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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Posts by Harrison Wood

Design by David Virelles

Design by David Virelles

Santiago-raised and Brooklyn-based pianist-composer David Virelles returns to our stage this Friday, August 14th, bolstered with new repertoire and collaborators that expand on the lexicon he has presented and crafted at the Gallery since first playing here with Steve Coleman. Nurtured by the support and collaboration of Henry ThreadgillMark Turner, Chris PotterDavid Binney, and Tomasz Stanko among others, the in-demand Virelles has made strides in developing his own voice, recently voted #1 “Rising Star Pianist” by the DownBeat 2015 Critics’ Poll. Through offerings like the 2012 Continuum (Pi Recordings), the Gallery’s own Commission Series and the 2014 Mbókò (ECM), Virelles has explored elements of folkloric rhythm and Afro-Cuban ritual, employing mixed-media tools like animation, poetry and abstract painting to compliment the sonic language at hand.

This Friday poses a new setting for dialogue, calling on Brandon Ross to join the forces of past and continuous Virelles collaborators, Thomas Morgan, Eric McPherson and Roman Filiú. We recently caught up with David by phone to learn more about the upcoming performance and his priorities at present:

The Jazz Gallery: Tell us a bit about the upcoming hit with Brandon–how did this come about?

David Virelles: This is something that I’ve wanted to put together for a while. I wrote new music, as it was special to get this opportunity to do something with him. He’s one of my favorite musicians. I’ve always admired his own records and his work with people like Threadgill, Cassandra Wilson, and Leroy Jenkins. I wanted to use the same rhythm section from my Mbókò tour this summer with Thomas and Eric. With Mbókò there is certain way in which we’re addressing things from a rhythmic perspective and that is also true of this project because of the players that are involved. In approaching rhythm and improvisation, when I consider every parameter across the written materials, I’m also taking into account the musical personalities that I’m working with because I consider that part of the composition too. It’s more of a special thing that I put together for this occasion….maybe in the future we’ll have the opportunity to expand on it.

TJG: The artwork you used to promote the show is also featured in a multi-media exploration IDEOGRAMAS with Romulo Sans and Alexander Overington that you just released–are these projects related?

DV: Well, for me, I see all areas of my creative activity being interconnected in one way or another. I like that image from the video and thought it somehow represented what I’m trying to do for this date so I wanted to use it. But the IDEOGRAMAS project is a different effort that I’m trying to address separately. While I wouldn’t call myself a visual artist, I’ve always been into drawing since I was a kid. I do it on and off. Sometimes I take things on the road with me but usually it’s a practice at home where all of my tools are. Since I started working on my Continuum project with Cuban artist Alberto Lescay, I’ve been exploring the idea of trying to visually represent whatever musical concepts we’re trying to put forth. For this project, I made these drawings loosely inspired by a Cuban folkloric graphic system “Nsibidi”. I was looking to work with a visual artist and animator and had the privilege of finding Romulo Sans through some things he had done for friends of mine. We worked really hard on that project for a few months–there is so much work that goes into a short piece like that. 

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Photo by Jerry Lacay, courtesy of the artist.

Photo by Jerry Lacay, courtesy of the artist.

In 2002, Norwegian guitarist and composer Lage Lund came to New York on a Fulbright scholarship to become the first guitarist in Juiliard’s budding jazz program. 13 years later, Lund finds himself fresh off a European jaunt with drummer Jochen Rueckert, balancing his time between raising baby girls, releasing two new trio records, and evolving his craft. Noted as a “deftly imaginative guitarist” by The New York Times, the 2005 Theloniuous Monk Competition winner has now released seven albums as a leader. His most recent release Idlewild (Criss Cross), came out in February and featured the stout rhythm team of Bill Stewart and Ben Street.

This April marks the release of Arts and Letters: the second installment of OWL trio, a co-led project between Lund, Orlando le Fleming, and Will Vinson that seeks to explore conversation in different acoustic environments. This Friday, he takes the stage with friends and musical companions le Fleming, Aaron Parks, and Craig Weinrib for a different discussion in the quartet setting. For a moment of refuge, Lund sat down with us over “toasties” at Brooklyn’s Milk Bar to talk about his varied musical—and non-musical—activities.

The Jazz Gallery: You have just released two different trio records—Idlewild and Arts and Letters. Can you share a bit about those experiences?

Lage Lund: I’ve been playing a lot of trio over the past few years. Most of the touring I have done as a leader has been for trio gigs. It was something I started doing, both because I wanted to and because it’s easier to put together than a quartet or a quintet. I started enjoying it more and began thinking about how I could take more advantage of that space. The trio with bass and drums is basically about showcasing my stuff whereas the OWL Trio is a different thing in that it’s completely co-led. Obviously, not having drums gives it a different kind of sonic feel. Part of what we also wanted to do with that group was play in spaces other than the clubs we usually play in. The first record was recorded in a church. The new album was recorded at The American Academy of Arts and Letters. They have this gorgeous old theatre that a lot of classical people have recorded in—people like Yo-Yo Ma. Except for my amp, it was totally acoustic with one stereo pair of microphones. We were trying to use the room as part of the sound—it was a live sounding room that isn’t really be suitable for drums. It changes how we play a bit, it changes the repertoire, all kinds of stuff.

