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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Posts by Harrison Wood

Photo via www.daynastephenssound.com

Photo via www.daynastephenssound.com

Noted for his “judicious exuberance” by The New York Times, saxophonist, composer, and educator Dayna Stephens has been a frequent mainstay on the Gallery stage now since 2007. Educated at Berklee College of Music and The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz at USC where he studied with Herbie HancockWayne Shorter, and Terence Blanchard, Stephens has since played with a rotating cast of musicians that includes Ambrose Akinmusire, Kenny Barron, Taylor EigstiAlbert “Tootie” HeathRoy Hargrove, Aaron Parks, Gretchen ParlatoCarlos Santana, John Scofield, Ben Street, and Stevie Wonder, among others. His records have also garnered critical acclaim from the likes of DownBeat, NPR and JazzTimes. The last five years have been challenging for Stephens as he has suffered from a rare kidney disease called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS); the jazz community has rallied to support the saxophonist through an organization called “Help Dayna Stephens.”

This past summer, Stephens went into the studio with Eric Harland, Larry Grenadier, Julian LageBrad Mehldau, and producer Matt Pierson to work on his fifth record, Peace. This Saturday, September 27th, 2014, Stephens returns to our stage with Darrell Green, Dave Robaire, Ben van Gelder, and Sam Yahel. Amidst his busy schedule, Stephens was kind enough to sit down with us to discuss his new records, crowdfunding, his love of comedy, the state of his health, and the influence of Charlie Haden.

The Jazz Gallery: You just finished your fifth record, Peace. How did it go?

Dayna Stephens: Actually, I officially just finished my fifth and seventh records. We had a surplus of material from this past session, so we decided we had enough for two records. Also, I had already recorded an album for Criss Cross last October, and that’s finally going to come out this coming February: Reminiscent. That one is a really fun double-tenor record and has Walter Smith III, Harish Raghavan, Aaron Parks, Mike Moreno and Rodney Green. So, number five is Peace, number six is Reminiscent, and number seven will be called Gratitude, with the same band from Peace. I’d say that Gratitude is probably coming out late spring or early summer in 2015.

Peace was all about standards and three songs taken from films: two by Ennio Morricone and one by Astor Piazzolla, the famous tango composer and bandoneon player. Before we went into the studio, Matt chose the two Morricone songs, which I had never heard before. He gave me a list of a few songs that he thought might go well with this type of record and I chose the ones that really spoke to me. One of them is a tune called “Deborah’s Theme” which is from Once Upon a Time in America, a Robert De Niro film from the ’80s.The other Morricone tune, “Brothers,” is from a film called The Mission, another early De Niro film. “Peace” is obviously the title track, but we actually chose that title about four months before Horace Silver had passed; we obviously didn’t know that was going to happen. We also coincidentally didn’t know that the world would be breaking out as much as it is in the opposite direction of peace [laughs uncomfortably].

TJG: It’s fitting that you put that project together amongst those events…

DS: Yeah, synchronicity is crazy! [laughs] That is all I can say. I’m really happy with the way the record turned out. None of these guys have ever played in this particular format before, and the interaction between Brad and Eric was pretty awesome.

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Román Filiú at The Village Vanguard (via romanfiliu.com)

Román Filiú at the Village Vanguard (via romanfiliu.com)

This Friday and Saturday, July 18th and 19th, 2014, will conclude The Jazz Gallery’s 2013-2014 Residency Commissions series. These two nights will feature original music from Cuban-born saxophonist-composer Román Filiú and the septet that he convened for the occasion. Filiú assumes the final chapter in the series storyline—this year focused on saxophonists and reed players—outlined by Ben WendelGreg Ward, Ben van Gelder, and Godwin Louis earlier in the season.

Since 2011, Filiú has successfully embedded himself in the engine of New York’s contemporary jazz scene, firing with cylinders like Matt BrewerMarcus Gilmore, Dafnis Prieto, Adam Rogers, Yusnier SanchezDavid Virelles, and Craig Weinrib, among others. Prior to landing in New York, Filiú was based in Havana for eight years while heavily involved with Chucho Valdes‘s “Irakere” band and also in Madrid for six years, often working with David Murray and Doug Hammond. A frequenter of our stage and our blog, the saxophonist will call upon Ralph Alessi, Dayna Stephens, David Virelles, Matt Brewer, Craig Weinrib, and Yusnier Sanchez to present his new material. We caught up with him by phone this past week:

The Jazz Gallery: Could you tell us a bit about what you’ve been working on in your residency?

