Posts by Noah Fishman

Photo courtesy of the artist.

So many aspects of Lara Bello’s new album Sikame are novel and fresh. The music comes from a combination of collaborators, songwriters, and musicians, such as Lionel Loueke, Richard Bona, Gil Goldstein, Leni Stern, and Rajiv Jayaweera. Born in Grenada Spain, Bello’s music stands on a rich foundation of flamenco, classical, jazz, and popular styles. Her new album is being released in a new physical and downloadable format, The Biopholio, on Fabian Almazan’s new Biophilia Records label. The details come together to create a rich musical, visual, and collective experience.

We’re thrilled to be hosting Lara Bello and her band for the release of Sikame. The show will feature Bello on vocals, as well as Julian Shore (piano & Rhodes), Vitor Gonçalves (accordion), Romero Lubambo (guitar), Samuel Torres (percussion), Rajiv Jayaweera (percussion), and special guests Hadar Noiberg (flute), Leni Stern (ngoni), and Janet Sora Chung (violin). We spoke with Bello on the phone about singing in Spanish, the new Biopholio, and the ins and out of building the new album from the ground up.

The Jazz Gallery: Congrats on the release of your new album!

Lara Bello: Thank you. After almost two years working on it, it’s nice, to say the least. The label, Biophilia Records, it’s amazing to work with them. It feels like harmony.

TJG: What kind of work did you do with the label?

LB: Everything. It’s a new format, The Biopholio, that Fabian Almazan has developed. The label, Biophilia records, is concerned about ecology and music. Fabian wanted to avoid CDs. Not for printing costs, but rather because CDs are not biodegradable. He wanted to give importance to the physical part of the experience by creating something new. It’s a paper design for people who want a physical piece of art. It’s like origami, with a digital download code inside. The cover isn’t square, it’s made of interlaced diamonds. Everything had do be done from scratch. My album is the first Biopholio out there, so it was a challenge for everyone. It’s a very creative label, and we did a beautiful video too. It was intense work.

TJG: Sounds like you all deserve a vacation! Tell me about the title, Sikame.

LB: Sikame is a word from Benin in Fon, the mother tongue of Lionel Loueke, who is featured on the album. The title song is a new version of his tune. Lionel likes to give names to people. I asked him, “Lionel, give me a name!” He said, “Sikame.” I asked, “What does it mean?” and he replied, “It means ‘the soul of the gold’.” It’s the essence of the gold, the thing that makes gold gold. Wow, I said. That’s a beautiful name. When I was thinking about my album, listening to his music, everything came together. Richard Bona came from Africa. Everything on the album is related to African grooves in some way. 

TJG: Leni Stern, who will be at The Jazz Gallery show, has African ties too, and seems like a terrific collaborator. Have you played before?

LB: She’s part of the album, yes, and we played a few concerts together. I met her some years ago. She liked the flamenco influence in my music, which is popular in some African traditions. I recorded some vocals on her album too. The whole album is filled with friends.


Photo by Todd Chalfant.

In any context, be it joyous or unsavory, the word mercy evokes compassion, forgiveness, gratitude, even surprise. It appropriately matches the music of Jon Cowherd, who will bring his Mercy Project to The Jazz Gallery this Friday, March 24th. As a landmark in his dynamic and multifaceted career, the Mercy Project is an evocative and engaging venture, representing Cowherd’s first release under his own name.

Cowherd is a cofounding member of The Fellowship Band with Brian Blade, which released “Landmarks” (Blue Note, 2014) around the same time as Cowherd released Mercy. His touch on the keyboard is deft and bluesy, and his sound as a composer is expansive and engaging. A wide range of projects has lead him to collaborate and tour with Cassandra Wilson, Rosanne Cash, The John Patitucci trio, Claudia Acuña, The Grahams, Myron Walden, Scott Colley, and Mike Moreno, to name a few.

The Mercy Project encompasses a suite of compositions by Cowherd. It was originally documented on the album Mercy, recorded by Cowherd on piano, Bill Frisell on guitar, John Patitucci on bass, and Brian Blade on drums. The music has been performed by multiple incarnates of the ensemble, depending on the season and venue, including Tom Guarna on guitar, Doug Weiss on bass, Dan Reiser on drums. At The Jazz Gallery, the band will comprise of Cowherd (piano), Steve Cardenas (guitar), Tony Scherr (bass), and E.J. Strickland (drums). Regarding The Mercy Project, Cowherd has written that he “felt the need to make a statement under my own name.” In Mercy, that statement was sure-footed and compelling, garnering rave reviews and a swell of enthusiasm sustaining the project years after its release.


Photo courtesy of the artist.

For one night this weekend, The Jazz Gallery will become home to the evanescent Phantom Station, a modular and exploratory trio assembled by guitarist Brandon Ross. Phantom Station, in this iteration, will consist of drummer JT Lewis and pianist David Virelles. Lewis is a fellow member of Harriet Tubman, Ross’s often-described ‘avant power trio’ which recently released a new album, Araminta.

