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.