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Posts by Noah Fishman

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Charlotte Greve is taking a different approach to living in New York City as a professional jazz musician. You might expect to find a saxophonist in a standards-based quartet or two, a larger ensemble, perhaps a big band, and the occasional project as a bandleader. Greve’s ensembles, however, look a bit different. There’s Asterids, an all-alto saxophone quartet. There’s Wood River, where Greve sings and plays synthesizer. There are duos with electric bassists or drummers, and commissions for large choirs. Every group utilizes a different aspect of her vast musicality, and her new trio, The Choir Invisible, is no exception.

Greve, a German saxophonist and composer, lived and studied in Berlin before moving to New York to study with the likes of John Hollenbeck, Mark Turner, and Kurt Rosenwinkel. She’s released five albums with her band Lisbeth Quartett, including their most recent album There Is Only Make on Traumton Records. A New Yorker for five years now, Greve has started many projects and supported many more. The Choir Invisible includes Chris Tordini on bass and Vinnie Sperrazza on drums. We spoke with Greve about her compositions, the unique feel of the trio, and her thoughts on developing a musical identity New York City.

The Jazz Gallery: Judging by the photo on your contact page, it looks like you live in Crown Heights. So many musicians live there; do you like the area?

Charlotte Greve: Yeah, I think it’s great. I moved here five years ago, and I’m still in the same room. That’s very unusual for New York. We have this brownstone with like eight people that we’ve been sharing, it’s been kind of a musician place. I live in the old room of Tommy Crane, he lived here ten years ago or something. Chris Tordini lived here, Matt Brewer lived here, Kyle Wilson lives here now. Tons of people have passed through this house at some point.

TJG: The Choir Invisible, your trio, has a fantastic name. Does it come from the poem by George Eliot with the same name?

CG: It’s a song that Vinnie wrote, I think inspired by a song from a film, where a character kind of recites this poem. Vin took the words and wrote a melody to it. It’s been the theme song of the trio, so to speak. It represents the vibe of the trio well.

TJG: I just interviewed Vinnie Sperrazza for the blog, and evidently he’s a real literary buff. Are you a big reader too?

CG: I don’t read as much as Vinnie [laughs]. But I do read! I just started this Werner Herzog interview book, A Guide for the Perplexed. I can’t say much about it yet, but it seems really interesting. Before that, I read “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” two or three times, Patti Smith’s “M Train,” which I really liked, and some poems by Patti Smith as well.

TJG: Your last performance as a trio in September at Korzo, right? Tell me a little about the group. Who writes the music, what’s your sound?

CG: We started jamming a year and a half ago, I think, something like that. Before that, I was playing with Vin in a trio with Masa Kamaguchi, who would come in every once in a while from Barcelona. Vin and I eventually established something we liked together, and asked Chris Tordini to join. We were jamming on a regular basis, then started working on music by all three of us. Nobody leads the group, it’s a total collective. We haven’t had many shows yet, but we rehearse all the time [laughs]. Workshopping music with these two guys is a beautiful thing. And we have a lot of material. Since we have two sets at The Gallery, we can stretch and play most of our stuff.

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Photo by Anne-Claire Rohe.

Sam Harris is one busy pianist. Moreover, Harris keeps a relatively low profile, which means the best way to find him behind the piano is by looking at the tour schedules of artists like Ambrose Akinmusire, Ben Van Gelder, Logan Richardson, Roman Filiu, and Rudy Royston. Luckily, on December 7th, you need look no further than The Jazz Gallery to hear the deep harmonies and improvisations of Harris and his trio. 

Harris grew up in Dallas, Texas, and migrated to New York to attend the Manhattan School of Music. Since leaving MSM, he’s played at clubs and festivals across six continents. In 2014 alone, Sam Harris played on records by Rudy Royston, Ambrose Akinmusire, and released his debut album Interludes (Fresh Sound). The album, featuring Roman Filiu, Ben Van Gelder, Martin Nevin, Ross Gallagher, and Craig Weinrib, is a collection of vignettes, tone poems, and chamber-esque arrangements that our own Kevin Laskey has described asone part Herbie Hancock, one part Paul Bley.” Since that industrious year, Harris has been featured on additional albums by Akinmusire, Ben Van Gelder, and Ergo.

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Photo by André Hébrard, courtesy of the artist.

Tony Tixier is a pianist, composer, and bandleader, whose prior albums and tours have included potent collaborations and vivid narratives with artists including Seamus Blake, Christian Scott, and Justin Brown. His new album, Life of Sensitive Creatures, is deeply personal, chronicling Tixier’s reflection of our role on the planet, spurred by the passing of his grandmother. The album has a complex emotional tenor, containing both optimism and pessimism.

With a trio rounded out by Karl McComas Reichl (double bass) and Tommy Crane (drums), Tixier leads a group that moves through the material with intention and confidence. “It’s a songbook of emotions, put to music,” says Tixier in the liner notes. “We’re making art—a moving painting—and I’m proud of that.” In anticipation of the album’s release at The Jazz Gallery, we spoke with Tixier about his thoughts on the growth of the album and the music he has yet to make.

