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Posts by Hannah Judd

Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Sunday, October 8th, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock back to our stage. Laubrock is among the most active and sought-after exploratory improvisers working in New York, performing with luminaries like Anthony Braxton, and many acclaimed groups led by her close collaborators including Mary Halvorson, Kris Davis, and Tom Rainey. Laubrock is an active leader in her own right, always seeking novel combinations of instruments and players, like in her 2015 Jazz Gallery Commission project.

On Sunday, Laubrock will convene a new lineup of her band Serpentines. Featuring Miya Masaoka on koto and Sam Pluta on electronics, alongside more typical jazz instruments, the group straddles many compositional and improvisational traditions. We caught up with Laubrock by phone to discuss the challenges of blending these diverse instruments and organizing a team of top-flight improvisers.

The Jazz Gallery: The instrumentation for this group is a little unusual—could you talk about that?

Ingrid Laubrock: The origin of this band is not what the lineup currently is—usually we also have Peter Evans, who is not available, and Kris Davis is on piano and Tom Rainey is on drums—but the music is written in a relatively open way, so the instrumentation can be adapted. Originally this was basically a commission by the 2014 Vision Fest, which asked me to put a group together, people who I’d like to play with, and I wrote for it. I really enjoyed it—for that particular event I wrote a very very open piece. And then Intakt records, who I usually record for, agreed to record the group, and I added Peter Evans to it. Since it has koto in it and electronics, I had to adapt my usual way of writing; certain specific things can’t be played on the koto since it’s not a chromatic instrument, and likewise, on electronics, I think of it as a different instrument, therefore not a traditional jazz instrument, so it was a good challenge for me.

TJG: How do you approach writing for these things differently?

IL: I check back a lot with Miya and with Sam, so I’ll write something or have an idea—sometimes it’s very intentional, maybe global idea, a sort of drone or sound or how I want a piece to communicate electronics over the course of the piece—things like that I’ve sort of closely checked with Sam, and Miya while I was writing it. I’ve gotten together with Miya a couple of times and seen what is possible on the koto, for her to demystify it a little bit so that I could write something that was meaningful for it.

And then of course they’re all fantastic improvisers and I wanted to make sure they had scope to express that, to have a certain open modes where they can really just put in their own taste buds.

TJG: There’s also a certain amount of large group coordination that goes on that I’m curious about, how that comes into play.

IL: You have to balance it all, more than with a smaller group. In a smaller group I might not specify combinations of improvisers, I might have an open section. In a large group, it’s more like I’ll ask—you three improvise, and then you two improvise and the rest are like backgrounds, or I specify backgrounds as in improvised intersections with cells of material, so it’s a little more organized than you might find in a smaller group, to prevent it from descending into chaos.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

For four decades, Michael Formanek has been a fixture on the international jazz scene as a bassist, composer and improvisor, comfortable in any idiom. This Saturday, September 23rd, Formanek will convene his working quartet at The Jazz Gallery for two sets. We caught up with him to talk about his approaches to writing for this group, and to improvising more generally; excerpts of our conversation are below.

The Jazz Gallery: First, I wanted to just ask you about what music you’re going to be playing at this show.

Michael Formanek: It’s going to be a combination of some new music and older pieces for this group. I’m doing a few different groups now, but this is one quartet that I’m working on, and so there’ll definitely be some new music for that group. There’ll be a few pieces that I have that I’ve played in some different versions that are unrecorded, some recorded music, probably one or two things from one of my other groups, depending on how I structure the sets. And there’ll be a lot of improvisation, so you never want to let the music get much in the way of all the possibilities.

TJG: The quartet is such a fierce group of improvisers, so I’m sure it’s really dynamic playing together.

MF: Definitely. Some of my favorite musicians, of course.

TJG: How do you approach composing for a group where you know going in improvisation will feature heavily?

MF: Well, the main thing for me is to consider, in most cases when I’m writing for a group, the people. I consider things that I know that they do incredibly well, and also things sometimes that I might want to push a little different, in one way or the other. Just to kind of set up certain kinds of challenges that might make it a little more interesting, not just a complete improv gig. The compositions, I really do try to think about kind of getting things going certain ways, and structuring things enough, but not too much. I think it’s important to be willing to let the improvisers sense things a certain way, so I don’t think of things being completely finished until they’re actually played. And even then it’s different and evolving, as a process. That’s sort of what I think about.

TJG: That would make it different too, the live versus recorded iterations of the music.

MF: Yeah, definitely. I mean, just in terms of how you want to let things grow and develop over time, it doesn’t have to be so different than recorded versions, but oftentimes that is going to be the case.

