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Photo courtesy of Pi Recordings.

Guitarist Brandon Ross and bassist Stomu Takeishi have been playing together for over two decades, first as members of Henry Threadgill’s band, then as an intimate duo, beginning in the year 2000. Honing their interplay over many years, the pair released their debut studio album in 2014, Revealing Essence, originally composed with a Chamber Music America New Jazz Works grant.

This Thursday, July 19, the duo returns to The Jazz Gallery for two sets. We caught up with Brandon by phone and email to talk about the duo’s history and his own evolving relationship to sound.

The Jazz Gallery: What is it like to have such a longstanding musical partnership with someone developing into such a personal, intimate practice?

BR: I think it’s an interesting thing. I mean, longevity in this respect is something you can’t know about till you know about it—until it happens. In that way, it’s one of these really wonderful surprises. We constantly refer to that period, that band—Make A Move—when we were in it, because it was such a pivotal moment for Henry [Threadgill] in his writing, and in his ensemble selection. He went from having bands that always had at least multiple horns in it and multiple strings to a band that had a form of keyboard, with the harmonium and accordion, and then one string, and then bass—electric bass, first of all—and drum set, and himself on winds. And then it was also the beginning, during the Make A Move era, of his evolving his compositional approach into the current intervallic system that he’s been developing for the last twenty, almost twenty years now. It was a seminal period for us—Tony Caesar, Jake Lewis, Stomu and myself—being involved in that.

And so Stomu and I have that as a reference point in terms of musical dynamics, musical language. What we have been able to distill from that experience at that time, and evolve and mature in the duo relationship that we have. Although, you know, the duo relationship was already present when I heard him play and I recognized him as someone that I would like to play music with, and I happened to do that in the context of Henry’s band—cause, y’know, Henry asked me to keep my eyes out for a bass player and a drummer. So that was J.T. and Stomu, so ultimately, in a way, was a band that I had yet to realize but wound up becoming so. And I guess the longevity of the language that we share and that we developed is something that is has a lot to do with the instruments that we’re playing—Steve Klein-designed instruments. They have such a particular character of sound production and the way they interact with one another – we just want to hear them! In the writing that we do, I just want to hear the instruments [laughs].

TJG: You’ve made note of how the compositions focus on balancing the weight of the two instruments, with Stomu on acoustic bass and you on either acoustic guitar, soprano guitar, or banjo.

BR: It’s a common compositional practice: you begin with a sound of some kind. Certain instruments, certain sounds send the imagination and the creative impulse in a particular direction as a response to it. That’s an interesting thing. This last set of music that I’ve written for us, for the Chamber Music America New Jazz Works grant that I got, and I incidentally happened to be playing a lot of nylon string guitar, and most of that music came out of that—being on the nylon string guitar. Stomu and I did a concert last weekend at the Guild Hall in Easthampton where we played a couple of those pieces. I was playing the steel string guitar and I really noticed how they felt very differently from being played on the nylon, and I was like, right, these are choices and musical circumstances and situations that came about as a result of that.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Saxophonist and composer Caleb Curtis lives at the junction of rigorous preparation and willingness to explore. This combination of rigor and abandon has placed Curtis in high demand, having performed with a vast cross-section of New York’s jazz community. In addition to leading his own band, he co-leads Walking Distance, a Brooklyn-based collective which released Neighborhood (Ropeadope) in 2015, with a new album to be released this fall. Curtis also performs and records regularly with Orrin Evans and the Captain Black Big Band, as well as Josh Lawrence & Color Theory.

Curtis’s upcoming show at The Jazz Gallery celebrates the release of Brothers (Imani Records). The record has some of everything: Detailed orchestration and free improvisation, layered audio production and dry acoustic presence, concise compositions and wild musical gestures. The session for the record included Curtis on alto saxophone, Josh Lawrence on trumpet, Seamus Blake on tenor, Eric Revis and Luques Curtis on bass, and Mark Whitfield Jr. on drums, and was produced by Orrin Evans and mixed by Ben Levin. We spoke in depth with Curtis about Brothers, which represents his debut release as a bandleader.

