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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Posts by Jacob Sunshine

Photo courtesy of Pi Recordings.

On April 14th, guitarist Brandon Ross will bring his group Phantom Station to The Jazz Gallery. This group features a revolving cast of personnel and focuses on both collective improvisation and compositional interpretation. The group also focuses on the interfaces between acoustic sonic elements and sound generation devices. This particular incarnation of the group will feature Stomu Takeishi on acoustic and electric bass, Graham Haynes on cornet and electronics, and Hardedge on sound design, as well as Brandon on acoustic and electric guitars.

Brandon has lent his distinct voice on acoustic guitar, electric guitar, the banjo, and the soprano guitar to many of the leading lights in creative music including Cassandra Wilson, Henry Threadgill, Wadada Leo Smith, Oliver Lake, Muhal Richard Abrams, Me’Shell N’degeocello, Archie Shepp, and many others. His unique compositional voice has served as the creative engine for recent albums with his project Harriet Tubman (with Melvin Gibbs and J.T. Lewis), For Living Lovers (with Stomu Takeishi), and Dark Matter Halo (with Doug Weiselman and Hardedge), along with his own solo project. His explorations of sonic territory are at once ethereal and searing, still yet enveloping, soulful and enigmatic.

The Jazz Gallery: Last year, you were at The Jazz Gallery with a totally different group for Phantom Station. What does this particular version of Phantom Station afford, compared to other versions of the group. The group is drummer-less this time around: what does that do for the interactive process?

Brandon Ross: For Phantom Station, I’ve been thinking about different ways of addressing creating music, in terms of different notational structures that could be employed, and also ways of providing direction in an open context without having a rehearsal. The selection of who plays, for me, is based on who I know that is willing to and has the capacity to self-orchestrate, and to think about creation in a compositional sense… and then there’s also the aspect of sound processing and electronics.

TJG: I want to talk about the role of timbre in an improvised setting, a consideration that’s particularly present in your work on the electric guitar. I saw Harriet Tubman play Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz at Winter Jazzfest, and I was particularly impressed with the soundscapes you were generating, and the way that you occupied a specific sonic register that fit within the context of a large band. How do you select particular sounds that you’ll be conjuring up? Is it something that you’ll hear in your head that you then try to actualize? Is it in response to another musical gesture? An attempt to access a dream-like state?

BR: It’s all of those things, to be honest. The first three things you said hit on the primary approaches that are, at this point, natural for me…One of the things I was asking myself recently, I really love reverb, but what do I love about reverb? What I realized is that it creates dimension, spatial dynamics, and a sort of majestic energy. But there has to be a balance. That’s the thing about signal processing of any kind, even if it’s just basic distortion or a wah wah. What is that sound going to do in the environment that it’s in? Does it bring things into relief or does it obscure some essential activities or expressions that are taking place?

And it’s funny, you know, I haven’t heard that concert yet with Harriet Tubman…that was an interesting concert [laughing], to tell you the truth. Because I could hear the difference in the kinds of understandings that people have about [Ornette’s] music. There is a generational switch and update. Certain kinds of information atrophy because it’s been completed, served it’s purpose, or been overlooked. On the one hand, that could seem like a deficit, but at the same time, I think these changes are necessary in order to keep music progressing. Music is like that.

And hopefully, like anything else, we have enough insight into the essence of what we’re involved in and not an overbearing preponderance about the form of a thing so that we can come to it in our own way. We’re still moving through the same sphere that people that we venerate and admire have moved through, but we’re in another dimensional aspect of it. So the music carries that meta-information and that enlivening and inspiration that brought us to those individuals in the first place. But, we’re not them. We’re not parodying them, we’re not genuflecting to them, we’re not adopting anything that might handcuff us to something other than our own potential as creators.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Saturday, March 10th, The Jazz Gallery is excited to welcome Godwin Louis back to our stage. Louis will be presenting music from his forthcoming album Global, a set of compositions that emerged out of research that he performed in Africa and Latin America on the music exported out of Africa, to the rest of the world via the transatlantic slave trade. This research interest emerged, in part, out of the process of composing music based on the connection between Haiti and New Orleans as part of his 2013-2014 Residency Commission at The Jazz Gallery.

A graduate of the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute for Jazz Performance under the leadership of Terrence Blanchard, Louis has gone on to become a powerful voice on the alto saxophone, working as a sideman and studying with luminaries such as Herbie Hancock, Clark Terry, Mulatu Astatke, Al Foster, Jack DeJohnette, and David Baker, to name a few.

For his upcoming show at The Jazz Gallery, Godwin will be joined by Adam O’Farrill on trumpet, Joel Ross on vibraphone, Luques Curtis on bass, Markus Schwartz on percussion, Jonathan Barber on Drums, Victor Gould on piano, and Pauline Jean on vocals. In the lead-up to the show, Godwin chatted with us about his research and the music that has grown out of it for his Global project.