TJG: How do you approach leading the group?

MF: In different groups, it kind of depends on the people involved sometimes, because I do like to get things going in such a way that there doesn’t have to be a lot of direction in the course of the actual performance. People have things they can get to, and they can start when they want to start, so everyone gets a little more directly involved in the composition, in the way the thing unfolds. To begin with whichever instrument, I could start something, but musically it might eventually move into another section, or move into another part of a piece. In some cases I can give that starting composition to somebody else, also for me it becomes a little irrelevant who’s the leader as much as I set up the problem and the situation, I try to pick the basic material we’re dealing with, in such a way that involves it being as natural as possible. And so in the best case scenario I’m just not thinking about that part of it at all.

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Since moving to New York over three decades ago, guitarist David Gilmore has traversed a huge range of the city’s music scenes. He’s been active member of M-Base and the plugged-in collective Lost Tribe. He’s been a sideman with the likes of Wayne Shorter and Ronald Shannon Jackson. And he’s been an in-demand session musician, recording with Elton John, Cassandra Wilson, and Joss Stone, among others. This Friday at the Gallery, Gilmore will present music from his most recent solo record Transitions (CrissCross) with the original quintet. The record features a few Gilmore originals, as well as several tributes to recently-deceased jazz legends. We caught up with Gilmore to talk about his band, influences, and musical direction; excerpts from that conversation are below.

The Jazz Gallery: You’re  performing with your quintet. How did you guys form?

David Gilmore: This quintet came about as a result of a record I did last September for Criss Cross records. They approached me to record something, and I had not had this thing in mind until approached by them. I thought of having a tribute to some recently deceased jazz ambassadors, like Toots Thieleman, we do a version of “Bluesette” by him; also Victor Bailey, a bass player who recently passed away—we did one of his songs. Bobby Hutcherson also passed away last year, so we played two of his songs, and Paul Bley, not a song of his but one he recorded by Annette Peacock, a tune that sort of encapsulates what he was all about in my opinion. I then wrote two originals, and we did another by Hermeto Pascoal, a tune called “Nem Un Talvez.” It’s sort of a mixture, but it’s mostly paying homage to a few of the recently deceased jazz greats, and so together these jazz guys I’ve worked with in various situations—like Mark Shim and Carlo DeRosa and E.J. Strickland—I thought it be good to take this direction. Victor Gould is a pianist I’ve known since he was a student at Berkeley, and he’s played my music before. So that’s how it came about. I called them up, and fortunately they were available and we knocked it out in the studio.

TJG: For the show on Friday will you be playing tunes from the record?

DG: It’s the original cast of characters from the CD, minus the guest artists, so the core quintet playing, and we’re going to play most of the tunes from the CD.

TJG: What do you see as the challenges and highlights of the ensemble?

DG: The highlights are the level of artistry that each musician brings. We’ve only done a handful of gigs since the record was recorded, so it’s different every time, and it’s just a level of artistry and chemistry that I think is great amongst these guys. What’s also great is the fact that we can actually get along—there are bands that don’t get along, but I always like working with people that I have a good time with, there’s that factor.

As far as the challenges, I could say on a personal level I find some of the music challenging. One tune of mine, “End of Daze,” is one that’s always a challenge to play, and some of the Bobby Hutcherson blues are not the repertoire I’m known for playing. To me this is more of a—dare I use the word—straight ahead kind of a vibe, which you’ll find on a lot of Criss Cross releases. My thought was to sort of bring in a concept in tune with the label and what it generally does and represents. For me that’s sort of stepping outside the box stylistically; it’s more straight ahead—I hate that word—but you know what I’m saying? There’s some out there stuff in there, but there’s some 4/4 straight-ahead swing. For me that’s actually a challenge to get inside that box, more traditional yet kind of still retain a modern edge to it. I’m not being ultra traditional—that’s not what I’m after in my music—but it is a tribute to older jazz. It is one foot in that world and one foot in the modern world, trying to bring a fresh interpretation.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Saturday, The Jazz Gallery is teaming up with the Polish Jazztopad Festival to present a night of international improvisational exchange. Representing Poland will be the Wójciński/Szmańda Quartet. Based in Warsaw, the group is made up of the Wójciński siblings on trumpet, piano, and bass, as well as drummer Krzysztof Szmańda. The group first gathered in the studio in 2014, releasing their electric interplay on record last year (which you can check out below).
Representing the United States is cellist Erik Friedlander. As a staple of the downtown jazz and improv scene for three decades, Friedlander has been a close collaborator of many musical luminaries, including Laurie Anderson, Dave Douglas, and John Zorn. He’s released dozens of diverse albums under his own name, including 2016’s Rings, featuring multi-keyboardist Shoko Nagai and percussionist Satoshi Takeishi. We caught up with Friedlander via Skype to hear about the origins of this project and his thoughts on the cello as a jazz instrument.