Román Filiú: When The Jazz Gallery presented the opportunity to me, I wanted to do something that drew on inspiration from the music I grew up with—music that I heard in my hometown. As Santiago de Cuba was a very musical town, with traditions across conga, bolero, and sonCarnival music—I was inundated with it all of the time. Aside from my father being a musician, my brothers were violin players so I was trying to compete with them, trying to play violin music because I was the only one that played saxophone.

Aside from Cuban music, we were listening to a lot of classical, things like Bartók or Zoltán Kodály. I didn’t know anything about jazz; I wasn’t listening to it at the time. So it was an interesting mix of classical music, Carnival music, Cuban folkloric music, and popular music in Cuba that was on the radio. This residency was about considering this whole musical environment: how all of these styles converged in my head, opening up my mind to more advanced music and helping me find my own voice. I tried to reproduce these themes in the songs that I’ve been working on and frame them within the context of jazz improvisation.

I am grateful to The Jazz Gallery for the opportunity to make this music. I’m very fond of everyone else who has participated in this series, so it’s an honor.

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Photo by Herbert Ejzenberg

Photo by Herbert Ejzenberg

With two albums already under their belt, the Shai Maestro Trio is a group that we should all be opening our ears to: their sophomore release, The Road to Ithaca (2013), was noted as “thoughtful and melodic” by Nate Chinen of the The New York Timesand they have received critical acclaim for playing standout live performances. Having graced our stage before as a sideman, supporting friend, and frequent collaborator with Gilad Hekselman, Israeli pianist Shai Maestro will appear this Thursday, July 10th, 2014, not just as a leader, but as a member of the cohesive trio effort that he has built with bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Ziv Ravitz, when they formed in Maestro’s practice studio in Brooklyn in 2010.

While Maestro has became prominent, both on players’ and listeners’ radars, through his work in Avishai Cohen’s Trio from 2006 – 2011, he has spent the last three years heavily focused in bringing the collective synergy, shared between Jorge, Ziv and himself, to the forefront of the contemporary jazz world. With a heavy touring schedule, they have supported acts like Chick Corea, Tigran Hamasyan, and Esperanza Spalding, to name a few. This is what they do:

We caught up with Shai last week by phone to discuss the evolution of the trio since its inception and the inspiration behind his work:

The Jazz Gallery: The trio just finished playing both the Ottawa Jazz Festival and Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. How were those shows for you?

Shai Maestro: Great. Montreal was crazy. It was my first time there. I had never even been there as a listener before, so I was pretty shocked to see the scope of the program with so many incredible musicians. I think the music that we played drastically evolved from performance to performance and we managed to get two or three days in where we were all locked in on the same vision. When that happens—when we’re able to relieve the compositions and play more “real”—those are the moments that we strive for.

Both festivals had great audiences in that they allowed our “deeper” side to resonate. It’s not a context where you’re trying to impress them or anything. It’s this sense that you’re in a creative zone, responding to a quiet energy in the audience and feeding off that. I don’t know how that works; it’s just a mysterious quality of the audience.

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Photo courtesy of Dave Robaire

Photo courtesy of Dave Robaire

This Thursday, June 19th, 2014, we host the NYC CD release party for a new collective voice on the scene: Holophonor. Wait! Slow down—what did you say? Holo-what? Fans of Matt Groening and David X. Cohen need not be confused here, but for those of you not well-versed in the story arc of Futurama, you can read more about the name’s context here:

The Holophonor is a musical instrument in the 31st century and a kind of combination between an oboe and a holographic projector. The music played triggers the projector to show matching holographic pictures. 

The name aside, there is nothing cartoonish about this band; they’re as real as it gets. The group merges the 2014 graduates of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music into a dynamic septet that features original music from each member of the group, as well as works written collectively. With origins across the U.S. and South America, these seven musicians have been studying with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter for the last two years, rehearsing frequently and performing in Israel, Japan, Sweden, and Turkey, in addition to renowned houses here in the U.S. like the D.C. Kennedy Center.

And individually these artists have played with names like: Aretha FranklinWynton MarsalisRubén BladesJonathan BatisteJohn EllisReggie WorkmanAmbrose AkinmusireDave LiebmanGreg Osby, and Danilo Perez.

But wait? What are their names? We’ll list them out for you, but it’s best you meet them yourself by watching their EPK below. Their bassist, Dave Robaire, was nice enough to hop on a call this past month and share some more insight about their project. Check out the interview below as well.

