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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Posts by Noah Fishman

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Bassist Hwansu Kang will present a collection of all original compositions at The Jazz Gallery this week. The overarching theme is “We go forward,” which has become something of a mantra for Kang. A graduate of The New School and a masters student at the Manhattan School of Music, Kang uses music to emphasize how he and his peers have collectively been discovering the beauty of a tradition of “music that never stays same.”

For his show at the Gallery, Kang is presenting a quintet featuring New York-based colleagues—Brandon Woody on trumpet, Abdulrahaman “Rocky” Amer on trombone, Guy Moskovich on piano, and JK Kim on drums. Speaking by phone, Kang dove into a few of his compositions, and shared his artistic vision for the upcoming generation of young musicians.

TJG: You graduate from school next year, correct?

Hwansu Kang: This will be my last year, yes. I graduated from the New School last year, and I’m at Manhattan School of Music right now for my masters, so I have one more year to go. It’s really good, things just got started again this week. Stefon Harris is the chair right now, and he’s bringing great artists through school. Buster Williams, Kendrick Scott, lots of amazing people.

TJG: You assembled an interesting quintet for this show at The Jazz Gallery. Could you tell me a little about some of the people you’ll be playing with?

HK: JK Kim is my best friend. I met him in New York about two years ago. When I first played  him, he was the drummer I always dreamed of, the one I’d always wanted to play with. We speak the same language, we’re from the same country, and we understand each other musically. In a short amount of time, we grew up together as musical partners. He always brings more than I expect. I also met Brandon, the trumpeter, at MSM, where we put a combo ensemble together. He’s got a great thing going. He speaks through the trumpet. His language is so unique, his voice is so fresh to me.

We met Rocky, our trombone player, through the same MSM ensemble. He can literally speak anything through his instrument. He knows how to control it, how to make any sound, how to express himself. And Guy Moskovich, I’ve probably known him for a couple of years, but had never played with him until last year. I brought him in to play a tune of mine once, and he played exactly how I wanted it to be played: I didn’t explain anything, we didn’t really talk, we just started playing, and he just got it. We’re all from the same generation, and I believe we understand certain things that we don’t have to talk about. I trust and appreciate every one of these musicians in the band, and they respect me as a composer and bassist.

TJG: What will you be playing?

HK: It’s going to be all my originals. Almost everything has been written while at MSM, and the music has just come out of me. I’m going to playing some of these tunes for the first time in this show, and I’m really looking forward to it.

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Trina Basu (L) and Arun Ramamurthy (R). Photo courtesy of the artists.

It’s not uncommon for musicians to find inspiration in a realm beyond their musical upbringing. Violinist Trina Basu takes that idea to the next level, having been raised in a Western Classical tradition and subsequently immersing herself in the worlds of both jazz and Indian Classical music. A native of Miami, Florida, Basu received a fellowship in 2007 to study Carnatic Classical violin in Chennai, India. After arriving back in New York, Basu found herself performing in a wide range of style-defying ensembles.

Today, Basu co-leads the chamber ensemble Karavika, as well as Brooklyn Raga Massive, A.R. Balaskandan’s Akshara, Adam Rudolph’s Go: Organic Orchestra, Neel Murgai Ensemble, and many others. As an educator and music therapist in the New York area and beyond, Basu has organized musical initiatives focusing on both underserved youth, hospitalized children and adults, and Alzheimers and stroke patients. Like her own performance career, Basu’s educational work focuses on expanding the musical horizons of her students. 

Along with her musical partner and husband Arun Ramamurthy, Trina Basu will perform at The Jazz Gallery with a quartet rounded out by cellist Marika Hughes and bassist Rashaan Carter. The mission of the group, called Nakshatra, is to reimagine “the potential of string Chamber Music for our global times.” We caught up with Basu via phone, and discussed the breadth of her musical career

The Jazz Gallery: I’ve heard unbelievable recordings of you and Arun playing duo. Can you walk me through the experience of incorporating Marika Hughes and Rashaan Carter into your sound?

Trina Basu: Thanks! This show will be the first time we’re playing as a string quartet, so it should be fun. As Arun and I have been building more original material together, we’ve experimented with bringing other musicians into the fold. Marika and Rashaan have been friends and colleagues of ours for several years, and they’re two of our favorite musicians and improvisers. We’ve had our hearts set on playing with them, and this show at The Jazz Gallery seemed like the right time to bring them in. Marika and Rashaan will give us that beautiful low-end that is so essential to the string quartet sound. 

TJG: So what will you be playing together at The Jazz Gallery?

TB: The music is all original, written by Arun and myself. We’ve been playing together for about ten years. We met playing music in a group called Akshara back in 2007. We were playing on similar scenes but come from different musical backgrounds: Arun is a Carnatic South-Indian trained violinist but is influenced by much more, whereas I’m trained as a Western Classical violinist who came into Indian Classical and other styles later in life. When we met, we had great musical and personal chemistry. We ended up getting married several years later, and now we have children together, so life has gotten pretty crazy. Over the past couple years we’ve been developing original music together and it’s really exciting. The music will draw from our roots in tradition but will take on new shapes reflective of our individual voices. 

