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Posts by Kevin Sun

Photo courtesy of the artist

Hailing from Cherry Hill, NJ, tenor saxophonist and composer Peyton Pleninger claims Steve Coleman, Milford Graves, and Henry Threadgill as some of his most important recent musical influences. Now currently studying at The New School, Pleninger transferred to the school after a year at Berklee College of Music in Boston. His quartet, Biotonic, “explores the relationship of cardiology and human experience through sound” and will be performing for the first time at The Jazz Gallery this Thursday, April 6, 2017, on the eve of Pleninger’s 21st birthday.

We caught up with him recently over oversized mugs of coffee in the Village on a rainy, early spring day:

The Jazz Gallery: When did your interest with integrating the body and sound start?

Peyton Pleninger: I guess it was just two years ago? Like two or three years ago. I got Steve [Coleman]’s record, Functional Arrhythmias, my last year of high school, and that was the first Steve record that I got. I loved it. He was talking about being inspired by Milford Graves for all this stuff, so I was like, “OK, this is the guy I need to go and find.” Then, when I was at Berklee two years ago, he [Graves] played a free show at Brandeis University. You could take a shuttle bus from Back Bay, Boston over to Brandeis to see this show for free. That was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.

TJG: He was performing solo?

PP: Just Milford, solo. He plays and he sings, and he was talking about what he does. I went up and talked to him afterward and ended up coming down to his place. The first lesson, or thing you do, you can go in and you get your heartbeat recorded. He’s got a stethoscope with a quarter-inch output, and he goes into ProTools, and you get your heartbeat on an EKG.

He’s built these computer programs that will read your EKG and then convert it into musical pitch. He’s also got these things where it will overlay your heart beat with an imagined heartbeat that’s faster, but at the golden ratio between them. It’s stuff you’d hear in Cuban music or in West African musics, really fantastic.

TJG: What was the feeling you had hearing Milford’s concert?

PP: Wow, man. I got to the end and … well, Milford even said after the concert, “Man, you were smiling the whole time.” And I was!

For me, he’s one of the only guys I see where I feel totally energized after seeing him—like this feeling of just wanting to jump up and down and run around the block. I just feel good.

TJG: Why do you think that is?

PP: I think he’s figured it out. He’s figured out a way to play that’s more than just sound and the way that we perceive sound with our mind. I think he’s figured out a way to play that affects you on a physical level in some way. I think it comes for studying all the heartbeats and all of that, getting deep into the cardiology and figuring out why we function the way we function.

TJG: Could you tell me when Biotonic started?

PP: It didn’t have a name at first. You saw the first gig we played, at SEEDS!

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Kevin Sun Trio at The Jazz Gallery, March 2017 Poster

Logo graphic by Diane Zhou  //  Design by Kevin Sun

“The trouble with most musicians today is that they are copycats. Of course you have to start out playing like someone else. You have a model, or a teacher, and you learn all that he can show you. But then you start playing for yourself. Show them that you’re an individual. And I can count those who are doing that today on the fingers of one hand.” 

— Lester Young interviewed in 1949 by Pat Harris (DownBeat)


 

I certainly still feel like a copycat these days, but I feel all right with that for the time being. I don’t believe in music or art ex nihilo—especially in improvised, centrally interrelational musical settings such as this trio and other bands that I’ve had the privilege of contributing to since moving to New York in the fall of 2015. As a composer, the strategy that’s been most fruitful for me up to now is to generate something new from something old.

For a few years now, I’ve been enamored with composing compact forms—cyclical rhythmic and melodic material that can be specific and complex, but also brief and conceptually straightforward enough to be written on the back of a napkin or communicated verbally. Most of the music for this trio was composed last spring with this in mind: short, distinct forms to be internalized in a group setting. I wanted us to challenge ourselves and explore these distinct musical environments while discovering what we can construct together in real time.

Bassist Walter Stinson and drummer Matt Honor (and, on occasion, bassist Dan Pappalardo) have been my unwavering partners in transfiguring my notated ideas into living sound. Like me, both Walter and Matt live conveniently nearby in Brooklyn, and we’ve had the chance to grow together into this music for some time. This weekend, we’ll be documenting the music you’ll be hearing at The Jazz Gallery at Wellspring Sound outside of Boston (where I also recorded my last project, Earprint). The forecast suggests a late 2017 or early 2018 release on Endectomorph Music; stay tuned.

 


 

As I mentioned, I like writing and abstracting from pre-existing material. Much of the music you’ll hear us play on Thursday will have been inspired by particular songs or fragments, so I’ve compiled a playlist below of a few of the songs that I referenced or cannibalized in some way for my own compositions. They’re all paired with my own songs, which won’t mean much if you haven’t heard them yet, obviously, but hopefully you’ll hear what I’m talking about on Thursday. We hope you’ll join us.

