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Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Raga Massive.

Part of mandolin master Snehasish Mozumder’s mission—and that of artist-based collective Brooklyn Raga Massive (BRM)—is to create opportunities for artistic exchanges and cultural communication through engagement with Indian classical music. This engagement has deep roots in jazz and Western popular music, through the work of artists including John and Alice Coltrane, The Beatles and, of course, John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Within his own project, Sound of Mandolin, Mozumder interprets his lineage through the lens of cultural curiosity and inclusion, playing Indian classical music and composing “raga-inspired” music. He has released 28 recordings as a leader, constantly seeking new situations for collaboration. Along with other members of BRM’s ensembles, Mozumder has re-envisioned the music of McLaughlin, Mahavishnu and Shakti to reflect his own expression and the movements of the moment in 2019. This McLaughlin-inspired project will play The Jazz Gallery this Wednesday, June 19.

Before the hit, we spoke with Mozumder and BRM artist and band leader/drummer Vin Scialla. Each offered thoughts on finding new paths through the music, the challenges and triumphs of spontaneity and collaboration and the mysterious power of “the drone.”

The Jazz Gallery: Snehasish—You began playing tabla at age 4. What prompted the switch to studying mandolin, which I understand is not considered traditional to Hindustani Indian classical music?

Snehasish Mozumder: [Mandolin] is Italian originally. I am from a musical family; I’m the third generation doing music. My grandfather started a style of teaching the young kids—first, tabla when you’re 4. He used to play violin and mandolin—not like me, but some songs, some initial phrases of ragas. So when I was 4, I asked for the tabla; then when I was 9 or 10, mandolin, for some initial idea of the melodic instruction. Then, when I was 16, I switched over to a traditional Indian classical instrument—I switched over to sitar.

TJG: So you continued studying mandolin while studying sitar?

SM: Exactly, because I loved the tone of the mandolin, and I noticed that what I had heard on other Indian instruments, I played that sound on the mandolin. We had a big family, so many different rooms. In one room, my father Himangshu Mozumder, very famous guitar player, he used to play light classical and modern songs also, and [in another room] my uncle was playing sitar and another uncle was playing sarod—so from that childhood, I tried to adapt that type of North Indian classical style on mandolin. That was the very start of [my artistry]. And then there was a lot of struggle.

TJG: In what ways do you feel that your first instrument being percussive offered you certain advantages as you pursued mastering other instruments?

SM: It’s like playing a new instrument in an authentic society. It’s very hard. At the initial stage, I [encountered] many problems. But, slowly, I have come out from that. My first big achievement was in 1997, my debut album Mandolin Dreams. Then I got a little bit of international notoriety in 2001, when I had my first Europe tour—Europe and Britain, both. My last concert was at London at Bharitiya Vidya Bhavan; it’s a pretty famous hall for Indian classical music. Fortunately, at this concert, Pandit Ravi Shankar ji came to listen to my music, and he liked it. Then, in 2002, he invited me to Royal Albert Hall as a soloist at the [George Harrison Memorial Concert] “Concert for George.” And now I’m getting recognition from all over the world, and in India, but I’m really grateful to American audiences because they’re always liking a new style, especially mandolin. While I am playing Indian classical style on mandolin, all the mandolin players are sitting in the front row – that’s really, very inspiring.

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Matt Mitchell & Dan Weiss. Photos courtesy of the artists.

This Saturday, June 15, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Dan Weiss back to our stage for two sets of original music. The pair have developed quite a simpatico relationship over the past several years, playing on each other’s records and together in groups led by the likes of Tim Berne and Rez Abassi. They’re equally adept at throwing down in Weiss’s metal-inspired project Starebaby as they are delving into abstract rhythms and textures. Mitchell himself describes their musical relationship as “breath[ing] as one player.”

Before coming out to hear their duo show at the Gallery, take a listen to a previous performance at The Stone, below.

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From L to R: Giovanni Guidi, Dezron Douglas, David Virelles, Gerald Cleaver. Photo by Robert Oifare, courtesy of the artist.

Back in the summer of 2017, Italian pianist Giovanni Guidi and Cuban pianist David Virelles were hanging backstage at a European jazz festival when they came up with an idea for new band. This idea became Salida, a border-crossing supergroup where the two pianists concoct richly-layered textures on a variety of keyboard instruments, backed a by the crack rhythm team of bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Gerald Cleaver. For Guidi, the band name evokes multiple meanings in Spanish and Italian. In Spanish, the name means exit, while it also resembles the Italian word “salita,” meaning ascent.

This Friday, June 14, Salida plays at The Jazz Gallery for the first time with a slightly altered lineup—pianist John Escreet and bassist Brandon Lopez fill in for Mssrs. Virelles and Douglas respectively. Before hearing the band at the Gallery, check out a performance from last summer in the video below.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Thursday, June 13, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome pianist Theo Walentiny to our stage for two solo piano sets. A recent graduate of the New School, Walentiny has previously presented his own music at the Gallery with his septet and the collaborative Aurelia Trio. This past winter & spring, Walentiny lived in Hangzhou, China, playing six nights a week with Verso Doxa, a new quartet project led by drummer/composer Dré Hočevar.