TJG: What about the material for the quartet show coming up at the Gallery?

LL: There will be some new things that I haven’t recorded yet. Basically, I have almost an album’s worth of quartet music that I haven’t recorded yet that I’m still, gig to gig, trying to boil down to its essence. It’s that and it’s all people that I have a pretty long history with. I’ve been playing with Orlando and Aaron since I came here. I started playing with Craig Weinrib three or four years ago and immediately loved it. It’s a long history but the four of us actually haven’t played together yet.

TJG: You mentioned previously that you compose at the piano. Is this still the case and was it always that way?

LL: When I started music at age thirteen, it was on the guitar. I didn’t really start playing piano until high school and college. I can play some chords and stuff but I can’t really “play” piano. I think at some point I just found it easier to write on piano. The guitar can be too familiar sometimes. I might play a chord on guitar and get bored immediately. On the piano, I can play the exact same voicing but I might visualize the next step in a way that I wouldn’t see on the guitar. Because I’m less familiar with piano, it sparks my curiosity more as to what harmonic or melodic changes I might make. I also like to write away from instruments, so I’m not writing something only because it’s coming from my fingers. But, I’m trying to write more on guitar because I might write something away from it but need to figure out how to apply it to the guitar. The whole process is sort of abstract. It’s like I’m hearing something and I’m just trying to uncover it. It’s devoid of any method. It’s hard for me to devote time to it, particularly now with a family. Often, when I’m on the road and have some hours in a hotel, I’ll devote some time to it but it’s not like I always have a set aside time for it.

TJG: Is there a practice routine you follow?

LL: These days [laughs] it’s pretty slim. Once you have two kids, whenever you get a chance its like “whoa!” Organizing your time is really tough. A lot of it is about the next gig or tour. “What’s the music I have to learn?” Usually I have one or two things maximum, some things that I’m working on for a longer period of time. It could be a specific harmonic idea, a certain chord or rhythmic motif. Whenever I do have time to practice, some amount of time is going to be spent on that. If I have an hour, then maybe twenty minutes gets spent on that, but if I have seven minutes before sound check, then I’ll do it for three minutes. Just to check-in every time.

The idea can be very small or very specific. If I’m listening to some Messiaen thing and there is a certain sound, maybe I’ll boil it down to one particular chord. Then, if I have these four notes: what are all of the twenty-eight different ways I can play those notes on the guitar? What are all the inversions of those? What is every possible way I could play this or use this? I think that works the best for me as opposed to working on a lot of different things. When I was younger, a lot of it was transcribing.

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SENRI OE – Aki Uta from Jun Shimizu on Vimeo.

In 2008, Senri Oe shelved his highly successful 25-year career as a Japanese pop star and actor to move to New York City in pursuit of a childhood dream—becoming a jazz musician. As a lyricist, composer, and arranger since 1983, Oe built a robust Japanese popular music (J-Pop) career, releasing 45 singles and nearly 20 albums, winning the Japanese Gold Disc and FNS Pop Music Awards, and hosting a talk show on Japan’s national broadcasting network, NHKHe. Enrolling at The New School at age 47, Oe studied under Junior Mance, Aaron Goldberg and Toru Dodo. Since graduating in 2012, Oe has worked tirelessly to embed himself in New York’s jazz ecosystem. Having established his own record label, PND Records and Music Publishing, Oe plays monthly at Tomi Jazz New York, is a regular pianist for Morning Musuko, a 17-piece big band specializing in Japanese popular music (J-pop), and has now released three albums. Following his state-side debut, Boys Mature Slow (PND Records, 2012) and sophomore release, Spooky Hotel (PND Records, 2013), Oe released his third album Collective Scribble (PND Records, 2015) this past February.

This Thursday, March 19th, 2015, Oe comes to The Jazz Gallery to celebrate the release of his new record with saxophonist Arun Luthra and bassist Jim Robertson supporting. We sat down with Senri recently to learn more about his shift to New York and his time since.

The Jazz Gallery: Can you tell us about your desire to become a jazz musician? What prompted you to leave your previous career?

Senri Oe: The first time that I came across jazz was finding Bill Evans and Antônio Carlos Jobim at a used record shop when I was 15 years old. I was amazed. There was something complicated about the music—the fact that you could feel sadness and joy at the same time. I purchased some jazz theory books at that time and started trying to learn how to play but it seemed too difficult. Around that time, I had also started to compose songs with lyrics, beginning to develop myself as a singer-songwriter. I began getting gigs as a pop artist and once I was offered a record deal, I quit learning jazz altogether. But even throughout my career, jazz always remained somewhere inside my heart.

