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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Earlier this month, saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins and his working quartet went into Sear Sound Studio to record their debut album. Under the watchful eye of producer Jason Moran, the album highlights the deep rapport that the quartet has honed over the past few years—just take a listen to their quicksilver performance at Oberlin Conservatory this past fall:

Not someone to rest on his laurels, Wilkins is already moving onto new projects. At The Jazz Gallery this Saturday, February 2, Wilkins will convene a new trio featuring vibraphonist Joel Ross and drummer Nazir Ebor. Don’t miss this chance to hear Wilkins challenge himself in a new musical setting. (more…)

Album art courtesy of the artist.

This Friday, February 1, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome bassist Fima Ephron to our stage to celebrate the release of his new album, Songs From The Tree (Modern Icon). Effortlessly sliding between styles, Ephron has made his name playing with the likes of saxophonist Chris Potter and guitarist Adam Rogers and the notable downtown groups Lost Tribe and Screaming Headless Torsos. Songs From The Tree is Ephron’s  third album as a leader and showcases his trademark eclecticism—from the gorgeous ambience of “Bamboo,” to the deep-pocket funk of “Ground of Being,” to the plainspoken lyricism of “Know Self.” Featuring Potter on saxophones, Rogers on guitar, Kevin Hays on keyboards, and Nate Smith on drums, the album is richly layered, belying the fact that it was recorded in a single 10-hour session.
For the release show at the Gallery, Ephron will be joined by Rogers and Potter, as well as Jon Cowherd on keyboards and Gene Lake on drums. Don’t miss these top musicians take flight on Ephron’s wide-ranging compositions. (more…)

Photo courtesy of Pi Recordings.

Drummer & percussionist Ches Smith is a ubiquitous presence in New York’s improvised music scenes, performing with a wide range of ensembles, including his trio with Craig Taborn and Mat Maneri, Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog, and with musicians like Matana Roberts, Wadada Leo Smith, Fred Frith, and Trevor Dunn, not to mention his own projects, Congs for Brums and These Arches. On top of it all, Smith still felt the need for a new band that would experiment and perform regularly around New York.

Enter Smith’s new quartet: Featuring guitarists Mary Halvorson and Liberty Ellman, plus bassist Nick Dunston, this sixteen-stringed ensemble is rounded out by Smith on drums, electronics, vibraphone, glockenspiel, and a range of other percussion instruments. This Thursday, the group will perform at The Jazz Gallery, featuring a book of entirely new music, written for the band. We caught up with Smith via phone, and dove right in to his composition process, his thoughts on the new group, and his take on new music in New York today.

The Jazz Gallery: What are you up to today?

Ches Smith: I went to the gym, I practiced, and now I’m talking to you before heading off to a rehearsal.

TJG: So you’re an early morning guy?

CS: I have a kid, so that helps–or doesn’t, depending on how you look at it [laughs]. My wife took him to the bus stop this morning, so I had a little extra time.

TJG: Can you tell me about your morning routine? I don’t know how many other musicians in New York are getting to the gym and practicing before 9 A.M.

CS: There are probably a few of them, the ones who have kids [laughs]. Normally I wake up around 6:30am, get stuff ready for my son, and walk with him to the bus stop by 7:15. I might need to do email for a while, depending on what I have going on. It’s important that I stay on top of emails, particularly when I have tours of my own, especially in Europe, because they’re farther ahead in time. After that, I’ll often have a rehearsal, but usually I can work on music for a few hours before that. That can mean writing, or practicing one of several instruments.

TJG: When you have limited time, how are you able to get into a flow where you can practice exactly what you’ll need for that day?

CS: It’s not too hard anymore, I can pretty much get right into it. I’m playing with Anna Webber at the Gallery on Monday night, so right now I’m practicing her music. I’ve been immersed in finishing the music for my Gallery gig on Thursday, and I’ve had it in mind that I should really check out Anna’s music before our rehearsal. I didn’t remember any vibraphone stuff, but when I printed it out and looked at it, I said “Oh yes… there’s some vibraphone stuff in here” [laughs]. There’s one passage that’s really difficult, with a few lines happening at once, so I started on it last night after my son went to sleep. It’s under sixteen bars, so it’s a good finite goal for something I can get together before a rehearsal. I also have all these glockenspiel parts for the show with my quartet at the Gallery, so I’ve been practicing those as well.

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Design courtesy of Pi Recordings.

For many composers, inspiration can come from where they never considered looking—until they did. Brooklyn-based saxophonist, flute player, composer and band leader Anna Webber pulls and interprets inspiration from curious places—including microtonal sounds on YouTube.

As a composer and multi-instrumentalist, Webber busies herself juggling multiple solo-led and co-led projects at once. Her forthcoming release, Clockwise (Pi Recordings, 2019), represents her fifth as a solo leader, and combines her appetite for research with her artistic tendency toward individualism and exploration.

The Jazz Galley: You have such a strong voice as a composer. You seem to create new sounds from existing instruments and existing combinations of instruments that feel, texturally, very meaty. Where does instrumentation fit within your identity as a composer?

