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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Guitarist Lage Lund’s interest in the writings of Kurt Vonnegut then comes as no great shock to fans of both artists’ individualities. Complexities and paradoxes of the human condition abound in both Lund’s and Vonnegut’s works. Finding ways for his own artistry to interpret and coexist with Vonnegut’s became the focus of Lund’s Jazz Gallery Fellowship Commission project, aptly titled “Rebuild the Rubble.”

The Jazz Gallery: Would you talk a little bit about what sparked the idea for using Vonnegut’s works in the first place, and how you came to conceive of “Rebuild the Rubble?”

Lage Lund: The idea is that so much of the fabric of our society seems to have torn, or has turned out to be in worse shape than we perhaps realized. That constant barrage of abuse our senses are subjected to—emanating from this one orange asshole—can lead to paralysis and inertia.

In a larger perspective, so many things seem not good, pretty bad or terrible. So I think the need is to look to your immediate surroundings—the beauty of the people in your life—and draw strength from that. Otherwise, rebuilding the rubble just seems insurmountable. Kurt Vonnegut’s writing describes all of this so precisely and beautifully and, to me, he also represents a moral authority and voice of reason that is so sorely needed.

TJG: Had this concept to draw inspiration from Vonnegut’s works—and vibe—been brewing for a while?

LL: Initially, I had a series of sketches that I thought to develop into a coherent piece while doing the residency at the [Marcel] Breuer House, but in the end, I really wanted something to start from scratch, and as soon as I had these specific musicians in mind, it made the writing much faster and easier.

TJG: In my non-expert opinion, Vonnegut seems to have this pervasive sarcastic sense of humor in his works that’s generally tinged with tenderness and love, and I could draw many similarities in your music. Had you considered any other similarities while you were incorporating Vonnegut’s works into your own creative narrative?

LL: In my non-expert opinion that’s exactly right, and precisely why I’m drawn to his writing. I pretty much read everything he wrote while in college, but I recently got a book of letters he wrote, and in one of them there is a poem he wrote about his two young daughters. As a father of young daughters, it really resonated with me, and for the first time ever I started toying with the idea of writing music with words.

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Mary Halvorson (L) and Joe Morris (R). Photo courtesy of RogueArt.

This Wednesday, November 28, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome guitarists Mary Halvorson and Joe Morris to our stage for two sets of exploratory duets. The pair is celebrating the release of their spontaneously-composed duo album, Traversing Orbits (RogueArt), recorded this past spring. In the album’s liner notes, cornettist Taylor Ho Bynum (a collaborator with both guitarists) describes Halvorson and Morris’s rapport thusly:

All recordings, especially those of improvised music, try to freeze the sound of a present moment, but invariably melt into the past and the future, real and imagined. Listening to this album, I can’t help but think of the classic meeting of Sonny Rollins and Coleman Hawkins, where two titans of the same instrument across different generations displayed mutual love and respect through stylistic contrast and playful jousting. Or I create a fiction, of Django Reinhardt and Freddie Green crossing paths in some distant hotel, staying up late one night and pushing each other to new ideas. (I don’t make that allusion lightly – for the abundance of virtuosic extended technique, don’t miss the profound swing of the articulated lines and the chunky chords.)

Before coming out to the Gallery, check out an excerpt from Morris and Halvorson’s improvisation “Traces of Three,” below.

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Photos courtesy of the artists.

For the past few months, emerging alto saxophonist and composer Immanuel Wilkins has been busy pinning down a studio date for his debut recording, while working alongside his mentor—trumpet player, composer and consummate band leader Jonathan Finlayson—who recently released his third album 3 Times Round (Pi Recordings, 2018).

Throughout their careers, Wilkins and Finlayson have collaborated with the Count Basie Orchestra, Gerald Clayton, Lalah Hathaway, Solange Knowles and Bob Dylan, and Steve Coleman, Mary Halvorson, Steve Lehman, Dafnis Prieto and Vijay Iyer, respectively.

From individual places of pause in Philadelphia, Pennsylvia and Heilbronn, Germany, the two artists let slip a few moments from their nonstop schedules to talk musical progression, career development and why the Gallery’s mentorship series is so much more than taking an underage saxophone player out for drinks at the Hog’s Head Tavern in Harlem—not that anyone has.

The Jazz Gallery: Jonathan, I know you pull daily inspiration from all kinds of artistic mediums, including painting and sculpture, films and literature. Can you talk about any specific ways in which this artistic saturation in the way you live day to day influences your composing and playing?