Over the years, Ross has collaborated with a voracious array of experimental musicians, including Henry Threadgill, The Lounge Lizards, Me’Shell N’degeocello, and Wadada Leo Smith. Beyond his releases with Harriet Tubman and his duo work with Stomu Takeishi, Ross’s Costume was released on the Japanese label Intoxicate Records to rave reviews, and Ross’s compositions can be found in the scores to various films and commissioned works. We caught up with Ross to discuss his musical upbringing in the city, his approach to improvisation, and the life of the author Chester Himes.

The Jazz Gallery: You’ve been on the scene for a long time. Where would you point a new listener to help orient them to your sound?

Brandon Ross: I would probably bookend the approaches I do, starting with For Living Lovers, my acoustic duo with Stomu Takeishi. We did an album of that music in 2014 on Sunnyside Records. Next, I’d send new listeners to Make A Move with Henry Threadgill back in ’96. Then, to one of my Japanese CDs, Costume or Puppet. Then, of course, anything by Harriet Tubman.

TJG: You’re involved with a large number of projects and collaborators, but it’s not a disparate collection of gestures or statements—it’s a reflection of a singular approach. Do you find yourself referring back to former projects for guidance? How do you keep your integrity while moving forward?

BR: I’ve been talking about this a lot lately. I’ve always gone back to something Ornette Coleman told me the first time I met him in the early 80s: “Always be musically yourself.” In the process of acquiring skills and knowledge, it’s easy to become enamored by things we appreciate. They may have something to do with who we are, or they ultimately may not. With most of my mentors—Leroy Jenkins, Henry Threadgill, Butch Morris, Muhal Richard Abrams, Lester Bowie, Wadada Leo Smith—the focus was always on coming to something they were asking you to do as innovators and composers. Coming to something in your own way, finding your own path. Not playing in a style. That early mentoring and musical experience keeps me high, so to speak.

TJG: Young musicians keep pouring into the city. Do you still see that system of mentorship alive around you?

BR: I don’t see it in the same way. I don’t say that critically, it was just another time. When I came to New York, you could get gigs with people who were professionals, they had ideas, concepts, they were working, you could get a direct connection and play somewhere. These days, it’s more about the academy. People are referencing artifacts in recordings. Some people still teach, but it’s largely a new and different process of arriving at what the music’s all about.


Photo courtesy of the artist.

“Listen, I came to you to study karate, and you have me doing all these chores.” Victor Provost summarized his life-changing lessons with legendary jazz educator Charlie Banacos by paraphrasing The Karate Kid. Provost is no stranger to dedication. A native of St. John in the Virgin Islands, Provost discovered the steel pan at an early age, and quickly took flight with an independent, enterprising spirit. By learning tunes from records, taking correspondence lessons, seeking out mentors, and holding down solo gigs, Provost has built a singular voice on a complex and unusual instrument. He eventually moved to Pittsburgh, then Virginia, where he dedicated himself to studying with Charlie Banacos—his own Mr. Miyagi, if you will—and internalizing his infamous exercises and lines. Provost ultimately obtained his Bachelors and Masters in Music at George Mason University, where he now teaches, all while touring and expanding his sound, working with the likes of Paquito D’Rivera, among others.

This week, Provost will play at The Jazz Gallery to celebrate the release of Bright Eyes (Sunnyside, 2017). Praised by Downbeat for his “hypnotic speed and seductive melodicism,” Provost has covered significant new ground on his latest release. Citing his 2011 release, Her Favorite Shade of Yellow, Provost said “I wanted to shatter built-in expectations by showing that you can swing on this instrument… On Bright Eyes, I let all of those cultural influences seep back in.” The show at the Gallery will feature a world-class quintet consisting Jacques Schwarz-Bart (saxophones), Robert Rodriguez (piano), Zach Brown (bass), and Ulysses Owens Jr. (drums). On a cold winter morning, we chatted with Provost about the power of discipline, his teaching residency in the Virgin Islands, and the timeless lessons of The Karate Kid.

The Jazz Gallery: Congrats on the release of Bright Eyes! You’re getting some stellar press, which is good to see.

Victor Provost: Thank you, thank you. Back in August, I was calling PR folks, and a few actually turned me down, saying “We don’t understand how we can push or market this project for you.” A few more said they were booked for the summer. I was feeling kind of down on my luck, but then I just hit the pavement, made as many calls as I could make, and things started happening. The Washington Post feature, the Downbeat editor’s pick. Sunnyside has done an amazing job too; the album is getting hooked up with the WBGO scene. I’m pleasantly surprised and proud.

TJG: No need for the surprise, the album deserves it. Will you be performing tunes from the album at the upcoming show?