The Jazz Gallery: Thanks for making the time to Skype on your busy tour schedule. Where are you now, and where are you going?

Tony Tixier: I’m in Amsterdam now, for a last-minute session at Bimhuis with Ben Van Gelder. I’m going to Berlin tomorrow, and then New York, to play the show at the Gallery. After that, Lyon, Paris, and back home to Los Angeles. Before that, I was in London, playing at Ronnie Scotts, then in Madrid. I was also with Seamus Blake, touring with his quartet, which was another good excuse to be in Europe.

TJG: What are you doing in Berlin tomorrow?

TT: We’re playing at A-Trane with my German trio. I had a friend at MSM who lives in Berlin, Tom Berkmann, a bass player, and I play with him and drummer Mathias Ruppnig. We’re doing songs from Life Of Sensitive Creatures there. It’s way different with this trio. They’re more in the learning stage of the music, getting to know it. With my New York trio, Tommy Crane and Karl McComas-Reichl, we’ve been playing for three years, so we know the music, we know where we want to go. But it’s also great playing with newer people, because they’re fresh. They have a different type of focus and intensity.

TJG: In the new album’s dedication and video trailer, you wrote; “Along the way we meet, question, and feel a wide range of emotions, all while continuing to breathe and cohabit together. Stay listening. Stay sensitive, never forget that all creatures on this earth share the same home. That’s what this music is about.” Did you write this?

TT: Yeah, it’s my broken English [laughs]. You know, when I wrote the music for the album, my grandmother had just passed. That’s when I started, and decided to take it into the studio. She was 86, and would talk a lot about the world, how we, human beings, are burning it, consuming it too fast. We’re a selfish species. Are we too focused on ourselves? Tommy, and Karl, they’re into talking about this. And through playing with them, I’ve learned how to open my heart to other creatures, you know? The music is really about this human conversation. The titles are sometimes kind of negative, but I like to take the negative and transform it into a beautiful dream space. It’s an ode to life, to all sentient creatures.

TJG: Yes, many of your titles are cynical. “Denial of Love,” “Illusion” and “Calling Into Question,” even “Causeless Cowards” and “Blind Jealousy of a Paranoid.” How do you take that cynicism and spin it into something beautiful? How is that cynicism presented?

TT: The album is like a book. I’m actually going to do a book for children with songs from the album. The introduction is “I Remember A Time of Plenty,” to put people into the shoes of kids. Let’s be more open-minded, try to listen: It’s a reminder that we should all love each other, or at least in general, have more love. Sometimes people look at you with judgement. We don’t give each other our hands, and I think we should. “I Remember A Time of Plenty” asks, “Why is it this way? Let’s open our hearts again. Don’t deny us this.”

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

2016-2017 Jazz Gallery Fellowship commissionee Johnathan Blake is both a bandleader and tireless sideman, and has been featured on albums by artists including Q-Tip, Jaleel Shaw, Tom Harrell, Donny McCaslin, and the Mingus Big Band. His acclaimed 2014 album Gone, But Not Forgotten featured Chris Potter, Mark Turner, and Ben Street, and was dedicated to both legendary musicians and victims of tragedy. As the young child of a traveling musician in Philadelphia, Blake found himself immersed in the tradition from a young age. In one story he recounted for JazzTimes, Blake’s father introduced him to the legendary Elvin Jones. Shortly thereafter, Blake found himself sitting on stage with Jones, watching his idol perform from only a few feet away.

Blake’s upcoming show at The Jazz Gallery will present the culmination of his 2016-2017 Fellowship, entitled “My Life Matters.” The work is a suite of songs that serves as a dual treatise on the importance of family values and the social imperative to stand up in the face of injustice. With Blake on drums, his compositions will be performed by a cast of Jazz Gallery regulars: Dayna Stephens on saxophones / EWI, Joel Ross on vibraphone, Fabian Almazan on piano, and Rashaan Carter on bass. We spoke with Blake about his new suite of work, the realm of family responsibility, and the imperative to speak out against injustice in the world today.

The Jazz Gallery: Talk to us a little bit about your new Jazz Gallery Fellowship Commission, “My Life Matters.”

Johnathan Blake: Around the time I started composing one of the pieces, a lot of brutality was happening to young African-American men and women. As a person of color, I thought, ‘Man, maybe I’m not speaking out enough, as my parents stressed for me to do.’ I started thinking about the ones who came before me, who spoke through their music. Max Roach with his “Freedom Now” suite, John Coltrane with “Alabama.” I asked myself, ‘How can I speak out through my music?’ That’s where the title comes about, “My Life Matters.” It’s not just about Black Lives Matter, it’s about us as a whole. We have to learn how to coexist. We spend so much time worrying about ourselves that we can forget to care about others, notice our differences and similarities. We all were created here to live in harmony with one another. These pieces will hopefully serve as a jumping point for open discussion on that.