Piotr Turkiewicz invited me to the Jazztopad Festival in Wroclaw, Poland two or three years ago. He commissioned a premiere and what resulted was a piece called Kore, which was a piece for small orchestra and cello. It was super exciting. Piotr is one of these great presenters who has such a love of music and is curious and is just a good guy—I am really glad that I can call him a friend. He’s really been a great proponent of the Polish scene. The last couple of years, I’ve gone to Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola to see some of the Polish jazz groups and it’s been great.

This year, he invited me to participate in the New York edition of the Jazztopad Festival with the Wójciński/Szmańda Quartet. They like to do a lot of free improvisation, pieces with loose structures, and they’re very good at it. I have a feeling our concert will be a mix of organization and structures by design and free playing. One thing we’re going to do a lot of is dividing up into groups, like different combinations of duos—bass and cello, bass and piano, trumpet and cello, and so on.

In terms of fitting into a preexisting group, I feel it’s less about being a cello player and more about being a musician in general. It’s about getting on the same page in terms of how the music flows, and making sure we can all be creative together. I’m always looking for moments—moments of clarity, moments of inspiration, and hope to stay away from moments of boredom.

The cello in jazz is a tricky proposition. I feel when I play pizzicato like a bass player, it fits in really well. When I play with a bow, I feel it’s a much more modern sound—it’s less “jazz” per se, it’s something else. The cello can take on a number of different roles then—I’ll comp, I’ll play bass lines, I’ll play melodies, textures, sounds. With that in mind, the cello needs some kind of acceptance from the musical material and the other players. I’m really excited to see what happens.

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Photo by Peter Gannushkin.

Peter Evans is a trumpeter, bandleader, and composer navigating the nebulous worlds of jazz and other contemporary experimental musics with aplomb. In his latest venture, a new trio of trumpet, drums and vibraphone play a limitless series of new pieces. This trio will perform at The Jazz Gallery on June 1st; Peter will also perform a solo set that evening. We caught up with him via email to talk about politics, composition, and everything in between.

The Jazz Gallery: You’re opening this concert with a solo set, with trio following. How do you feel those formats interact with each other? Do they change your approach to playing?

Peter Evans: ​The ensemble and solo playing has been converging a lot more in the last year or so. It’s something I never really expected, but maybe it was inevitable. In my solo music I have been searching for ways to create coherent and interesting structures that can shape the music—structures that are clearly audible as structures but at the same time are flexible and malleable in the moment if need be. There are a bunch of different ways to achieve this, and some paths I have taken from my work as a composer for improvising ensembles: for instance, a 12 tone mode that repeats at the 2-octave point. This is a field of harmony and melody that fixes each pitch in space, allowing me to work with set materials in a very detailed and sometimes very fast way without having to juggle what note goes where. Strict modal improvisation, in short—nothing new about that! But it’s a development for me in the solo music that comes out of my writing for one of my bands (the piece “Intergalactic“).
Conversely, there are ways of developing and organizing material that grew directly out of my solo playing—for instance, juggling 2 or 3 small chunks of music (I think of them as characters or spirits)​ and bouncing them off one another, developing each character in isolation and in dialogue with the others. 

TJG: Do you prefer to play solo, or within a group?

PE: ​I don’t really think in terms of preference. I just try to answer the musical situation as naturally as I can and let things happen. The best feeling during a solo concert is when I feel like I’m just tending the fire, keeping it going and observing, almost as if I’m an audience member.​ It’s all a very strange process that I don’t actually understand. That feeling of participation somewhere between active and passive is much easier to achieve when you have other people to bounce off of.

TJG: You’re premiering some new compositions for this trio with Max Jaffe and Joel Ross—can you talk about what direction you feel they’ve taken, or what you were interested in while composing them?

PE: The pieces are still in the works.  I change them a little after each rehearsal. It’s a purposefully tricky instrumentation, but I’m into the challenge.  In addition to being virtuosos, both Max and Joel are extremely flexible and great listeners.  The vibe of the trio so far seems to be that there aren’t really any limits and that we can explore whatever we want, which feels great! I already have some other gigs booked for this group for the rest of the year. I can’t really predict what’s going to happen but I’m very optimistic.

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