VP: Oh yeah, that’s the idea. We’ll play through the record in full. And then maybe we’ll swing a little bit too. I enjoy doing it but don’t get to just swing too often. I’m super excited to be playing with these guys at the Gallery. The guys on the record are Alex Brown and his brother Zach, as well as Billy Williams Jr. On this date for The Gallery, I’ll have Robert Rodriguez on keys, Ulysses Owens on drums, and Zach will play bass, then my friend Jacques Schwarz-Bart will join us on saxophone.

TJG: As a jazz percussionist, you must have to choose the other percussionists on stage very carefully. What do you like about playing with Ulysses Owens Jr?

VP: Man. The first time I worked with Ulysses was in 2009, right after I moved to DC. He was commissioned to write something for the Kennedy Center. This community student steel band I was helping got the call to play his music. We hit it off, man. It was the first time we’d met, and in that capacity we were fellow teachers. We met a few years later in Harlem, and he said “I’ve got a gig at Dizzy’s, come and join the band.” It was an instant fit. Then I took him to St. Thomas, and we did a concert out there together. He’s so sensitive. He’s got the perfect balance, he understands dynamics, he hears what the music needs, when to be explosive. He’s so naturally musical. A lot of these rhythms we’re dealing with on Bright Eyes have really strong Caribbean roots, whether it’s French Caribbean, like Martinique or Guadeloupe, or Afro-Cuban stuff. There are specific grooves that guys spend their whole lives listening to growing up. But someone like Ulysses is so musical, he can come in and nail it, and sound natural doing it.


Photo courtesy of the artist.

At Hamilton’s Bakery in Harlem, Adam Larson shows up early for coffee. Purple Rain shakes the place at full volume, followed by Superstition. We sit and I ask him about the neighborhood. Larson quickly gives me a rundown: “Tazo Coffee on 157th, Tsion Cafe on 148th, where Wayne Escoffery plays some Thursdays, Sylvana on 116th, the old St. Nick’s Pub, now closed.” Larson is a living vault of venues, musicians, and opportunities in New York City. His knowledge of the industry extends beyond the names of clubs and owners. At only twenty six years old, self-managed and self-motivated, saxophonist and composer Adam Larson has turned the elusive art of booking gigs into a tangible science.

It’s all in service of the music. Larson, now a father, still premieres new work with new ensembles on nearly a monthly basis at venues across the city. His upcoming show at The Jazz Gallery with Can Olgun (piano/nord), Desmond White (electric/acoustic bass) and Jonathan Blake (drums) is presented in partnership with Composers NowOver coffee, between texts to his wife and calls to the plumber, a very busy and hyper-focused Adam Larson discussed his upcoming gig schedule, his thoughts on composition, and the ways in which he pursues personal and musical growth.

The Jazz Gallery: You’ve been living in Harlem for a while?

Adam Larson: About five years, yeah. I’ve steadily been moving north since I graduated. Next we may move to Queens. In the 2008 brochures from Manhattan School of Music, it was like, ‘Don’t go above 125th street’ [laughs]. Now it’s all different. I love this spot, Hamilton’s Bakery. It’s pretty hipster, but this is my spot.

TJG: Last time we talked was before your previous Jazz Gallery show in September, right before your son was born.

AL: We were expecting him on Halloween. The 30th came, and we thought he was going to be late. Then, late in the morning, my wife feels these kicks. Eighteen hours later, he was born. Healthy, happy, great.

TJG: You were saying that show at The Gallery would probably be your last for a while, so you could spend some time with your son.

AL: I didn’t travel until two weeks ago. I stayed in the city from September to early February, which is new for me. Usually I’m out every single month doing something. And I took a month off from performing outside of New York, aside from playing at Birdland in November. I knew I had that on the calendar months in advance, and I considered cancelling since I wouldn’t be able to get a big turnout. But I had actually drafted up all my press emails a week before he was born, so in the recovery room, I had my phone and hit ‘send’ on these emails. The music is important, but getting people to the show is one of my major priorities.

TJG: So what was it like to be away from your son for the first time?

AL: It was difficult, but it was only about 36 hours. I didn’t really have time to think about it. I was so busy doing stuff while I was away. I have to provide, it puts things in perspective. My wife’s a stay-at-home mom, and the financial obligations fall on me. It’s not impossible, but it’s not easy. It’s a pleasure to have opportunities to create. It helps a lot. 

TJG: You seem like someone who’s always done the most to capitalize on your time. What’s it like having your time squished even more?

AL: It’s all about managing expectations. I can’t play four hours a day, like I did in college. And it’s okay with me: I want to be a part of my son’s life. I’ve always been conscious of my time, but can compartmentalize things. I can look at the clock and say, ‘Okay, I have 30 minutes right now, and 30 minutes this afternoon. How can I use these minutes effectively? Am I going to write? Play saxophone?’ It’s a tightrope act, making sure I’m being a good husband, a good father, and am taking care of my music.