Whether playing solo or with his larger working group, Walentiny takes an intersectional approach to improvisation, playing with multifaceted, large-scale forms and drawing from different musical traditions. In an interview with Jazz Speaks, Walentiny spoke about merging these practices in his work for the septet:

There’s this piece “Apprehension,” which starts out with a piano riff, or a duo with guitar, then a melody, and a form for soloing which can go almost anywhere. It’s not limited by the page. I’m focused on transitions between songs as well, and strive for a continuous set of music. I try to bridge the pieces with pairs of duos within the group. Horns might do a cadenza, there might be a short chorale, nothing too strict.

For this solo show, Walentiny will feature his interest in spontaneous development of long forms, evocative of Cecil Taylor and Paul Bley, as well as his rich harmonic palette, inspired by French classical composers form Ravel to Messiaen to Dutilleux. Don’t miss this young pianist challenge himself in this new, vulnerable format. (more…)

Photo by Russ Rowland, courtesy of the artist.

When he was a child, saxophonist Michaël Attias had what one could categorize as an auditory hallucination while in bed with a fever. “Suddenly, I started hearing all of these different kinds of music happening all at once,” Attias remembers. “It was an amazing feeling, like all boundaries had dissolved and the walls of the room had melted.” Inspired by this experience, Attias has cultivated a practice of polyphonic multiplicity in his work as a saxophonist and composer.

At The Jazz Gallery this Tuesday, June 11, Attias will convene his nine-piece ensemble, composed of similarly-adventurous improvisers drawn from his community of improvisers. Attias’s work contains nine musical “moments,” merging distinctly-notated sections with guided improvisations. We caught up with Attias by phone to talk about these compositions’ evolution, listening to dense music, and drawing inspiration from the work of Anthony Braxton and Paul Motian.

The Jazz Gallery: I’d like to start with a bit of a superficial question—why did you want to put together a group of this size after focusing on 3 and 4-person groups more recently?

Michaël Attias: One of my first groups in New York was a sextet, and I had an eleven-piece group that played at The Stone a few years ago. I’ve written for big band, and I’ve written an orchestra piece for Anthony Braxton’s Tri-Centric Orchestra a little while back. I’ve always dreamed of working with larger groups.

For this group, nine is a special number—three times three. The core of the group is the trio Renku, which has been around since 2003 with John Hébert and Satoshi Takeishi. Over the years, we’ve expanded, plus one or plus two. We did a recording with Tony Malaby and Russ Lossing about ten years ago. So that’s the core—the trio triangulated, a triple Renku.

TJG: Strikingly, the group also has a lot of pairs in it. What’s the significance of that for you?

MA: It has two strings—bass and cello—two brass, two reeds, two percussion, and one piano. The piano kind of offsets the paired energies. Polyphony, multiplicity, many things going on at once—that extreme of the music has always attracted me. As a child I had a formative experience that you could categorize as an auditory hallucination. I was six or seven years old in bed with a fever. Suddenly, I started hearing all of these different kinds of music happening all at once. It was an amazing feeling, like all boundaries had dissolved and the walls of the room had melted. I’ve heard music in dreams like that, too. When I later heard music by Mahler and Ives—big orchestra pieces, multilayered music, sometimes with really contradictory things happening—it was like hearing the music that I had imagined. It connected me to that fever dream.

TJG: I’ll say that I’m personally drawn to this multiplicity, but I think for some listeners, it can be hard to parse multiple, contradictory streams of music. When you’re listening to this kind of richly-layered music, whether it’s by Ives or Anthony Braxton, what’s your mindset? How do you put yourself in a space to take in that kind of music?

MA: One thing that’s really important is balance. Like if there’s too much at one point, there should also be not enough at another point. I’m also really drawn to music where almost nothing happens. I like the experience of listening to a single line, with moment-by-moment attention.

But in terms of listening to music with a lot of activity, I read once that trance happens when you can focus on five things at the same time. When following four things, there’s still a guiding self-consciousness, aware of itself and aware of the four things happening. But when the fifth layer gets added, it’s as if that self vanishes and becomes pure attention.

You were talking about Braxton’s music—that’s also a formative example for me, playing in his orchestra. I got to play duo with him, in a quartet. The orchestra music, was truly a kind of trance music (this was before the period of what he called Ghost Trance music). People might describe his music as being really brainy or intellectual—and that dimension is obviously there—but what I think he was looking for is a complete immersion, and breaking down the divides between the rational mind and irrational mind, intuition, being able to negotiate challenging notation, improvise while counting, improvise without counting, improvise with shapes, improvise with specific pitches or specific directions. Sometimes those different activities are counted and repeated. Some of them are not counted and constantly evolving. Some can be more textural, some can be more melodic It was about navigating all of these binaries and erasing them until you become a field of activity and awareness. There’s a sense of ritual about it.

When I’m listening to polyphonic music, the question for me is whether you’re willing to lose yourself. I remember seeing Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time at a festival in Spain and it was a wall of sound. It was so loud and dense and intense. And then I closed my eyes and it was like the wall receded and I could hear things happening in multiple layers at the same time. It was really amazing. The wall can be a little bit prohibitive and push you away, but then you break through it and something opens up. I love that experience. I feel that all of the players in this band are comfortable with this experience and are available to navigate it.

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