One day, when I was in my forties, I saw my face in the reflection of a store window and I wasn’t smiling. I looked at myself and was struck, “Who are you? You have to do what you want to do.” I knew at that point that I had to follow jazz because it had been eating away at me all of that time. However, I barely knew anything about jazz at my age—I didn’t even know the difference between open and closed positions on the piano. When I got accepted to The New School, I was surprised. I told my manager about the news and he told me I had to quit pop immediately. That was eight years ago.

TJG: Tell us about your time at The New School. Were there any key learning experiences that you can recall?

SO: At first it was about adjusting expectations. I had to let go of my anxiety around trying to accomplish something big in a short time frame. I also had to adjust to a learning gap. I remember on the first day of orientation, students assumed that I was an accomplished player because of my age and approached me for conversation. Once they figured out that I couldn’t play they formed groups with their other cohorts and for a while I felt left out. I was trying to learn from my 18-year-old classmates at the time—it was definitely humbling. But, little but little, once I was able to make good music, my classmates approached me and we began to learn together. I came to terms with the fact that I didn’t have to rush it. It took me four and half years to finish the program. I also learned that I could focus on crafting the expression and feeling of my playing, even if I felt rhythmically challenged or if I couldn’t play really fast lines.

Aaron Goldberg was really helpful in encouraging me to rely less on charts—learning how to sing the tunes I was playing by memory. Aaron also opened my mind up rhythmically to the power of syncopation. Junior Mance taught me how to be a listener. He is a very open man. Toru Dodo opened my mind to reharmonization. He gave me some hard exercises that have now become like a stretch routine in the mornings.

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Justin Brown isn’t one of those drummers who fades into the background of a group. Whether playing with the likes of Gerald Clayton, Ambrose Akinmusire, or Flying Lotus, Brown always throws himself into the heat of battle, pushing and prodding the music into exciting new directions.

With his group NYEUSI, Brown steps out as a leader, creating an electric concoction that draws from his huge range of musical experiences. Ahead of the group’s show at The Jazz Gallery this Saturday, January 31st, 2015, we caught up with Justin at his apartment to talk about his writing process and his musical motivations.

Justin Brown’s NYEUSI plays at The Jazz Gallery on Saturday, January 31st, 2015. Sets are at 8 and 10 p.m. The group features Brown on drums, Jason Lindner and Fabian Almazan on keyboards, Burniss Travis on bass, and special guest Dayna Stevens on EWI. $22 general admission ($12 for Members). Purchase Tickets Here.

Photo courtesy of the artist

Photo courtesy of the artist

According to The New York Times, Bryan Copeland “specializes in an unabashedly pretty strain of postbop, chamberlike and euphonious.” While the bassist-composer, originally from Texas, is noted for his work as a sideman alongside Toby Goodshank (formerly of Moldy Peaches), Ashley Arrison, David Binneyand Roy Hargrove, he has steadily led Bryan and the Aardvarks in the New York area since the release of Heroes of Make Believe (Biophilia, 2011). The Aardvarks, taking on jazz “infused with a wistful pop sensibility” (Time Out New York), were formed as a quartet configuration, but have expanded over time to include Bryan Copeland on bass, Camila Meza on vocals, Chris Dingman on vibraphone, Jesse Lewis on guitar, Fabian Almazan on piano, and Joe Nero on drums. Having brought the Aardvarks to our stage in an earlier formation, Bryan returns again to present all new music this Tuesday. Glenn Zaleski will be featured on piano this evening.

Bryan was kind enough to sit down on the phone and discuss the new material and some backstory behind the Aardvarks:

The Jazz Gallery: You’re prepared to debut all new material for the up coming performance. Could you give some context about the material?

Bryan Copeland: Yeah, I mean there will probably be a few new tunes that we’ve played before and three or four brand new songs that I’m hoping to unveil. We’re going to rehearse later and see how it goes. It’s pretty complex stuff, a lot more involved than the former stuff. Some of these scores for these tunes are about 25 pages long. [laughs] Hopefully we’ll be able to work them out. We’ll have to see how the solo parts sit next to the melodies we wrote for some of the “heads,” which can be up to six minutes long or so themselves.

We’re going to record soon. We’ve been trying to get it going but it’s been tough with everyone’s scheduling. I think Fabian and I will likely produce it. I want to record it at this place upstate called The Clubhouse. Chris recorded his last project there and had a great experience. It sounds like a nice getaway; they let you stay there.

TJG: Is there a certain inspiration you’re drawing on in these new compositions?

BC: Yeah, this new stuff has a strong science fiction influence—definitely a futuristic, outer-spacey vibe. I’m a huge movie fan: I’ve seen thousands of movies and sci-fi has always been my favorite genre. Definitely into Ridley Scott stuff like Blade Runner and Alien or the original Solaris or Brazil. I particularly love the music in sci-fi films. The more films I’ve watched the more I’ve gotten inspired to write.

The last album was very heavy influenced by composer Jon Brion; he’s been a really big influence of mine for a long time. I think this new stuff is really organic. It’s just straight out of my imagination or sub-conscious or something.

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