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Posts by Kevin Sun

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Photo by Amy Mills

For the occasion of her 2017 Residency Commission, the saxophonist, vocalist, and composer María Grand has expanded the quintet featured on her EP TetraWind, released earlier this year, and brought both dance and rap into the fold for Embracements. We caught up with her by phone to discuss the upcoming premiere and the creative inspirations in this latest work:

The Jazz Gallery: When The Jazz Gallery reached out to you about writing a commission, where did you start with the process?

María Grand: I actually had the idea of doing a project with a rapper before I heard about the Gallery commission. When Rio [Sakairi] told me I had the commission, it seemed like I could finally get a larger ensemble together, budget-wise, and I was interested in creating some kind of chamber work that also was working with a rapper.

That was my beginning idea, but I also had this idea about learning about what the feminine side of God means for different cultures and using that to create music, and also using that to create lyrics, which was all connected to the rapper. So I kind of had the whole project in my mind, and I was waiting for somebody to give the money for me to do it, so it all came at the right time.

TJG: Had you worked with the rapper Amani Fela previously?

MG: I met him at the Marc Cary Harlem session, and I had never worked with a rapper. What I liked about him was that he was interested in music as a whole: I remember showing him a drumbeat that was maybe in 5 or something, and he said, “Oh, cool—I know what this is.” It wasn’t like musical information was going to be an issue for him; it wasn’t like he was going to be intimidated by any kind of musical information I wrote for him, because he plays drums, too, and he plays some piano, so I felt that he would be flexible.

I should tell you the whole story of how I wrote the music: I went to Cuba and did a three-week sabbatical there, and I took five books with me that were all about different goddesses: Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood, by Merlin Stone; The Goddesses’ Mirror, by David R. Kinsley; Images of Women in Antiquity, by Averil Cameron and Amélie Kuhrt; Women’s Roles in Ancient Civilization, by Bella Vivante; and Promiscuities, by Naomi Wolf.

I was trying to find parallels between goddesses and also the stories and the legends, and my experience or in general the female experience in this culture that I’m living in. So this is what I thought of when I was writing the music, and each song is  dedicated to a certain goddess or dedicated to characters that represented something similar in my mind. They may not be from the same culture, but they represent a certain aspect of life that was similar.

So I read all these books and then I wrote the music, and then when it came time to write for Imani, I had already written the music. What I did was, I learned the music that I had written by heart and then wrote these poems that were related to whatever symbolical or allegorical energy I was working with when I wrote the music. I used that to create a poem, and then I rapped the text over the music, but made it fit in specific ways. It was super specific, and once I was happy with that, I recorded it and I sent that to Imani. So it was basically like I was sending him a chart.

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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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