Anna Webber: That’s a really good question, and it definitely does. Kind of early on in my composition development, I decided I didn’t want to use the instruments always in the traditional way. Kryptonite to me compositionally is having the saxophone always be the melodic instrument and the bass always be the bass instrument. It’s like there’s these roles that are super easy to relegate instruments to—and obviously there’s a lot of music that I really love that does that, but I try to avoid it as a writer.

TJG: Strong word, relegate.

AW: I think it’s true, and I think a lot of people just do it without thinking about it: “Yeah, well I have this melody and this instrument.” And my whole thing has always just been to not have the instruments in their traditional roles. When I’m writing a specific piece, I make lists of all the different combinatorial possibilities of orchestration—solos, trios, duos—and then try to use all of those. So I think just being hyperaware of orchestration is something that drives me.

TJG: Did you study traditional orchestration?

AW: No, never. Compositionally, I wouldn’t say I’m self-taught, but my composition background is a little scrappy. I did performance degrees in my undergrad and master’s, and then I did a one-year master’s program in Berlin where I studied with John Hollenbeck. So I had already been writing a lot of music and John really helped me; he’s someone that I consider a mentor as well as a friend and colleague at this point.

I think that the way jazz is taught, from a composition standpoint to performers in school, is relatively scrappy anyway. There’s not a lot of going through traditional orchestration, aside from, “Here’s how you orchestrate saxes for a saxophone soli in a big band.” Whenever I write for an instrument that I’m not familiar with, I read a lot about that instrument and try to figure out exactly how it sounds, how it works, what the good registers are, how hard it is to do certain things on the instrument. And I think all of that stuff contributes to the orchestrational techniques that I end up using.

Stemming from the [philosophy that] I don’t want to have instruments in their traditional roles—or if I do, it’s not like that’s the role they’re in for the whole piece—the thing that I’ve come to a little bit more recently is trying to use sound and timbre as organizing forces that are as important as harmony, rhythm, melody in my music. So when I’m beginning a piece, [I try] to think about timbre first and use that in the pre-compositional way that I would use any of those other elements.

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From L to R: Jessica Jones, Kenny Wollesen, Tony Jones, and Stomu Takeishi. Photo courtesy of the artist.

As a saxophonist/composer/teacher/non-profit creator, Jessica Jones takes a holistic approach to music-making. All of the different hats she wears align in an open and positive musical expression. As a composer and improviser, Jones draws comfortably and equally from a wide range of sources, including mentors like Don Cherry and Joseph Jarman, as well as musics from the Caribbean and West Africa. This perspective is showcased on Jones’ newest record, Continuum (REVA), released this week. Featuring her longtime working band of Tony Jones on tenor saxophone, Stomu Takeishi on bass, and Kenny Wollesen on drums, the record showcases the continuum of the jazz tradition, both stylistically and educationally (Jones’s former student Ambrose Akinmusire guests).

Jones and her quartet will celebrate the release of Continuum this Friday, January 25, at The Jazz Gallery. We caught up with her by phone to discuss the history of the group, her approach to working with diverse musics and performers, and the work of her non-profit organization, Rare Earth Vibration Association.

The Jazz Gallery: This show Is celebrating the release of your new album, Continuum. What does the name mean?

Jessica Jones: It’s about the way that you learn jazz, as a continuum, from elders all the way down. One of my students who I had for six years, who just graduated from high school, he’s 17, he’s on the album. And Ambrose Akimusire is on it; he also used to study with me when he was young. So that’s kind of the thread going through it, the idea of the title.

TJG: How do you choose which guests to bring in, with how your band is structured?

JJ: Each case is an individual case. I wanted to feature this young student, because I think he’s really ready for that kind of opportunity, for being heard. And as far as the song with the singer, Ed Reed, he and I had some conversations, and I had taken some notes on the things he said, because he’s been through a lot and he’s really wise. And I wound up putting some of his ideas into a song, things he has talked to me about. So I wrote the lyrics based on things he’d said, and I’d never had anyone perform it vocally, only instrumentally. So I thought, why not see if he wants to do it. He sang the song, and that was geared specifically to him. The other song that has guests is, I was working at a music camp and someone was playing an instrument that he calls a kamale, a Malian instrument. He was in the room next to me, in the living situation, so I would hear him practicing. It sounded like the sonic area that Don Cherry used to play, when he played his ngoni. So I was really curious about the instrument, and wrote a song to go along with that and asked him to play on it. I asked Ambrose to play on it, because I was really hearing that trumpet sound, and he was in town, so it worked out that we could do that recording of that song together. Those were three individual situations where, compositionally, I was hearing that kind of direction, with these individuals.

TJG: What is your compositional process like? Were you thinking towards the scope of the album when you were writing pieces?

JJ: I was trying to document recent work, and looking across and seeing what united it, what the common ideas were. It’s really a cross range of styles on the album. Some funk, calypso, free stuff, blues, kind of a range, which I can’t really help.

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