The Jazz Gallery: The new album Brothers features two bassists (Eric Revis and Luques Curtis), and many of the tracks have different combinations of musicians. How did you organize the session, and how did the session unfold?

Caleb Curtis: The session was one day, and we just went for it. Luques Curtis did half the day, then we did one tune and some improvising with both bassists. Eric Revis took over, Seamus Blake came in, and we finished the session. I’d played some of the material with Josh, and I play with Josh, Luques, and Mark a lot, often with Orrin Evans. We have a common understanding about how to play together. For this record, we didn’t rehearse, and we’d never played this music together as a full band, but the tunes were open enough that we weren’t weighed down by a heavy obligation to the written material.

TJG: What was Orrin Evans’s role as producer?

CC: Having Orrin in the studio really made it possible for us to work quickly and clearly. I didn’t have to evaluate what we were playing in terms of whether it was working, because we all trusted Orrin. If he says “We got it,” then we’re good. There was no “Let’s get another one for safety,” or “Let’s do another take that’s slightly more grooving,” because Orrin was the one saying whether we got it or not. He would either say “Do it again,” “You got it,” or “Maybe a little shorter and more concise,” just enough to keep the wheels spinning and let us play, which I appreciated. It made me feel like I’ll never go into the studio again without someone in the booth who I trust to evaluate what’s happening, even a friend who knows the music and who will be straight with you.

TJG: The longest track is under six minutes, and most are quite shorter. I feel like if “Tried in the Court of Public Opinion” were on your more archetypical jazz album, it would be nine minutes long.

CC: Right. But then what? There’s little I dislike more than an unnecessarily long song. Short pieces can stitch the record together, help it move along without getting bogged down. It keeps the pace going. A friend of mine, commenting about a record he recently heard where everyone took a solo on every ten-minute track, said “I’d rather have one soloist play for ten minutes.” I’d have to agree with that. At this point in my writing, my songs certainly don’t demand a long journey. If I were to write something that demanded it to be long, then I would be happy to make a long recording. And if we’re playing a gig and we’re exploring, that’s cool, we don’t have to keep it short. But if there’s no reason for it to be long, then I really don’t want it to be.

I wanted “Tried in the Court of Public Opinion” to be under two minutes on the album: Even though it’s so aggressive, it’s a kind of palette cleanser. I was surprised by how much slow, spacey time there is on the record. Listening back, I realized how much I like that sound, which is why there’s so much of it. It clarified for me the idea that “It’s okay, I can make a spacey record.” Did you feel the album had a lot of space and open time?

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Pedro Giraudo and the WDR Big Band. Photo courtesy of the artist.

A New Yorker since 1996, bassist, composer, and musical director Pedro Giraudo maintains a strong connection to the music of his native Argentina. Giraudo’s compositions combine classical forms, Argentine tango, and folk music, as well as the spontaneity of jazz improvisation. He has been featured on records by Pablo Ziegler, Paquito D’Rivera, and Ruben Blades’ Grammy Award-winning album “Tangos” (2014), and has released seven award-winning albums as a leader on the Zoho Music label including “Vigor Tanguero” (2018), “Cuentos” (2015), and “Córdoba” (2011).

Giraudo has been commissioned to write for numerous ensembles and organizations, and has performed on recordings for Sony, Warner, Nonesuch, Naxos and Harmonia Mundi. He is principal bassist for the Hudson Symphony Orchestra and the Música de Cámara String Ensemble, all while leading his own Tango Orchestra, Tango Ensembles, and Big Band based in New York.

Giraudo’s most recent album, An Argentinian in New York (Zoho Music 2018), was recorded live with the WDR Big Band at the WDR Funkhaus in Köln, Germany. To celebrate the release, Giraudo adapted those compositions for his New York-based ensemble and will present them at The Jazz Gallery on July 14. We spoke with Giraudo about the development of this project and his personal style over his career to date.

The Jazz Gallery: Tell me about the birth of the new album, “An Argentinian in New York.”