Jonathan Finlayson: I don’t know—I think it’s kind of the life I set up for myself, and the way I’ve viewed myself living it. There are components I look for, for inspiration overall, on a monthly basis—not even monthly, maybe weekly—that kind of inform the things that I do in some way. I can’t say how concretely [those things inform my work]. I also listen to a lot of music, as well. So I wouldn’t say that’s the information I use to compose or play, but I do feel that it is, for myself, important to check these things out and see how people are doing things in other mediums—who are doing it well.

TJG: Do you ever see any ideas your exploring in your own work reflected in other people’s works within different mediums? Ever draw any kind of parallels like that?

JF: Nothing concrete. That is to say, there’s nothing direct like, “He made a straight line; I’m going to make a straight line.” But abstractly, and figuratively? Sure, all the time. We’re all human beings. So if someone does something well in one area, odds are if you do something well in another area, there’s going to be some kind of hookup at some point. It doesn’t have to be action for action, but those things are there whether it’s sports or arts—visual, the written word.

TJG: As a listener, I hear a lot lyricism in both of your playing, and Jonathan, sometimes detect a feeling of defiance in yours.

JF: I take issue with the word “defiance,” but the best answer I can give you is that I’m just being myself.

TJG: There are artists out there who are born trailblazers, and I’d venture to say you’re one of those artists.

Immanuel Wilkins: I think why you sound defiant is because you do a similar thing—and I think this also speaks to the lyricism—the way you phrase, a lot of the time, conceptually is out a bebop tradition of playing good phrase after good phrase, kind of like how Bird doesn’t develop one thing over a solo; he plays great phrases—chunks—after others. And I think that can sometimes come across as radically different from what some people are doing on the scene these days.

JF: You can correct me if I’m wrong, Immanuel, but I think it was Ben Webster that snatched the horn from Charlie Parker and told him it’s not supposed to be played like that.

IW: Oh wow (laughs)

JF: Not equating myself with Charlie Parker, but in terms of the concept of defiance.

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Dan Tepfer (L) and Leon Parker (R). Photos courtesy of the artists.

By looking at his discography and tour schedule, it’s impossible to predict what pianist Dan Tepfer will do next. His career, much like his improvisations, have logic and structure, yet a surprising number of twists and turns along the way. Known in large part for his longstanding duo with Lee Konitz, Tepfer is constantly expanding his horizons. We recently spoke with Tepfer on the phone, while he was in Argentina, having finished a solo program of his popular Goldberg Variations/Variations, as well as a trio tango gig with Pablo Aslan and Jeff Lederer. Only weeks before, Tepfer had released a video album of algorithmic music, Natural Machines, and was also working on a straight-ahead project with Christian McBride, Carl Allen, and Renée Fleming.

In an upcoming show at The Jazz Gallery, Tepfer will perform with drummer and percussionist Leon Parker for an evening of free improvisation, their second performance after an exciting first encounter in Paris earlier this year. Check out our interview below to get a deeper sense of Tepfer’s insight into the dynamic and unexpected craft of free improvisation.

The Jazz Gallery: I’m inspired by the range of gigs you play, and always with such interesting and unexpected musicians. Do these opportunities arise naturally? Is it random? Do you have a manager who lines things up for you?

Dan Tepfer: It’s kind of weird, right? One day I’m doing my algorithmic music, and literally the next day I’m doing a high-society New York gig with Renée Fleming and Christian McBride. I love it man, it’s fun. In terms of playing with Renée Fleming, the way that happened was that Renée had a gig with Christian McBride at the Kennedy Center, and they needed a pianist for that. The Kennedy Center recommended me, and Renée, Christian, and I really hit it off. She’s been hiring me for the last year for different things, and she got me on her new record actually, which is pretty cool, with Christian as well as Carl Allen on drums, man. If you told me I’d make a record with Christian McBride and Carl Allen, I would have said that was the craziest thing ever.

TJG: Did it feel like the craziest thing ever, in the moment?

DT: Nah, it felt great, man. It’s more that those guys usually play pretty straight-ahead music, and while I enjoy playing straight-ahead music, it’s not my bag, really. As you were saying, it’s an unexpected mix of people. But I love that.

TJG: And how has the reception been for your algorithmic music and the new video album, Natural Machines?