TJG: So what does that mean for the sound you’ve created together, in musical terms?

TB: Our music is rooted in the Carnatic ragas and rhythmic structures. As a string quartet we can tap into the chamber music sound and create beautiful rich drones which is perfect for raga improvisations. There is a lot of experimentation and “breaking rules,” if you will, but we do try our best to retain the spirit of the raga or whatever it is we are tapping into at the moment. We’re both influenced by so many different styles of music but I think you will also find threads of jazz, western classical, and some version of experimental minimalist music. 

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

It may come as some surprise that trumpeter Nabaté Isles, an accomplished and (by some standards) mid-career musician, just recently released his first album as a leader. That, in large part, is due to Isles’ career in the world of sports media, production, and entertainment, having been the host of So Much to Talk about on Manhattan cable, SiriusXM’s NBA Radio, and winner of both ESPN’s Stump The Schwab and Crackle/NBC Sports’ Sports Jeopardy. Leading two careers at once, Isles is no stranger to music, having played in big bands lead by Christian McBride, Oliver Lake, Mike Longo, and Charli Persip. His musical upbringing includes all forms of jazz, R&B, pop, Motown, as well as exposure to classical music from his time at Eastman school of Music.

Isles held nothing back on his debut solo release, Eclectic Excursions, produced by Sam Barsh. Featuring sixteen tracks with myriad influences, the album includes an outrageous lineup, far too long to list here in its entirety, but including such notables as Christian McBride, Nate Smith, Ben Williams, Johnathan Blake, Jimmy Owens, David Gilmore, Stacy Dillard, Jaleel Shaw, Frank Lacy, Alita Moses, and Michael Mayo. We spoke with Isles via phone about the full intersection of influences and experiences represented by his new album.

TJG: How goes the preparation for the show?

Nabaté Isles: It’s going well, I’m looking forward to it. We’re doing pretty much all music from the record, and most of the cats that were on the album are playing on the show.

TJG: You’re kidding! There were so many people on the album, how could they all fit on that stage?

NI: [Laughs] It’s going to be a somewhat condensed group, including Stacy Dillard on saxophones, David Gilmore on guitar, Adam Klipple on keyboards, Ben Williams on bass, Johnathan Blake and Jaimeo Brown on drums, all of whom were on the record except Jaimeo, who couldn’t make it. We’ll also have Jimmy Owens, of course, my musical dad, and flautist Elsa Nilsson.

TJG: That’s still only a fraction of the people on Eclectic Excursions—you really pulled out all the stops for this album. How did you keep track of the logistics involved? I imagine it must have taken a lot of work.

NI: I have to tell you, it actually didn’t take a lot of work. Everything went off without a hitch. Around May of 2017, I wrote down a list of everyone who I wanted to be on the album, and then contacted them to ask about the last week of November, after Thanksgiving weekend, because a lot of people are in town during that time, yet not much is happening then. Basically, everyone was free to do the session, which was amazing. Johnathan Blake, David Gilmore, Jaleel Shaw, we go back more than twenty years, and it was great to be able to bring them all together. The planning and organizational process beforehand, now that took time. I wanted to make sure everything was straight for these cats to feel comfortable and relaxed in the studio. We did two major days at The Bunker Studio. I came up with a schedule based on who was playing what, because I didn’t want many people waiting around. It was kind of like a Rubik’s Cube, getting all of the colors organized together.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

David Adewumi is a trumpeter of expansive vocabulary and strong discipline. The child of Nigerian immigrants and raised in New Hampshire, Adewumi attended New England Conservatory, and upon graduation, received a Soros fellowship for graduate study at Juilliard. Adewumi has also completed notable performance programs through the Banff Summer Jazz Workshop, Thelonious Monk Institute, and Betty Carter Jazz Ahead.

Adewumi’s upcoming debut as a leader at The Jazz Gallery has its origins in a conversation with Dave Douglass, who encouraged Adewumi to assemble a group of young trumpet players. Joining Adewumi will be Adam O’Farrill and Davy Lazar on trumpet, as well as Dean Torrey on bass and Kate Gentile on drums. In a recent phone interview, we discussed Adewumi’s upbringing and education, his musical relationship with O’Farrill and Lazar, and the underlying ideas that connect their compositions.

The Jazz Gallery: What’s the backstory behind your upcoming show, featuring three young trumpeters?

David Adewumi: The idea started during a conversation with Dave Douglass at Juilliard when I was doing the Composers Ensemble there. He took a liking to my music because I was trying to do something a little more outside the box in terms of the aesthetic at Juilliard. He invited me to play some of his music, as well as one of my pieces, at a festival in 2017 with him, Jeremy Pelt, Stephanie Richards, and Nate Wooley. The next year, Dave asked me to think of some other young trumpet players I would want to assemble for a set of original music, and I immediately thought of Davy and Adam.

