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Photo by Antonio Porcar, courtesy of the artist.

Pianist Mara Rosenbloom moves freely between musical idioms, yet always showcasing a deeply personal perspective. For over a decade, Rosenbloom has collaborated with musicians across popular, modern, avant-garde, and other cross-cultural jazz styles. Her most recent album, Prairie Burn (Fresh Sound/New Talent) was met with smashing reviews from New York Music Daily and DownBeat.

Rosenbloom’s trio project, Flyways, uses the concept of migratory bird patterns as a metaphor for the interplay between personal confidence and group sensitivity. The trio consists of Rosenbloom on piano, Anaïs Maviel on voice and percussion, and Adam Lane on bass. At The Jazz Gallery, Flyways will perform “I know what I dreamed,” a long-form exploratory piece expanding the text from one of Adrienne Rich’s Twenty-One Love Poems. We spoke with Rosenbloom on working with Maviel and Lane, the ever-important significance of Rich’s poetry, and her process of adapting text to an improvisational trio format.

TJG: Tell me a little about the development of the Flyways trio.

MR: Flyways has taken a few forms. It began, as my projects often begin, with an intuitive, organic feeling about putting elements together that might make sense. Flyways started as a larger ensemble with Daniel Carter playing horns and Jeff Davis on drums. At that point, we were totally improvising, and played a few shows together. I can’t say Flyways will never be a larger group again, but as I began to whittle down and make things more clear, the trio format became a natural fit for me.  

TJG: Tell me about Anaïs Maviel. I discovered her through your music, and I’ve been blown away by what I’m hearing. 

MR: Anaïs is amazing. She’s a force. The first time I saw her, I was totally blown away. She’s singing on a very high level, and her rhythmic concept is very strong. Anaïs plays the Surdo drum, which most people know from Brazilian Samba. For marching, it’s often a lightweight drum, but hers is a custom-made heavier wooden version that stands on the floor. It’s got a big, warm sound. It’s great in the band. We don’t have a drum set in the group, so the Surdo brings in some of the same texture and rhythmic interplay with a different sort of timbre and space. 

TJG: Does she live in New York, or is she just passing through?

MR: When I met her, Anaïs had just moved to New York, and was here for at least a few years after. She’s been touring the world as a soloist and in duos, so we’re excited that she’s in town now. She’s from France, partially of Hatian descent, and she’s in New York now by way of Paris. I met her through the Arts for Art community, the organization that puts on the Vision Festival in New York, now in its 23rd year. Both of my mentors, Connie Crothers and Cooper-Moore,  were involved with Arts for Art, along with other musicians I work with, and I’ve steadily become a part of the scene myself. I met Anaïs after seeing her perform at one of Arts for Art’s smaller monthly concerts. She’s not quite sure where she’ll end up next, I think, traveling through music has been good for her. Musical opportunities arise, life pulls you where it pulls you. I reached out to The Jazz Gallery when I knew there would be a window where we could get this project rolling. 

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Photo by Willie Davis, courtesy of the artist.

This Tuesday, July 31, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome saxophonist Steve Lehman and his trio back to our stage for two sets. Lehman, bassist Matt Brewer, and drummer Damion Reid have been playing together for ten years and are preparing material for their next record.

The last time Lehman’s trio graced our stage, the musicians were joined by saxophonist Maria Grand as part of The Jazz Gallery’s Mentorship Series. After that experience, we sat down with Lehman and Grand to talk about the educational exchange. Read below to dive into both artists’ thoughts on phrasing, commanding space as a soloist, and fitting in with a long-running group, before coming out to see Lehman’s trio at the Gallery this week.

The Jazz Gallery: Maria, how were the shows for you?

Maria Grand: I had an amazing time. They didn’t go easy on me at all, and I progressed a lot. I feel like I learned more at those three shows than I might have learned in a long time of practicing.

TJG: What do you mean? Walk me through it.

MG: I mean, you can practice forever, but there are things you only learn in a focused performance environment. One thing I learned a lot about was phrasing. Every show we played, I recorded with my phone, and I’d listen back the next morning. On the first show, I noticed that my phrasing was just too soft, compared to Steve’s. It was lacking, in my opinion. So I became really aware that I’d have to keep things strong, solid, and assertive throughout a phrase I’d be playing. He’d play a solo, and I’d have to make a statement after that: His solidity forced me to have more solidity. So you can practice, but I don’t know if you can learn that stuff on your own.

TJG: Steve, did you and Maria speak about her awareness of phrasing, and the idea that it “wasn’t strong enough?”