Holophonor is: Josh Johnson on alto saxophone, Mike Cottone on trumpet, Eric Miller on trombone, Diego Urbano on vibraphone, Miro Sprague on piano, Dave Robaire on bass, and Jonathan Pinson on drums.

EPK:

The Jazz Gallery: The name “Holophonor” refers to a fictitious instrument from the 31st century in the animated science fiction sitcom Futurama. According to the EPK, you guys were able to whittle it down from about 50 names or so. How did you decide on the name?

Dave Robaire: [laughs] Futurama definitely had something to do with the inspiration, but actually none of us knew what the hell it was at first. We were kind of going back and forth on a bunch of titles, and Holophonor came up as a joke at first. As we started to get closer to needing a name, it began to grow on me a little more. It doesn’t have anything to do with the record. I thought having a reference to a cartoon show was a little funny—not what I would have expected to do from the onset. However, the word has kind of grown on everybody in the group and we’re really happy that it stuck. But, I mean, [laughs] nobody knows what the hell we’re talking about when we say it.

Interestingly, Diego brought to our attention the ancient Greek etymology: ὅλος or hólos, which means “whole.” In this respect, Holophonor implies an “all-encompassing sound” as well. So it has actually taken on a bit of a second meaning, which is fitting despite the fact that it wasn’t our original intention.

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Photo courtesy of the artist

Photo courtesy of the artist

Noted for her polyrhythmic capacity in the vein of M-Base Collective and dense harmonies reminiscent of McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock, The New York Times has referred to Michele Rosewoman‘s work as “cultural multiplicity in sound taken to a reasonable extreme, where a song can still be allowed to sound logical and beautiful.” Based in New York, the American jazz pianist has spearheaded a dynamic career for more than 40 years, working to explore both tradition and evolution with respect to two genres: modern jazz and Afro-Cuban folkloric music. While the pianist is noted for her work as a sidewoman alongside household names like Greg Osby, Billy Bang, and Ralph Peterson, she is best known for her work as a leader across two original ensembles: Quintessence and New Yor-Uba. From 1987 to 2006, Quintessence released five highly acclaimed albums and moved audiences along the way. Founded in 1983, New Yor-Uba is an Afro-Cuban jazz big band that featured Orlando “Puntilla” Rios until his death in 2008. In 2013, celebrating the 30-year anniversary of the ensemble, Rosewoman released the group’s first album: Michele Rosewoman’s New Yor-Uba: 30 Years! A Musical Celebration of Cuba in America. Warmly received, the album was voted #1 in Latin Jazz and #25 overall in The 2013 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll.

A protégé of Oakland-based pianist Ed Kelly, Rosewoman moved to New York in 1978 from California and established herself playing with jazz artists like Oliver Lake, Freddie Waits, and Billy Hart, as well as Latin musicians like Celia Cruz and Paquito D’Rivera, among many others. Education is also a passion of Rosewoman’s: she has frequently conducted educational workshops at colleges and universities, teaches privately, and has served on faculty at NYU, The New SchoolJazz House Kids in Montclair, NJ, and Berkeley Jazz School.

This Friday, Rosewoman brings a more recent configuration to The Jazz Gallery: the “Time In Textures Trio” featuring Rosewoman on piano, Liberty Ellman on guitar, and Gregg August on bass. We sat down with Rosewoman this month in Greenwich Village over coffee and got granular insight into her past, present, and future. Check it out here:

The Jazz Gallery: 2013 was a big year for you with the release of the 30th year anniversary record for New Yor-Uba, which won a laundry list of awards. How was that experience and what will you take away from it moving forward?

Michele Rosewoman: It was a great year, for sure! It was very fulfilling to put that much time, love, and energy into a project that I felt so close to. To have the album well received was also very gratifying. It marked the completion of an era for me, as I had all of this music from over time that needed to be recorded. It was a learning experience on many levels, of course: not only was it large scale, but it was my second self-produced project. I used Kickstarter for funding and social media for creative and promotional purposes—all new ventures for me. There was a lot of work that went into scheduling rehearsals, recording dates, and performances related to the album release. Musically, I definitely landed where I wanted. I was really pleased to have Oliver Lake on the recording because he presents a sound and a voice that I had to have. With respect to the horn section, I tried to find a balance across tradition and innovation. I was also happy to include folkloric masters Roman Díaz and Pedrito Martinez who were equally vital to the sound. (more…)