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Posts by Noah Fishman

Album art courtesy of the artist.

Marta Sánchez’s long-standing quintet will return to The Jazz Gallery this week for the release of their latest album, “Danza Imposible” (Fresh Sound Records). The quintet, highlighting intricate melodic work and rich arrangements, features Roman Filiú and Jerome Sabbagh on saxophones, Rick Rosato on bass, Daniel Dor on drums, and of course Sánchez on piano and compositions. In a prior Jazz Speaks post, we spoke with Marta about her quintet work on Partenika, her previous album, which was included in New York Times journalist Ben Ratliff’s ‘Top 10’ list for 2015. Sánchez was additionally awarded a 2017 MacDowell Fellowship, where she composed new works for prepared piano. We spoke at length with Sánchez about her textural and contrapuntal approach to composing for quintet.

The Jazz Gallery: Your album titles and artwork are always intriguing. Could you tell me a little about both the title and the art for Danza Imposible (Fresh Sound/New Talent), the new record?

Marta Sánchez: The title is actually from one the pieces, meaning “Impossible Dance” in Spanish. Iit has a triplet-based groove, but it’s in 11/8, so it’s good under the hands, but something’s still weird there. The artwork is by Alicia Martin López, a friend I met in New York. We both came over with Fulbright grants. When we met, I didn’t know what she was doing on her Fulbright, but when she returned to Spain she posted some of her work, and it was beautiful. She did my previous record, Partenika, and I loved that, so I asked her to do this one too.

TJG: What do you like about this cover for Danza Imposible?

MS: Well, I think it represents the music, and now that you ask, it has this weirdness as well. It’s beautiful and attractive, but at the same time mysterious. There’s some strangeness there, and we don’t know where it comes from. My music has a bit of that too.

TJG: Is there something about the concept of impossibility that excites you as a jazz musician? A challenge to break through or overcome?

MS: I don’t think in terms of breaking through the impossible. With my titles, I’m usually thinking of something in the moment. It might be trivial, but I try to be honest with what I feel, and use what I have in sight. Yes, you have to challenge yourself and discover your music, but what attracts me most are the unexpected things. I like when I hear music and it doesn’t sound exactly how I expected. I like the unexpected, but not impossible things [laughs]. Things that surprise you.

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From L to R: Joe Sanders, Jure Pukl, Melissa Aldana, Greg Hutchinson. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Tenor saxophonist Jure Pukl returns to The Jazz Gallery this week to celebrate the release of Doubtless. The new record, released on Inner Circle, highlights the remarkable musical synergy between Pukl and his wife, saxophonist Melissa Aldana. The record also features Greg Hutchinson (drums) and Joe Sanders (bass), and was recorded in Pukl’s home country of Slovenia. We spoke with Pukl for the second time this year to discuss the inspiration, development, and message behind the new release.

TJG: Between our previous interview and now, I was actually on tour with an orchestra in Slovenia, and was amazed by both the magnificence of the country and the generosity of everyone I met. We played in a festival at a huge castle called Grad Snežnik.

JP: Man! I know the place. I probably was there twenty years ago, for a school trip or something. Slovenia is so small, but there are still these places hidden away [laughs]. I’ve heard of that festival at Snežnik. Right now, I’m trying to establish a festival too. It’s currently a one-week clinic at the end of February, using the clubs and music school in my hometown of Velenje. But we have lakes, a camping area, restaurants, lots of space, so it would be a perfect festival site in the future.

TJG: You recorded the new album in Slovenia. Do you return often to perform?

JP: I go back every time I go to Europe, usually twice a year. I love playing in Slovenia, especially now that I’m doing this workshop in my hometown. We have around eighty students from all around Europe, from age 12 to 25, even some older musicians who want to learn new things. I bring Joe Sanders, Greg Hutchinson, Melissa of course. This year we have Shai Maestro. Last year we had Kurt Rosenwinkel in residence. And there are always European cats too. We perform for the students, make spontaneous groups, and end with a three-night festival, so the students get the real thing. It gets bigger every year, and it’s amazing that I get to play in my own hometown with such great musicians.

TJG: That’s what happens when you create your own festival: You attract students and fans to learn and socialize, and then when you want to perform and try new things, there’s an audience.