On the process of doing research for his upcoming album Global:

I’ve spent the last seven years exploring that and studying and understanding the connection that was brought to Haiti from West Africa. I’ve gone to Africa five times in the last four years. The music on my upcoming album, Global, is based on the music transported out of Africa, to the rest of the world via the transatlantic slave trade.

This process of exploration began thanks to a grant that The Jazz Gallery gave me to pursue my compositional voice. During that period of 2013-2014, I was noticing a lot of connections between Haiti and New Orleans. I was fortunate enough to live in both places, and I couldn’t help but notice the similarities in terms of culture, architecture, even in terms of cuisine, musically, of course. And then historically, I found major connections rooted in the Haitian revolution. In 1790 and 1804, you had a lot of affranchis, free people of color, that fled Haiti to what was then known as French Louisiana. And, of course, they brought their culture and their rhythm. So I was intrigued in that and I began exploring that music, and I presented some of that at the Jazz Gallery in June 2014.

And because of that, I was able to continue to dig even deeper. I went back “across the pond” to Africa to see some of the things that were brought in and how much they’ve changed, and I’ve extended those studies to South America as well.

I began to understand that whenever I see triple meter, that’s something that’s coming from West Africa. So that’s an area that spans from Senegal to Western Nigeria, and back then we would consider that as either Upper or Lower Guinea. In places like Haiti, you hear terms like that, where they’ll say “nég Guinea” meaning, a fella from Guinea. And then also, the other term that you would hear is “nég Kongo” meaning a person from Kongo, meaning a fella from Kongo, which is modern day Cameroon all the way down to Angola. And that’s sort of like “duple meter.” So in West Africa, you have a big triple meter connection, and whenever you see technical things that are in 6/8 or 3/4 , that kind of “Afro” sound that they call it in jazz: “Afro-Cuban”, “Afro-Jazz”….that triple sound is coming from West Africa: Yoruban rhythms, Dahomey, Benin, Togo, Ghana. But whenever we’re dealing with duple meter, which is some of the sounds found in Haiti and New Orleans—you know, Congo Square.

One of the hubs for a lot of the cultures that were transported is Haiti because, in Haiti, there were tribal religions that were preserved. You have rhythms for instance, called Nago, and I found that the Nago rhythm that I always heard in Haiti is actually coming from a tribe in Benin. Nago is pretty a much the Yoruba people in Benin. So if you’re in Nigeria, you’re Yoruban, but if you’re from Benin, you’re Nago. In Haiti, there is a rhythm called Nago, and that’s very similar to what we know today as the swing rhythm. Sort of like when you’re listening to Elvin Jones, that feels to me like a Nago rhythm.

So, the Haitians were able to conserve and preserve some of those rhythms. And also we have Kongo, which is also a rhythm that happens to be a duple meter rhythm, and those roots are coming from Kikongo culture from Central Africa. And then we have rhythms like Yanvalou. All of these rhythms are associated with places in Africa, the names of kings, and so on. So I think because of what the Haitians achieved in gaining independence from slavery, they were able to keep a lot of those rhythms and a lot of those tribal names. Lots of people doing research on the African influence in the United States tend to bypass Haiti, but I really found it to be the hub. The three hubs are Cuba, Haiti, and Brazil in terms of finding that pure connection to Africa. But again, researchers and ethnomusicologists usually go to Cuba and Brazil but don’t know anything about Haiti. So it was interesting for me to connect it all.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Ryan Keberle is a New York-based trombonist, composer, and bandleader whose dynamic improvising style has become indispensable for ensembles led by the likes of Maria Schneider and Wynton Marsalis. Keberle leads and composes for the group Catharsis, an pianoless indie-jazz collective, and is the director of Hunter College’s jazz studies program, where he directs big bands, teaches classes, and mentors young jazz musicians.

Keberle’s latest group, Reverso, was conceived in tandem with the French pianist Frank Woeste. Their forthcoming album, Suite Ravel, features the talents of Vincent Courtois on Cello and Jeff Ballard on drums. The compositions are inspired by the Maurice Ravel piece, “Le Tombeau de Couperin”, and seek to illuminate the porous boundaries between classical and jazz.

Keberle and Woeste bring Reverso to the Jazz Gallery on February 7th, where they will be joined by Erik Friedlander on cello and Adam Cruz on drums. We caught up with Keberle to talk about the project; excerpts of the conversation are below.

The Jazz Gallery: How did you decide to put together this specific group of musicians with this specific instrumentation? Why no bass? Or sax? What about the relatively low register of these melodic instruments seemed appropriate for approaching Ravelian melodic content?