Pedro Giraudo: I’ve been leading bands since 2000 of increasing size, starting with an octet, and through different projects my band gradually became a big band around six years ago. This project is part of the evolution. Four or five years ago, the WDR Big Band in Germany began reaching out to me for different projects. For this last project, which was two years ago this November, we did a concert that we recorded for a live CD which will be released on Zoho Records. Several of the pieces from the concert had been recorded previously with the 12-piece band, and one piece I recorded with a full big band, but most of the others were unrecorded compositions.

TJG: What comes to mind as you listen back to the CD?

PG: The whole session was an amazing learning experience. When I write new music, I usually write with my New York ensemble in mind, which is very much a band—many of the members have been with me since 2000. So for me to write music for a different ensemble was exciting and new. I got in touch with some of the people in WDR with whom I had personal relationships, especially bassist John Goldsby. He gave me a detailed, personal description of the band, going chair by chair, so I tried to write this music for WDR as much as possible, which made it fun and different for me. When I re-adapted the charts from the WDR session for my band, I changed a number of things so it would work better for my guys here in New York.

TJG: In terms of your own playing, how does your playing change when you’re surrounded by a big band?

PG: My bass playing doesn’t change much, other than that I try to play less behind the big band. My number-one priority is to generate comfort in the band, so I sacrifice activity to make sure everyone feels comfortable, that the changes come across, that everyone feels rhythmically solid. The biggest difference with the WDR big band concert was that I was only conducting. In my New York projects I’m usually playing and conducting from my bass chair. For the WDR project I didn’t have to play bass, so I could focus on the outcome of what the musicians were playing, standing in front, reminding people about dynamics, shaping things as they approached.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Steel pan player Victor Provost grew up on the island of St. John, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. One of his early professional experiences was playing solo pan with backing tracks at a resort in Caneel Bay. In his previous interview with Jazz Speaks, Provost talked about the importance of that experience:

I treated it like paid practice. That’s where I really started to experiment with improvisation. On steel pan, you traditionally play in a group, learning melodies, arrangements, and songs by rote. Having those solo gigs allowed me to break away and start experimenting with improvisation. By the five hundredth time you’ve played an arrangement of a tune, you get tired of doing it the same way. It was a unique opportunity. There aren’t a lot of situations that allow you to experiment as a young person.

Since then, Provost’s musical pursuits have brought him through Pittsburgh and Washington D.C., where he’s a leading member of the jazz scene and teaches at George Mason University. Provost’s album from 2017, Bright Eyes (Sunnyside), received acclaim from Downbeat, the Washington Post, and elsewhere, helping to establish Provost as a leading voice on his instrument.

This Friday, July 13, Provost returns to The Jazz Gallery to present new music composed in the aftermath of last year’s Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which devastated the Virgin Islands. The hotel where Provost honed his craft was almost completely destroyed and has yet to reopen. For this new project, Provost will be joined by some of his regular collaborators, as well as new additions—Alex Brown on keyboards, Bob Bruya on bass, Zane Rodulfo on drums, Kweku Sumbry on percussion, and Jacques Schwarz-Bart on saxophones. Before coming to hear this deeply-felt new music at the Gallery this weekend, check out Provost and his working band take on Alex Brown’s exuberant composition “Victor’s Tune.”

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Photo by Gavin Koepke.

After a short break, The Jazz Gallery returns this week to kick off the 2018 summer season. Like in years past, you can purchase a Gallery SummerPass and attend as many shows as you like for one price. Stay tuned for shows featuring the likes of Vijay Iyer, Lee Konitz, and Matana Roberts, as well as two Gallery Residency Commission premieres from James Francies and Charles Altura.

With an exciting summer season ahead, we couldn’t think of a better opening night than having an emerging artist make his Gallery debut as a leader—drummer JK Kim. Kim hails from South Korea, where he grew up studying classical piano and play drum set in church. He came to the US in 2010 to study at Berklee on a full scholarship, and has recently settled in New York full-time. Kim is no stranger to the Gallery stage, as he has appeared alongside talented peers including Julius Rodriguez and Morgan Guerin. Check out Kim, Rodriguez, Guerin, and bassist Daniel Winshaw put the George Cables tune “Think On Me” through its paces:

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