JP: Exactly. That’s how this band on Doubtless got started. We were teaching and playing at the clinic in different settings. The band started as a friendship, a family thing. Joe was at my wedding to Melissa, for example. Our first gig was at Porgy And Bess in Vienna, and our second gig was in my hometown at the workshop. After the clinic week, we did a few more gigs, then went to a studio in Slovenia and tracked all the music. We made the record in three hours. We know each other so well, we were hungry for music, and it just poured out.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

If you haven’t heard Roman Filiú’s name, you certainly know the people he’s worked with, including Chucho Valdés, Omara Portuondo, Steve Coleman, Pablo Milanés, Michael Mossman, Roy Hargrove, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, and the Buena Vista Social Club. Filiú has released two albums under his own name, including Blowin Reflections (2006) and Musae (2012), the more recent of which featured David Virelles, Adam Rogers, Reinier Elizarde, Marcus Gilmore, and Dafnis Prieto.

With support from Chamber Music America and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Filiú returns to The Jazz Gallery this week, leading his band Musae in new project titled Okàn: El Libro de Las Almas. The lineup will again include Adam Rogers and David Virelles, with additions of Maria Grand on saxophone, Matt Brewer on bass, Craig Weinrib on drums, and Mauricio Herrera on percussion. We’ve spoken with Filiú before, about his influences and upbringing. This time, we spoke further on his compositional techniques and the thematic underpinnings of his work.

TJG: At The Jazz Gallery, you’ll be premiering a new work, funded by the Doris Duke Foundation and Chamber Music America. Can you talk a little about the work?

RF: I always try to work on a theme. This project is based on an imaginary book, written by a fictional writer, on the people who have helped me in my life. Important people pass on or leave your life, you don’t see them anymore, and when you’re a kid, you say, “Well, that’s life.” But when you have a kid, you start to think about the people who supported you and never asked anything of you in return. I imagine a book where all the people who have helped me have their stories there. I love science fiction, and have been reading a lot this year, Dan Simmons’ Hyperion, books by Orson Scott Card and Ursula K. Le Guin. I similarly try to link my music to something unreal, to create something different. I’ve been trying to imagine an alternate universe where all these people who helped me still live. Sometimes you never had the opportunity to say thank you. So this is a kind of tribute, in a way.

TJG: I think I understand the concept of the theme. Could you talk about how, for you, it translates into the music?

RF: It depends on the personality of the person on my mind, the specific things they did, our ages, our relationship, or where we met. I build the music around those ideas. For example, when I was a kid, there was an old man, eighty-something years old, from Haiti. He never said a word, but when I was little, with my big saxophone, he would always help me carry it. He was slower than me, man: To walk a block with him was like one hour. But he saw my saxophone and he came by my side to help me. That happened for two years straight. I was thinking of him, of the specific slow walking pace that he had, almost like an invalid. Something like that is how I link the music and the form with the personality.

TJG: Do you know what happened to that man?

RF: Never found out. I moved when I was fourteen, to go to boarding school, and I think he moved to another part of the country around that time, or right before. I didn’t see him any more.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Steve Lehman is a pioneering saxophonist, composer, and Jazz Gallery regular who needs little introduction. Praised by The New York Times as “a state-of-the-art musical thinker” and a “dazzling saxophonist,” Lehman composes and performs across a spectrum of experimental musical idioms. Several of his albums have been voted #1 Jazz Album of the Year by NPR Music, The Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times, and he is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim and Doris Duke foundations. He is currently a Professor of Music at The California Institute of the Arts, having additionally taught at Wesleyan, the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris, The New School, Columbia, Berklee, and IRCAM in Paris.

This week, Lehman will take the roll of mentor to Maria Grand in our latest mentorship series. The two saxophonists, accompanied by Matt Brewer on bass and Damion Reid on drums, will perform sets at The Jazz Gallery, SEEDS, and the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. We spoke with Lehman about his thoughts and expectations for the mentorship process, as well as his own continued growth as an artist.

The Jazz Gallery: Maria had a funny story about asking you to mentor her, and you saying you didn’t think she need the mentorship, and then a few months later coming around to ask her if she was still interested. What’s your version of how the mentorship came about?

Steve Lehman: Well, we did a kind of session together, playing tunes and talking about composition at my studio a few years ago. I knew she was dedicated and hardworking, and had been musically invested in her craft. But I hadn’t heard her up close and personal for several years: I was blown away by how good she sounded, and by what she’d been able to accomplish in terms of developing a voice. I remember, at that session, her saying something along the lines of “Yeah, I’ll be mentored!” [laughs]. It didn’t, at the time, strike me as something that would necessarily be of great value to her. But then, I thought it would be a good opportunity to potentially introduce some new audiences to her music, and to give her an in-depth opportunity to look under the hood at my work, to see how it functions in rehearsals, and how it translates into my approach as a bandleader.

