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Peter Bernstein & Gilad Hekselman. Photos courtesy of the artists.

Guitarist-composers, bandleaders and compulsive hangers, Pete Bernstein and Gilad Hekselman each have left a strong mark on contemporary sound. As proud descendants of a fabled guitar lineage, Hekselman and Bernstein over the years have collaborated with diverse artists, including Mark Turner, Chris Potter, Esperanza Spalding, and Ben Wendel, as well as Joshua Redman, Diana Krall, Nicholas Payton and Dr. Lonnie Smith, respectively. Back on New York City soil after a couple tightly-booked European tours, both artists took a few minutes to discuss playing with and off each other, democratic leadership (in music) and the DNA of their sound.

The Jazz Gallery: Pete, you were just out for a while—exclusively in Europe?

Pete Bernstein: I was all around Europe, starting Moscow, then up through Paris. Did a few stops with Larry Goldings and Bill Stewart. It was fun all around. We had like 15 gigs in 18 days.

TJG: Pro.

PB: Yeah, I guess so. It’s a miracle when a tour is actually put together. It’s really hard to do, a lot of work. Buying tickets, hotel coordinating… The whole idea of how a booking agent does that, it’s kind of amazing. It’s like architecture. And fishing. At the same time. The first part is fishing because you just throw a gig into the water and see who takes the bait, and then you get one big one you try to book around it. There’s an art to it, I think.

TJG: Apt. Do you guys always use the same booking agent for your Europe tours?

PB: Yeah, we’ve been using the same booking agent Helen Kondos. [We’ve been working with her] for about four years. She’s great. She’s very unusual, too, because she’ll send dozens of emails saying, “Okay, do you guy wanna do this to make this flight? The next day you’d have to get up and do this…” She’s very much involved in what our experience will be, which is nice. Most people just try to put [the tour] together and cut corners or save money—they just do whatever. She’s about asking us what we would rather do.

TJG: Well then we should totally give her a shout out in this interview.

PB: Yeah, she’s unusual. A lot of times you look at it on paper and it’s like wow: four days in a row you’re waking up at five in the morning. After a while, you really start to crumble when things are put together in a very sadistic way.

The whole thing is a miracle, but especially the first step, when someone actually wants us to come play for them. And then people come out and see the gig. That’s all miraculous.

TJG: You still find that first part miraculous, after all the years you’ve been out there?

PB: I find it more miraculous than ever now. Gilad, maybe you know the feeling: You get on a couple of airplanes, take a van ride and you’re at this place and you’re like, “Where the fuck are we?” And then people actually come out. It’s amazing.

Gilad Hekselman: I agree. I think too often, especially in some situations that I’ve been in, people take that stuff for granted, but I agree with you.

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L to R: Alfredo Colon, Steve Williams, Andres Valbuena, and Edward Gavitt. Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Thursday, August 1, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome Secret Mall back to our stage for two sets. Two years ago, the collective made a splash with their self-released debut YeEP, mining meme culture and contemporary electronic music styles like vaporwave to find raw materials for their original compositions. Since then, the band has played at the Gallery regularly and been written up in the New Yorker.

Their show this week celebrates the release of their first full-length album, System32. In addition to further honing their atmospheric group sound, Secret Mall opens space for new collaborators on the album, including bassist Chris Morrissey and vibraphonist Joel Ross. Before joining the record release party at the Gallery on Thursday, check out the track “Dubai” from the album, below.
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Matt Mitchell (L) and Tim Berne (R). Photo courtesy of the artists.

Saxophonist and composer Tim Berne’s presence looms large over the New York improv scene, and it’s not just because he stands well over six feet tall. As a leader, Berne has over 50 albums to his name, and is a constant presence on critics’ annual best-of lists. For the past decade or so, Berne has developed a deep rapport with pianist Matt Mitchell, whether in Berne’s band Snakeoil, a duo format, or with Mitchell performing solo versions of Berne’s compositions.

This weekend, Berne and Mitchell return to The Jazz Gallery in a new trio configuration with a pair of acclaimed young drummers—Kate Gentile on Friday evening and Justin Faulkner on Saturday. We caught up with Berne by phone to talk about his expectations for the new group, his band-leading philosophy, and his gradual embrace of the piano in his music.

The Jazz Gallery: You’re bringing a new trio to the Gallery this week with piano & drums. Do you feel that the group is an extension of your duo work with pianist Matt Mitchell, or is it its own new thing?

Tim Berne: As long as I’m playing with someone I know, there’s going to be some history. Matt and I have been developing this chemistry for ten years or so. But other than that, it’s definitely a new thing. The approach with drums is always going to be quite a bit different. But I’m not that smart—I don’t have a concept for how one group evolves from another. I like to set things up and see what happens.