Steve Lehman: Yes, I remember talking about carving out a space for yourself as a soloist in a wide variety of musical settings. If the music is quiet, spacious, transparent, it’s easier to make space for yourself as a soloist. If things are dense, louder, there’s a lot of activity, a great deal of interaction, it can be a little bit more challenging. If you feel like you’re not able to drive the music or contribute in the way you want, you’re compelled to think about what tools you have to make the space you’re looking for. It might be something about your phrasing, the length of your notes, the register you’re playing in, your articulation, how big your sound is, clarity of ideas, how straight-forward it is for a rhythm section or accompanist to follow whatever indications you’re putting out there. It can happen off the bandstand too, through a discussion, making sure everybody’s on the same page, thinking about aesthetics in ways that overlap, compliment each other.

TJG: So after you made those changes, did Steve notice? Did you talk?

MG: Yeah. We also talked about not thinking about the rhythm section as an assistant, as someone who’s going to help you out. I’ve noticed a lot of times that when Steve solos, it’s almost like he’s stating the form, and Damian would be playing some intricate counterpoint, not necessarily stating the form in a basic way. Of course, he knows where he is, but no big crashes on the one [laughs]. Steve was stating the form, and Damion would be improvising around him. So even though it was Steve’s solo, Damion was also soloing.

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Album art courtesy of Verve Records.

Pianist Dan Tepfer (age 36) and saxophonist Lee Konitz (age 90) forge a unique, timeless and enrapturing musical partnership which has been documented on multiple releases over the past ten years. Their most recent, Decade, out now on Verve/Decca Records France, celebrates their improvisational connection performing and recording as a duo (it has been almost ten years since the release of their album Duos With Lee on Sunnyside Records). We spoke with both musicians about their creative process; the creation and release of this album; and about towing the line between lush free-improvisation and songbook reinvention.

The Jazz Gallery: Lee, I feel that there is an almost universal, romantic quality to your playing which is featured well on this stripped down duo recording; somehow you resist grandiosity while remaining interesting—can you speak about that description at all, and about what we might expect at the release show at the Gallery?

Lee Konitz: Let’s talk after the show, so you can use your Imagination, but thank you, that’s a good description, I guess. Thanks!

TJG: Dan, you’ve been playing with Lee for 10 years now, and you play a little bit of saxophone yourself (on your duo album with Ben Wednel). What can you say about Lee’s saxophone playing, and it’s impact on you as a musician, and on this duo’s aesthetic?

Dan Tepfer: Um (laughs) well, he’s one of the all time great saxophone players. He’s one of the people who’s really carved a path for a certain way of playing jazz saxophone. Back in the day he was really the main alternative to Charlie Parker, in terms of bringing something different to the table on the alto. One thing that draws me to Lee Konitz is his total commitment to making music in the moment. I’ve witnessed this over and over on the stage. He’s just never phoning it in. He’s always asking himself, what is happening right now and what is the most musical, best decision i can make for the music right now. That sounds simple, but it’s something that you have to constantly renew, and he’s 90 and still renewing it.

TJG: Lee, you’ve performed and recorded in a duo context many times, on many different albums (Martial Solal; Jim Hall; Elvin Jones; Joe Henderson; Gil Evans; Hal Galper; Jimmy Raney; Matt Wilson; many others). As a guitarist, I’m really interested in what your duos with Billy Bauer were like, and how they were constructed.

LK: Well if I can remember back 45 years or so…! Billy had some sort of idea or theme and I added something and we put it together for that piece, or something. And yes, I think that music does relate.

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Design by Remi Denis, courtesy of the artist.

To say that pianist James Francies has had a busy 2018 is the epitome of understatement. For one thing, he’s been hard at work putting together his Blue Note Records debut, coming out in September. For another, he’s continued to play regularly with The Roots on The Tonight Show. And when we talked on the phone this week to discuss his 2018 Jazz Gallery Residency Commission, Francies was in between shows on tour with Lauryn Hill.

For the Commission, Francies has convened a trio of longtime collaborators—drummer (and fellow Houston native) Eric Harland, and vocalist Kate Kay Es. He’s called the project R3ACT, and it examines notions of interactivity and the improvisational mindset. The project also finds Francies taking stock of his life in New York, now a year a removed from his undergraduate studies. To hear more about R3ACT, check out our conversation with Francies, below.

The Jazz Gallery: You’ve been working on your debut record for Blue Note for a while now, and I was wondering if your Residency Commission project is an extension of the record, or a shift to something new.

