary Ensemble, of which Evans and Smythe are both members. To celebrate the release of the new album (a mind-bending listen when paired with the original “Weather Bird”), Smythe and Evans will be playing at The Jazz Gallery alongside another duo, vibraphonist Joel Ross and saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins. We caught up with Evans and Smythe about the original “Weather Bird” and their thoughts on the upcoming collaborative show.

TJG: Weatherbird was released a few days ago, congratulations! For those who haven’t listened yet, what exactly is it? A re-composition, a tribute, a live concert?

Cory Smythe: It’s all three of those things. The project began with a prompt, a commission from ICE, the International Contemporary Ensemble, of which Peter and I are both members. The idea, going back several years now, was to program a concert that was responding in some way to older music. We decided to look at the collaboration between Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines, particularly in this duet “Weather Bird,” and then to spin things out from there in various directions. We distilled the project down to the pieces presented on the recording, which deal with the “Weather Bird” material either head-on or, in the case of a couple of compositions of mine, refracts the material it in different ways. Peter wrote a kind of version of “Basin Street Blues,” and another original piece that’s related in a more abstract way to the underlying material.

TJG: Peter, how did you construct your compositional and musical responses to the piece? What kind of approach did you take?

PE: Many approaches. “Bsnst Bls” in the A section is taking a certain flavor of major triad and dominant chord motion and just going crazy with it, so that the colors change super fast, like a kaleidoscope. The B section contrasts with blues harmony and a really florid, virtuosic melody on top. It’s almost like an improvisation, but notated for the two of us. The piece “bls” was written really intuitively from the skeleton of blues melody, but then taken further and further out until it just became this delicate spiderweb of a line. I then added a totally different changing harmonic colors underneath, I think three or four different types of colors, which were done really fast and intuitively at a piano when we were on tour in Brazil three summers ago. 

TJG: Cory, how did you tackle the “Weather Bird” material?

CS: I was just approaching it in the spirit of play. “Weatherbirdhouse” and “Weatherbird Wave” both deal with materials from “Weather Bird” through a kind of prism. I wrote “Weatherbird Wave” by messing around with the recording of “Weather Bird,” processing it, and transcribing it. What’s going on in “Weatherbird Wave” is a stylized exaggeration of what would happen in a warped record. Maybe in that way, it invites that connection because of the age of that recording. Weatherbird itself remains such a startling, refreshing performance. I continue to find inspiration in investigating it.

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