Ryan Keberle: When Frank [Woeste] and I set out to create this project, we were starting from scratch. We knew that we wanted to work in a quartet setting, and thought that it could be nice to have an instrument that might help up straddle the jazz and chamber worlds. Frank happened to know this extraordinary cellist in Paris, which is where we recorded the album, named Vincent Courtois. We both knew we wanted drums, and much of the project wound up being tailored around the inclusion of Jeff Ballard. It was really a process of attrition, whittling things down. Vincent really added a layer of versatility, as he’s comfortable playing traditional jazz, super avant-garde jazz…His knowledge of extended techniques is amazing and he does lots of solo work. And he also plays in classical worlds as well. So he was really a force on this record.

TJG: When I think of Ravel’s music, I think of impressionism, air, clouds. It follows (in the most banal way) that a more “impressionistic” drummer would be the choice for this kind of music (particularly in a band without bass). While Jeff Ballard certainly plays beautifully in these more rubato moments, his style on Suite Ravel seems a bit more boisterous, Latin-inspired, and groove-oriented. What about this music called for Ballard’s particular rhythmic approach?

RK: Jeff is such a diverse and well-informed musician. He’s one of those people who has listened to more music than most human beings, and all of it filters into his playing. The compositions called for the groovy and subdivided approach that you hear on the record. Generally, with impressionism, you think rubato tempos, and a push and pull. But that’s not really where the music wound up going. And a big part of that is the fact that the Ravel piece that inspired us initially, “Le Tombeau du Couperin”, does have quite a bit of subdivision and tempo-based material.

With all that taken into account, I think that Jeff was really just responding to what the music needed. We didn’t give him much instruction at all! We just wanted him to come in and be him. And the minute you start giving him instructions, you squash some of the potential. He came with bags full of auxiliary percussion. I mean, he brought a whole bag of Chinese gongs with eight different pitches!

There are a few tracks on the record that are a bit more “impressionistic” so to speak, and by that, I mean tracks where Jeff is creating colors and floating over the beat, but the seminal tracks on the recording are those with a pretty serious groove. So that’s also right up his alley. He’s a master of groovey folk music, and he’s studied so much of that outside of the jazz world, whether it’s Latin or North African.

TJG: How did the name Reverso come about?

RK: Well, that was Frank’s idea, but it was born from our hope to reference the fact that there is this long history of the very disparate worlds of jazz and classical music informing one another in important ways. And also, what I find interesting is that today, in 2018, you’re in a time where these two worlds of jazz and classical music are overlapping in such a way that you even have the same musicians straddling worlds. And for me that’s a very new and exciting state of being, because, like in so much of the music world, these boundaries are being broken down. I mean, that’s what jazz music and really all beautiful culture is; it’s really a product of compromise, and shared ideas, and diversity.

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Photo via www.youtube.com

Photo via www.youtube.com

Henry Cole is a poly-cultural, shape-shifting drummer whose versatile and polyrhythmic style seems to be able to fit seamlessly into any. In that same vein, this Friday and Saturday, The Jazz Gallery is proud to present two different ensembles of Cole’s, featuring different musicians and instrumentation.

Cole is a native of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, and began playing percussion at a young age. Initially inspired by Latin percussionists like Giovanni Hidalgo and Ray Barretto, Cole discovered a passion for Jazz and improvised music while attending Berklee College of Music in Boston. After moving back to Puerto Rico and cultivating a reputation for himself in the small but mighty San Juan scene, Cole moved to New York City and quickly became one of the most in-demand sidemen in the city. He has occupied the drum chair in the working bands of luminaries such as Miguel Zenon, David Sanchez, Fabian Almazan, Stephon Harris, Nicholas Payton, and Alfredo Rodriguez. No matter the setting, from Almazan’s heady and ruminative ballads to Zenon’s Rhumba rave-ups, Cole’s style is centered by a deep pocket. (more…)

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Friday, February 26th, the Jazz Gallery is thrilled to welcome the Charles Altura Quartet to the stage. Raised in sunny Northern California and an alumnus of Stanford University, Altura has quickly established himself as a unique voice on the electric guitar and has become a first call sideman for a luminaries such as Chick Corea, Terence Blanchard, Ambrose Akinmusire, Tigran Hamasyan, Linda Oh, Shai Maestro, and Dayna Stephens. Altura has set himself apart from other guitarists on the scene with his legato sense of phrasing, winding and unpredictable melodic lines, and attention to texture. Far from being a stylist, Altura approaches each musical situation differently, be it his blazing jazz fusion chops he showcases with Chick Corea’s Vigil, to the electronic wah-drenched soundscapes he plasters onto Terence Blanchard’s E-Collective’s originals.

Joining Altura at the Jazz Gallery are a number of Altura’s most trusted and frequent collaborators. Altura and pianist Fabian Almazan are both coming off of a late-January tour with Terence Blanchard’s E-Collective, and recently received a Grammy nomination for their most recent work with that group on the album Breathless. Bassist Matt Brewer frequently features Altura in his own groups, and a new Brewer-led recording is due to come out this year. Finally, drummer Marcus Gilmore and Altura spent much of the last year touring the world with Chick Corea’s Vigil. (more…)