James Francies: It’s something completely different for me. If anything, it’s more of an extension of a duo project that Eric Harland and I have going. I definitely wanted to tap into that world a bit more. Eric and I had talked about adding voice in the past, and I thought that this would be a good opportunity to try that out, especially with Kate. She’s on the album, and I’ve always been a fan of hers. With Kate, it’s more of a vocalist acting more like an instrumentalist—someone who’s contributing ideas within the whole, and not just being supported by the band.

I’ve been working on the record for so long, and I’m such a meticulous person in the studio. We’ve been recording and mixing and tweaking in the studio this whole year up until June, basically. I wanted to take my time in this way and try to get it as close to perfect as I could—just get the songs to sound the way that I wanted them to.

The commission then became a whole different thing. It’s called R3ACT, and it’s all about the reactions within the group, like a perpetually energy that’s moving between each person. That’s how I like to approach playing in a group—I’m always reacting to things that I’m hearing. I think as an artist, it’s really important to react to what’s around us, not just in music, but in our lives.

TJG: It sounds like you’re exploring a method of music-making, rather than music with a more explicit narrative.

JF: I guess you could put it that way. When I talk about reaction, it has to do with the way things are composed as well. A lot of these pieces lend themselves to going to a further place. They’re designed to be played live, if that makes any sense. When I’m listening to my favorite records, I feel that the musicians aren’t just playing through the music as they know it. They’re also adding to it at the same time. A reaction is all about decision-making. A lot of my favorite musicians make amazing decisions in the moment. The music that we’re playing is about decision-making. It’s about knowing to go somewhere different, knowing when to stay in a place, to let something simmer.

I feel sometimes it’s easy to write a lot of music and then get so glued to the paper that it’s hard to get away from what you know and just play and let other people into your world. Even though we’ll be working from the same material, it will be very different each night as we build the music together, whatever that thing is.

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Ben Monder and Aaron Shragge. Photo courtesy of the artists.

For an example of how New York can bring together exciting pairs of musicians, look no further than Aaron Shragge and Ben Monder. Together, they weave through the sonic worlds of North Indian Classical music, Japanese poetry, modern jazz vocabulary, and spacious, long-form improvisation. The duo features Monder on electric guitar, and Shragge on shakuhachi, trumpet, and his custom “Dragon Mouth Trumpet,” an instrument combining elements of trumpet and soprano trombone.

Having released their first record in 2010, The Key Is In The Window (Tzviryu Music), the duo will celebrate the release of their second duo recording at The Jazz Gallery at the end of July, This World of Dew. We spoke with Monder and Shragge about the evolution of their duo, as well how poetry infused this project with themes of loneliness, perseverance, and impermanence.

The Jazz Gallery: You and Ben are such a balanced and sensitive duo. We’re lucky when we find musical counterparts who complement us so well. Did you know of Ben and his musicianship before you began playing together?

AS: I first met Ben through an improvisation teacher of mine, Rémi Bolduc. Ben was in Montréal performing with Rémi, and I sat in on a rehearsal they had and I met him that way. We met again through [guitarist] Brandon Bernstein when Ben was playing at the Vanguard several years ago. So I knew who he was, but I wouldn’t necessarily have thought to reach out to him on my own. Some time later, Brandon met Ben in Louisville where Ben was giving a workshop. Brandon showed him around, they hit if off, and Brandon told me “You should play with Ben sometime.” We got in touch, and it worked out. Working with Ben has been an inspiration. I’ve learned a lot playing with him and writing for him.

TJG: Were you living within walking distance of each other at that time?

AS: I was actually living in Bushwick, in the recording studio where we recorded both of our albums. I lived in that recording studio for over five years. One of those New York living situations: It was great for practicing, and obviously for recording [laughs], but there were no windows. For the last leg of it, I was actually living in the vocal booth. After leaving Bushwick, I was in Ridgewood for a time. When my wife and I, my girlfriend at the time, decided to move in together, we found this place in Kensington. It was a coincidence that we would move so close to where Ben had lived for quite a while. I remember the first time Ben and I rehearsed, I wondered how I’d get to his place, and I realized the easiest and fastest way would be just to walk.

TJG: Ben, you’ve released two records with Aaron at this point. Can you remember your first impression of his playing?

Ben Monder: Aaron was coming from a different place than I was used to, which was refreshing. He’s a scholar of Indian Hindustani music, and I’ve always been a fan of it, but have never really studied it and never knew too much about what’s going on. It was interesting to fit into the schemes of the Ragas he was adapting to his instruments. The music had a peaceful aura, and we could get into some more purely timbral areas as opposed to just playing over forms and jazz harmonies.

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