TJG: A discussion of your music invariably entails spectral techniques, rigorous approaches to composition, extended saxophone techniques, different forms of improvisation. There’s so much that you bring to the stage. Given that, how do you approach a short yet open-ended mentorship?

SL: Maria has been able to make such progress because she understands that it’s entirely up to each of us, as creative musicians, to take the initiative and do our homework. We’ve been in touch, talking about ideas, emailing music back and forth. And any time I’ve said “If you don’t have time to get to this or that, it’s not a problem, we can work around it,” she’s always been quick to say “No no no, I’ll take care of it, I’ll put the necessary time in.” She’s got that psychology of being disciplined, of not giving yourself a pass. The ground we cover or the familiarity we reach with my music is less important than the overall process of how she approaches the situation in the first place. I’m hoping to lead by example, in terms of how I approach the music, and to try to take each performance as a serious opportunity to share music with people. I hope that will come across, and expect that to be the lion’s share of what we’ll cover together.

TJG: That phrase, “not giving yourself a pass”—is that a frame of mind you resonate with as an artist? It’s a common mindset for jazz musicians, I think, but it’s not necessarily the only way to approach the learning process.

SL: Right [laughs]. Another way to frame that idea is just to be honest with yourself about what you want your playing to sound like, what you want your music to sound like, what areas of your music need to be reinforced. It’s not easy to be clear-headed when looking at your own work, or to be honest about what you want to share with others. But the more we can do that as performers, the more meaningful the results.

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maria-grand-by-amy-mills

Photo by Amy Mills

As an avid student and experienced educator, Maria Grand is no stranger to the mentorship process. Upon arriving in New York six years ago, she became the protégée of legendary musicians Billy Harper, Antoine Roney, and Von Freeman, and quickly found work with Steve Coleman in his various small groups. Additionally, Grand is at home on the stage at The Jazz Gallery, having appeared multiple times as a bandleader and award recipient. She is one of three most recent Jazz Gallery Commissionees, and this summer staged an extended version of her work “TetraWind” as Embracements, expanding the sound and the concept of the project. 

In the latest installment of the Gallery’s mentorship series, Grand will be working with saxophonist Steve Lehman and his band. The quartet will present three shows across the city, at The Jazz Gallery, the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, and SEEDS in Brooklyn. For all three shows, Grand and Lehman will be joined by Matt Brewer on bass and Damion Reid on drums. We spoke about her album TetraWind, her hopes and expectations for the concerts, and her thoughts on the mentorship process.

TJG: I’ve plenty of questions about your concerts with Steve Lehman, but first I have a few questions about your last album, TetraWind. Could you talk about the spoken section midway through “South (Quantum)”?

MG: Sure. Originally, there were lyrics to everything. I wrote all the songs on TetraWind thinking about words in some way. I wasn’t necessarily thinking about words while writing melodies, but there was an overall meaning to each song. For “South,” we did that interlude section, and I really wanted to have a poem over it. It felt like the best spot on the album for it. I wrote all the music while in Colombia when a huge amount of police brutality was happening. Somebody over there told me this surreal story where someone put laxatives in old meat and left it out for the birds to eat, so for a week after that, everybody got sh*t on [laughs]. It’s surreal to become aware that one reality is so different than another. It was, for me, a connection with what was happening back in the states. The whole thing seemed surreal. Police brutality has been many people’s reality for a long time, but if you step back for a moment, and think about a policeman killing someone who’s twelve because they have a toy gun, it seems impossibly surreal. That’s how the poem came about. I wanted to make that statement, but at the same time, I wanted the statement to be available to someone who listens to the whole thing and experiences it through the end. It leaves you thinking, ends on a dark note.

TJG: Do you do a lot of writing?

MG: That’s something I want to expand on. I use a lot of different things to write. Some things are more a part of art and not really a part of music. Sometimes I need movement. I write words, even when they don’t make it to the final product. They’re on my mind when I’m writing the music. I sing a lot too, which is something I got from Steve Coleman. I sing all the things I want to play, then transcribe it. That’s how a lot of the music came about.

TJG: Another question about TetraWind: Of the seventy or so interviews I’ve done for The Jazz Gallery, only a couple of people have had projects which included electric bass. Rashaan Carter sounds amazing on electric bass on the record. What was your thinking behind the choice?

MG: I asked him to play electric from the start. I love the electric bass. I think it’s from playing with Steve Coleman and Anthony Tidd a lot. I like the bass to be loud. When Rashaan plays, there’s a weight to his notes. That’s what I wanted in the music, you know? Electric has such presence. And he never wants to walk, he’ll say “If I’m playing electric, I want to try some different stuff.” It works out for me [laughs].

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