So, it’s a series of tunes I composed dealing with family, my upbringing in Philadelphia, and speaking up in the face of injustice, which is something my parents always stressed to me and my sisters. When my father passed away in 2014, we were all in the hospital with him. He was looking at me, my wife, my kids, giving us some strong advice. I think he knew his time was coming to an end. I have to continue to keep the torch lit, to live up to what he taught us, to continue his legacy.

TJG: Do you mind if I ask what his advice for you was?

JB: For me, it was basically “Always be taking care of your family.” He really stressed it. To my kids, he said “Look, things might get hard in life, and you’ll have to persevere. Giving up is the easiest thing to do.” That really resonated with me too. Don’t let anyone try to persuade you, to put you down. Really work at what you’re serious about. And again, if you’re a bystander, don’t ignore injustice, or you’re adding to the problem. All these things were going through my head as I was writing the music, so it started taking on a life of its own. I wanted to make it a tribute to my father, because he instilled such great values in me. He was a traveling musician, but he was a family man. Any chance he got to take us with him on the road, he took that opportunity. Now, I travel a lot, but when I’m home, I try to be home. I don’t take a lot of gigs around town.

TJG: You mentioned this importance of melody in keeping the audience engaged (“Give them something to hang on to!”) in a JazzTimes interview, specifically citing Tom Harrell’s music as a great example.

JB: Exactly. I wanted to create melodies that people will walk away singing, and in doing so, really think about them. I have a tune called “I Can’t Breathe,” related to the death of Eric Garner. It starts with a vibes melody. I’m big on memorable melodies, melodies you can walk away with. Once you have it in your head, if you can walk away singing it, it sticks with you. It will transcend into your daily life. I think this is a way it can start to open up discussions about these injustices.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Guitarist and lifelong New Yorker Adam Rogers returns to The Jazz Gallery this week with DICE, his band featuring Fima Ephron on bass and Nate Smith on drums. If you’re not familiar with Rogers’ guitar playing, you’ve surely heard him alongside artists such as Michael Brecker, Norah Jones, Paul Simon, Regina Carter, John Zorn, Marcus Miller, The Mingus Orchestra, Chris Potter, and Ravi Coltrane, among others.

Known as a guitar virtuoso of eclectic taste and unimpeachable technique, Rogers cultivates a sound on DICE that at once elicits comparisons to guitarists Jimi Hendrix, Allan Holdsworth, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and Roy Buchanan. Released last summer, DICE has both raw and immersive, spacious qualities, with tracks contrasting blistering trio jams with dense, swirling sonic layers. Rogers himself plays a wide range of instruments on the album, including clarinets, synthesizers, organs, and different loops and samples. We spoke at length with Rogers about the recording process, the role of compositional limitations, and the importance of mic’ing the room.

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The Jazz Gallery: Thanks for sharing the DICE record in anticipation of the show. I really enjoyed listening to it, and it sounded like it was a fun record to make.

Adam Rogers: The actual recording part was fun, yeah. When you’re making a record, there’s a certain part of your brain that doesn’t allow for as much fun as you’d like to be having. It was very rewarding, but it was a lot of work.

TJG: Is there a part of the process that necessitates the ‘fun’ being shut off?

AR: That’s hard to articulate. For this record, we recorded for a couple days, then I worked on it for a long time before releasing it. Recording was as fun as could be. And I’ve played with Fima and Nate for a long time, so as far as their parts are concerned, there’s not much I had to worry about. But when you’re only in the studio for a couple of days, there are a lot of concerns on your mind. When self-producing, there are a lot of ‘i’s and ‘t’s that need to be dotted and crossed, in terms of getting the takes you need, the sound you want, being in the music while also taking care of things. Doing that while also having fun can be a tricky combination.

TJG: Was it helpful that your sound was ‘limited’ in a way? In your Guitar Player Magazine interview, you talked a bit about a limited gear setup, which gave you some boundaries.

AR: Not really. That’s my setup. If I had twenty years to make the record I’d use the same setup. I don’t really use pedals. I use three guitars on the record, mostly the Strat, the Telecaster, the Les Paul, plus the amps. That’s my desert island setup. There’s no overarching principle that says I shouldn’t play with pedals, but I like the idea of having one sound or one thing that doesn’t give you 25,000 choices at the click of a mouse. Working within sonic and compositional limitations forces you to explore, to go deeper.

TJG: Regarding musical limitations, you’ve said that “With DICE, I wanted to explore mostly one sound. That limits things, but through limitations you can discover things.” Could you talk a bit about those discoveries?

AR: With DICE, when I conceptualized the band, I was thinking about the sound of an electric bass, specifically Fender Precision, drums, and a Fender Stratocaster. With this instrumentation, there are things I don’t hear where I might hear them with a “jazz trio.” As broad a swath of musics as I’m interested in, I like to explore one concept, even if it’s very broad, when working with one specific band. I like to create a framework that, without explicitly limiting me, informs what the music can be, and provides compositional ideas. So as a composer, you can choose to break out of those limitations, or explore within those limits.

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