“Thunder”

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Photo courtesy of the artist

Photo by Evan Shay, courtesy of the artist

Canadian-born Chet Doxas, praised by The New York Times for his “soulful and rhythmically assertive style on tenor saxophone and a warm, woodsy tone on clarinet,” makes his debut as a leader at The Jazz Gallery on Thursday, September 29th, 2016, with a band of close friends and peers: guitarist Matthew Stevens, bassist Zack Lober, and drummer Eric Doob. Stevens and Doob are both rehearsal space co-habitants with Doxas, while Lober and Doxas grew up together in Montreal’s richly diverse music scene. The project he’ll be presenting on Thursday, “Rich in Symbols: Pieces for Art – NYC 1975- 85,” has already been recorded and is set for release on Ropeadope Records in September, 2017. We spoke with Doxas about this new project and its inspiration: ’80s “No Wave” bands and artwork by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Fab 5 Freddy, Keith Haring and Futura.

Read below for excerpts from the conversation as well as a trailer for this debut performance: (more…)

Ingrid Laubrock's UBATUBA (Firehouse 12 Records, 2015)

Ingrid Laubrock’s UBATUBA (Firehouse 12 Records, 2015)

We last spoke with saxophonist and composer Ingrid Laubrock on the occasion of her 2015 Residency Commission Series premiere concerts last summer. Laubrock, perennially in-demand on the international improvised music scene for her versatile and sonically daring musicianship as both a saxophonist and composer, first convened the band now-known as Ubatuba several years ago, and one of their first performances was at The Jazz Gallery in the summer of 2013.

We caught up with Laubrock again in the summer of 2014 when the band returned under the name “Nor’easter,” and we were pleased to once again have the pleasure of speaking with Laubrock, who released Ubatuba on Firehouse 12 Records in the fall. She is currently preparing to release a duo album with her husband, drummer Tom Rainey, titled Buoyancy (Intakt, 2016), as well as preparing to record a new project, a sextet featuring Craig Taborn on piano, Tyshawn Sorey on piano and trombone, Miya Masaoka on koto, Dan Peck on tuba, and Sam Pluta on electronics and live processing.

The Jazz Gallery: This band was called Nor’easter at one point, wasn’t it?

Ingrid Laubrock: At the time, I had struggled to find a name for it. I wanted something to do with wind, so Nor’easter, but then I thought “Ubatuba” had a better ring to it. Ubatuba has absolutely nothing to do with wind—it’s a city in Brazil—but it has the word “tuba” in it and I thought it had a ring, and it is identifiable!

TJG: How did you decide it was time to document the music of this band?

IL: The first concert we did at The Jazz Gallery, I was really into it and it was sort of a catapult for me to compose for the band. In 2014, we rehearsed and then did a States tour, and when you tour or play several nights in a row, the music takes on a completely different shape. At the end of that, we documented the music at Firehouse 12, so it had a nice curve to it because we were really able to learn the music.

We just toured last October, our first European tour, playing partly music from the album and partly a new set, which we’ll play at The Jazz Gallery.

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Photo by Emra Islek, design by Nerissa Campbell

Photo by Emra Islek, design by Nerissa Campbell

Every Sunday, the man leaves roses for his dead lover. One spring afternoon, an ethereal voice lures him downward, into the crypt…

THE ICE SIREN, a jazz opera composed by John Ellis with libretto by Andy Bragen, had its premiere performances on The Jazz Gallery’s stage, back in late May, 2009, as part of our Large Ensemble Commissions Series. Now, over six years later, this haunting tale of a lover’s journey into a frozen world beneath a crypt returns to our stage as part of The Jazz Gallery’s 20th Anniversary Concert Series. The work, the second of three large-scale collaborations between Ellis and Bragen, has never been commercially recorded or released, so don’t miss your chance to hear this work performed live by a cast made up of almost entirely original members of the Dreamscapes Ensemble, including the vocal leads Gretchen Parlato and Miles Griffith.

We caught up with Ellis by phone to hear his thoughts upon revisiting this ambitious work, and to get more of a sense of what’s in store for those who dare to descend into the world of THE ICE SIREN.

The Jazz Gallery: Could you talk about the plot of Ice Siren and how you approached composing music for a more plot-driven narrative scenario?

John Ellis: This was the second collaboration I did with my playwright friend Andy Bragen, which grew out of the first one, which we called “Dreamscapes.” We were thinking about the relationship between words and music in the most general sense and how we could investigate that.

For “Dreamscapes,” I had him write 12-line dream scenarios, kind of like poems, and each was meant to be as a dream might be. I created an instrumentation that was meant to be cinematic and have a lot of emotional, compositional, and orchestral possibilities, and that included a string quartet, percussion, tuba, vibes, and marimba. That project was more like, “Here are the words, and then here is the music,” so the audience hears the words and then hears the music, and the music is supposed to conjure up a dream-like feeling.

It was a really cool process and I learned a lot; I don’t think it was totally successful from an execution standpoint, but from a conceptual standpoint it was good. So, from that, we said, “What if we take one dream and try to create an hour-long narrative story?” We decided to focus on nightmares.

Andy did a lot of research. He was up at night watching scary films, reading scary books, and we gravitated toward this combination of frightening and humorous, sort of inspired by Tim Burton and various people that deal with that idea: a little bit cartoonish, but still scary. The most natural next phase of words and music interacting was to make songs. We were writing independently, but he had the text first and I would try to write music to the words, which was a little counterintuitive. It was fun to do it that way; I think we discovered through MOBRO that, as a process, if you put words to music, it seems to work a little bit better.

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