DT: Man, it’s been great. The people who have checked out the album have sent me some warm notes. The reception I get at the gigs is really nice too. It feels like I’m doing something exciting and different, which is an amazing feeling. I don’t think that many people have seen the album, and it probably wasn’t the most strategic decision to release it all at once, but I was super glad to get it out there. I’m proud of the work, and I think it’s one of those projects where you get it out there, and it’ll get seen over time.

TJG: So, this show you have coming up with Leon Parker is another one of these unexpected pairings, another one of your shows that I wouldn’t have anticipated. At the same time, it seems so natural. You played together once, is that correct?

DT: Yeah, we played a show at the Sunset/Sunside in Paris last May. Man, I’m really excited about this show. I’m genuinely really psyched about it. Leon is an unbelievable musician. He’s a rare combination of two things: On the one hand, he has deep, impeccable time and groove. It’s simply magical. Honestly, the only other drummer I can think of where I’ve gotten that feeling of time being so crystalline was with Paul Motian. On the other hand, what’s incredible about Leon is that he’s musical in a way that, for me, resembles the mindset of chamber music. If I’m going to play with a percussionist, or any musician really, I want to feel like we’re deeply listening to each other. Empathy is at the top of the list, and Leon is a deeply sensitive cat. Nothing ever feels too loud or inappropriate. He’s got incredible force, but it’s so empathetic to what’s happening around him. It’s very special, and very original. Even the way he plays swing is unique. I don’t think he gets heard anywhere close to enough in New York.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Saxophonist JD Allen’s musical career seems to bring him such joy: He loves the exploration, growth, the hard work. Allen recently released an album of all ballads, titled Love Stone, featuring bassist Gregg August, drummer Rudy Royston, and guitarist Liberty Ellman. In a recent WBGO interview, Allen said that the all-ballads album was a real challenge: “I’ve listened to so many ballads. Whittled it down to nine tunes I thought I could play pretty on. Maybe it’s a love letter to myself. Maybe I’m the dearest, maybe I’m the pretty one.”

In a departure from his regular trio, Allen will be bringing bassist Ian Kenselaar and drummer Malick Koly to The Jazz Gallery for two sets for a group he’s calling his “young blood trio.” Once considered a Young Lion himself, Allen moved to New York from Detroit in the 1990s and immediately began working with an impressive cross-section of the jazz community, including notables such as George Cables, Betty Carter, Ron Carter, Jack DeJohnette, and Butch Morris, and contemporaries like Orrin Evans, Gerald Cleaver, Eric Revis, Marcus Gilmore, Meshell Ndegéocello, and Duane Eubanks. We had a wonderful conversation via phone this week, covering his exploration of these ballads, as well as working with young musicians, and his hope to one day score a film.

JD Allen: Alright brother, shoot away.

The Jazz Gallery: Great, let’s jump right in. Congrats on the new album, I really like it, it sounds fantastic. Have you been pleased with its reception?

JDA: Yeah, I’m pleased. People have listened to it. But already, I’m on to the next one. I’m recording in January, and now my energy is going toward putting together the material for that. I only look at the reception for a little bit to see if I can get any insight into what I could have done better.

TJG: What does that insight look like, in terms of the latest album?

JDA: I had some changes as far as my mouthpiece, and some people commented on the sound, which is good. Initially, I was pretty afraid to release an all-ballads recording, because it felt so anti-now, everything is about fast pace. But I can’t honestly say I ran across any press that was negative. People commented on tone, and I was working on my sound just for this ballads recording, you know. Now, I’m planning on going in another direction. Hopefully I’ll be doing a recording with tenor saxophonist David Murray, so I’m working on the material for that.

TJG: Duo saxophone, or with band? Gregg and Rudy?

JDA: It’ll be two tenors, bass, and drums, without piano or guitar. I’m thinking of probably having Gregg and Rudy, but I might make a departure on this one. I don’t want the water to get too still. Plus they’re both pretty busy, so I want to give them the space to do what they have to do. I might make a departure just for this record.

TJG: A couple more questions about the last album. I think it’s beautiful, and very much of-the-times, to have an all-ballads album. Everyone needs a moment to slow down. Did you have any artists in mind who have done similar all-ballad albums?

JDA: Definitely. Of course. Dexter Gordon, Ben Webster, John Coltrane. I considered Branford Marsalis’s record Eternal as a model of where I could go. I even tried taking it from a perspective as if Sonny Rollins had done a ballads recording, and was checking out a lot of his ballad stylings, and using that as a model also. The tenor saxophone has a rich tradition in ballad playing, so there was a lot to pull from.

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