I almost think of Adam as a stone: He has so much strength in his playing, yet at the same time, he’s very thoughtful and calm. Davy, I see him as a wizard in some ways. Some of the things that he thinks of are so crazy, you have to keep on your toes, and he writes some really hard music, man [laughs]. I’ve enjoyed hearing them over the past couple of years, and I’m excited about playing with them both.

TJG: So Dave Douglass approached you at a time when you were writing music outside the norm for Juilliard; in what way were you pushing against the prevailing aesthetic?

TJG: The philosophy at Juilliard is mainly centered around creating music based around the elements of blues improvisation. Those elements will always be in the music that I write, but at the same time, I went to New England Conservatory before Juilliard, and that aesthetic is based more around free improvisation and Third Stream. It’s almost as if though my music, I’m trying to reconcile two sides of the jazz and improvised music spectrum, the traditional versus the forward-thinking. The music I wrote includes elements based more in free improvisation, which I did a little at Juilliard, but never as much as I did at NEC. Still, the music includes elements of swing, yet instead of being totally obedient to the time, the time exists on its own, and the ensemble plays against it. There might be a really fast swing groove where the horns play my melody rubato, for example. That sound has a powerful impact in terms of what I want the music to evoke emotionally.

TJG: Davy Lazar plays with Kate Gentile a lot in New York in his Davy Lazar Trio, his duo with Kate called Pluto’s Lawyer, and Kate’s band with Matt Mitchell, Snark Horse. Is that where the connection came from for this show?

DA: Absolutely. Kate really learned the music. She has an incredible way of making the music feel good while still nailing all of the super complex parts. Her music with Davy, wow, it’s intense. We’ll likely play three compositions by me, three by Davy, and three by Adam. We’re still working on the music, so it’s all subject to change. We were practicing some of it last week, so I’m excited to see what’s going to happen.

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Photo by Antonio Porcar, courtesy of the artist.

Pianist Mara Rosenbloom moves freely between musical idioms, yet always showcasing a deeply personal perspective. For over a decade, Rosenbloom has collaborated with musicians across popular, modern, avant-garde, and other cross-cultural jazz styles. Her most recent album, Prairie Burn (Fresh Sound/New Talent) was met with smashing reviews from New York Music Daily and DownBeat.

Rosenbloom’s trio project, Flyways, uses the concept of migratory bird patterns as a metaphor for the interplay between personal confidence and group sensitivity. The trio consists of Rosenbloom on piano, Anaïs Maviel on voice and percussion, and Adam Lane on bass. At The Jazz Gallery, Flyways will perform “I know what I dreamed,” a long-form exploratory piece expanding the text from one of Adrienne Rich’s Twenty-One Love Poems. We spoke with Rosenbloom on working with Maviel and Lane, the ever-important significance of Rich’s poetry, and her process of adapting text to an improvisational trio format.

TJG: Tell me a little about the development of the Flyways trio.

MR: Flyways has taken a few forms. It began, as my projects often begin, with an intuitive, organic feeling about putting elements together that might make sense. Flyways started as a larger ensemble with Daniel Carter playing horns and Jeff Davis on drums. At that point, we were totally improvising, and played a few shows together. I can’t say Flyways will never be a larger group again, but as I began to whittle down and make things more clear, the trio format became a natural fit for me.  

TJG: Tell me about Anaïs Maviel. I discovered her through your music, and I’ve been blown away by what I’m hearing. 

MR: Anaïs is amazing. She’s a force. The first time I saw her, I was totally blown away. She’s singing on a very high level, and her rhythmic concept is very strong. Anaïs plays the Surdo drum, which most people know from Brazilian Samba. For marching, it’s often a lightweight drum, but hers is a custom-made heavier wooden version that stands on the floor. It’s got a big, warm sound. It’s great in the band. We don’t have a drum set in the group, so the Surdo brings in some of the same texture and rhythmic interplay with a different sort of timbre and space. 

TJG: Does she live in New York, or is she just passing through?

MR: When I met her, Anaïs had just moved to New York, and was here for at least a few years after. She’s been touring the world as a soloist and in duos, so we’re excited that she’s in town now. She’s from France, partially of Hatian descent, and she’s in New York now by way of Paris. I met her through the Arts for Art community, the organization that puts on the Vision Festival in New York, now in its 23rd year. Both of my mentors, Connie Crothers and Cooper-Moore,  were involved with Arts for Art, along with other musicians I work with, and I’ve steadily become a part of the scene myself. I met Anaïs after seeing her perform at one of Arts for Art’s smaller monthly concerts. She’s not quite sure where she’ll end up next, I think, traveling through music has been good for her. Musical opportunities arise, life pulls you where it pulls you. I reached out to The Jazz Gallery when I knew there would be a window where we could get this project rolling. 

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