TJG: With drums in the mix, what do you expect to be different? Do you feel that drums are stabilizing force or destabilizing force?

TB: Hopefully it will be a destabilizing force! It’s another person. I don’t see the drums as playing a role, it’s just another instrument. Sonically, it’s going to be different. But I feel more like it’s guiding a conversation. Like you’re sitting around, having coffee with someone. You have a nice thing going and all of a sudden, someone else sits down, and you have to accommodate them. Even if they don’t say anything, the dynamic will be different just because they’re there. It’s not about instruments playing roles for me—it’s not like we now have a rhythm section in the band. It’s more like we have a person in the conversation with a different dynamic range, a different kind of texture, and a different point of view.

TJG: In terms of different points of view, how do you know Kate and Justin, and how do you imagine their personalities interacting with you and Matt?

TB: I’ve played with Kate. I met her at a workshop where I was teaching. We played together then and we’ve played a couple of gigs together since then. I met Justin through Branford Marsalis. I went to hear Branford play at The Jazz Standard and we were hanging out afterward. I was talking to Justin and I got a good vibe from him. I really don’t know his playing outside of Branford’s group, and in a way, I don’t want to know. He’s a nice guy and expressed an interest in my music, and I dug what he was doing with Branford. It’s fun to try something different—it’s sort of like a blind date in a way.

Sometimes I have to wake myself up. It’s almost too easy to play with the people that I usually play with. I need to challenge myself to see if the music works in other situations, mostly so I don’t get lazy.

TJG: That’s definitely getting back to the destabilizing influence you’re looking for.

TB: Yeah [laughs]. Most people want to be stabilized, and I want to be destabilized. Sometimes I get to a point with my music where I know it’s going to work and I have to do something to mess it up. Like with my band Snakeoil, sometimes I’ll add a person, just to keep us on our toes and give us something else to react to. I can’t always do that with the writing itself. Recently we recorded with Marc Ducret and that really threw a nice wrench into things. We were playing music that we had worked on for a couple of years, and then brought in Marc for one rehearsal before the recording. It’s completely different than anything we’ve ever done. It’s not contrived—it’s the way the band operates.

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L to R: Ethan Helm, Miho Hazama, Nathan Parker Smith. Photos courtesy of the artists.

This Thursday, July 25, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to present the 13th concert in our ongoing Jazz Composers’ Showcase. In this series, emerging composers showcase their music for large ensemble, an increasingly rare opportunity in today’s scene. Many alumni of the series—including Christopher Zuar, Erica Seguine, and Jihye Lee—have since released their own acclaimed big band records.

For this edition of the showcase, composers Ethan Helm, Nathan Parker Smith, and Miho Hazama will present works for string quartet and drums. All three composers embrace multiplicitous practices. While Hazama’s original training was as a classical composer, Smith’s large ensemble music reflects his deep engagement with metal. Helm, on the other hand, is currently pursuing a PhD at NYU, researching applications of classical music theory in jazz. Before coming to the Gallery to hear the composers’ imaginative string music, take a listen to Hazama’s composition “Time River,” performed by the WDR Big Band and vocalist Theo Bleckmann.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Saturday, July 20, multi-instrumentalist Morgan Guerin returns to The Jazz Gallery for two sets. With his abilities on saxophone, bass, drums, and keyboards, Guerin has become a choice sideman for stylistically-fluid bandleaders like Esperanza Spalding and Terri Lynne Carrington. As a leader, Guerin has released two chapters of an ongoing project that he calls The Saga, where he plays most of the instrumental parts alongside smart contributions from peers like vibraphonist Sasha Berliner and keyboardist Julius Rodriguez. You can stream The Saga II below:
In a previous interview with Jazz Speaks, Guerin spoke about how he keeps up with all of his different instruments:

I wake up and immediately pick up my bass every day, out of habit. I have a lot of instruments and recording equipment in my room, and my bass is on the wall above my bead, so every time I wake up, I pick it up without thinking. I’ve been trying to hone in on the bass, because it’s new to me, and I’m in love with the instrument. With the others, I try to practice everything at least once a day, every day. There are times where I don’t get to touch my horn for maybe a day or two, and there are other times where I don’t touch the bass for a day or two and I’m playing a lot of saxophone, drums, or something else instead. It’s a constant cycle, but I can feel when I’m losing familiarity with an instrument [laughs]. I have to stay on top of it.

For his performance this weekend at the Gallery, Guerin will be performing on saxophone, EWI, bass and synthesizer, alongside Alina Engibaryan on vocals and Rhodes piano; Julius Rodriguez on piano, keyboards, and synthesizer; JK Kim on drums; and Val Jeanty on electronics. (more…)