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Posts by Noah Fishman

Photo by Jessica Carlton-Thomas, courtesy of the artist.

Alongside being an educated and thoughtful young saxophonist, Kevin Sun approaches composition with clarity and discipline. In our interviews with Sun, our conversations have revolved around the intricacies of his processes, the development of his practices and patterns, and the specific points where he surrenders himself to the creative process.

Sun’s trio, consisting of bassist Walter Stinson and drummer Matt Honor, has been making waves along the east coast following the release of his album, Trio—according to Giovanni Russonello the New York Times, “This may be the first you’ve heard of Mr. Sun, a tenor saxophonist, but that will soon change.”

Kevin Sun’s upcoming show at The Gallery will feature a new hour-long work for quintet. The work, in the words of Sun, “explores stillness, space, and texture inspired by meditation and self-reflection.” His new quintet features Adam O’Farrill on trumpet, Dana Saul on piano, Simon Willson on bass, and Dayeon Seok on drums.

The Jazz Gallery: “The Rigors of Love”—What’s it all about?

Kevin Sun: Good question! I’m still figuring it out. With this project on May 23rd, I knew that I wanted to write a longer piece of music, and I wanted to use a larger ensemble. This is the largest ensemble I’ve written for: Five people doesn’t seem like that many, but going from three to five is a big jump. Especially writing for piano, which is kind of daunting—there’s a lot of information that you can give a pianist. But I don’t have that much to say about the title, though I’ve been thinking about it.

TJG: How did the title come to you?

KS: It kind of came out of nowhere, which happens often. I always have phrases, ideas, things I’ve read in my head. Sometimes I’ll be on a walk and will jot something down. I’ve found that I often have a better time writing music if I start with an interesting title. Words, phrases, or poetry can give me some abstract idea or feeling to work with.

TJG: Since you began with the title as a means of inspiration, where did you go from there?

KS: I’ve been wrestling with the practice and discipline of trying to compose more music in general. It’s something I love, but it’s hard. I’ve found that the more I commit myself to working through all the details, the more satisfied I am with the process, and I don’t give up and go for the first thing that pops into my head. When I first began writing, I would reach for what I already knew, what I thought might be a good melody, some pretty chords and accompaniment to go with it. But I got bored really fast, it all started sounding the same, and I wasn’t enjoying it. I stopped writing for a while, then a few years back I began trying some new approaches, to put a system in place or develop a system as I go.

Sometimes it can be time consuming because you have to work through information, sit with raw material, and think about how to put the elements together. That’s where the rigor comes in, I guess. It can be frustrating because you’re sitting there for twenty, thirty minutes with a piece of paper in front of you. You’re thinking through things, scribbling ideas down, and it doesn’t work. You abandon things that seem weaker because you’re going for the idea that seems strongest. It’s almost like a staring contest. You want to make the next move, and it’s testing your patience and willpower to think through your ideas.

This is something I got from taking composition lessons with John Hollenbeck. A large part of his approach is considering options as deeply as possible before taking action. I began to understand after a few lessons that we might never get to writing a piece, because his demands on really considering all possible options and making a strong decision was the whole point of the process. When composing this way, you might not even get to writing notes of music for a long time, it’s more about the process of trying to figure out the best possible choices.

That brings us back to the title. I don’t know if this is the most rigorous piece I’ve ever written, but I definitely spent a long time just sitting there, contemplating my options, writing things.

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Photo by Aljosa Videtic, courtesy of the artist.

Saxophonist and composer Jure Pukl is no stranger to The Jazz Gallery, and has been a guest on this blog many times. As we spoke this week, our conversation began to focus on the concept of risk. Many young musicians aspire to take musical risks, and teachers often encourage it, but rarely is the concept dissected and explored. Over the course of our conversation, Pukl laid out his thoughts and ideas on the subject of risks on stage and in the studio. One of those risks is revisiting Pukl’s older material with a new attitude. In Pukl’s words, “Whether it’s making something new or changing something old, it’s the same thing we’re pushing for: To take something that’s been done already, and do it in a different way.”

Pukl’s upcoming show is titled “Abstract Sound Pictures” and will be a kind of re-exploration of material from two previous albums, Abstract Society and Life Sound Pictures. Jure Pukl will play tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute, and bass clarinet, alongside Joel Ross on vibes, Charles Altura on guitar, Matt Brewer on bass, and Damión Reid on drums. We discussed the choice of revisiting his older material, his band’s sound, and (of course) taking risks.

The Jazz Gallery: I hear you’ve basically been on tour through the winter and spring. Is it shaping up to be a long summer for you as well?

Jure Pukl: It’s always something, but things aren’t too crazy right now. I’m working on bass clarinet and flute, and I’m playing alto in Melissa Aldana’s Sextet for her commission at The Jazz Gallery.

TJG: You’ll be playing bass clarinet and flute on your upcoming show too, right?

JP: That’s my plan. I mean, with bass clarinet, it’s always technical problems, something is always broken, or you don’t feel good about your sound, and then it’s like “Okay, maybe not today” [laughs]. I’ll definitely be bringing them, plus soprano and tenor.

TJG: It’ll be great to hear you on these other instruments—I think of you primarily as a tenor player.

JP: I actually started with clarinet. I’m not a huge fan of Bb clarinet, but with bass clarinet, I’m a big fan of the sound and textures you can get out of that horn. I’ve been playing on and off for years but never felt great about it, so recently have really been working at it. I love so many bass clarinet players, obviously Eric Dolphy, and Henry Threadgill on flute, which I’ve been working on as well.

TJG: Tell me a bit about the upcoming show.

JP: I’m calling this show Abstract Sound Pictures. The music we’re going to perform is going to be a fusion of my music, between the Life Sound Pictures and Abstract Society albums. I’m recomposing and arranging the older tunes and slicing them into smaller sections, throwing out sections, adding new parts, making changes. It will be those two records combined, with additions of music I’ve been writing lately. It’s all my music, different periods of my life mixed up together. I’m arriving at a point where I can play my older tunes with a different attitude. I use different improvising tools.

You can change something a little rhythmically, and becomes a new tune. I see this a lot with Wayne Shorter. I love Wayne Shorter. If anybody, I would want to be Wayne Shorter [laughs]. With his quartet, they play some of his older music, but the way they approach it and play is so fresh and new. Composing always has different stages, but a strong composition can always be played and revisited. When I write, I rarely think “This is a trio tune” or “This is for quintet” or “This is for a certain person.” I try to just write, and leave space for musicians to add their own thing.

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Photo by Jimmy Katz, courtesy of the artist.

Eric Alexander has been one of the busiest bebop and post-bop saxophonists of the past four decades. He has released nearly forty albums as a leader and performed on countless other records as a sideman. His raspy yet wide tone is immediately recognizable, as are his focused, cascading melodic lines. Alexander most often appears alongside pianist Harold Mabern, either in Mabern’s band or his own. The two have been working together since Alexander’s days in the jazz department at William Patterson University.

Nearly all saxophonists spend years learning the language of the great swing and bebop masters. That experience is relegated to the years of jazz education for many young musicians, but Alexander has made a point to keep that sound alive and well in his own playing. As an educator and composer, he has remarkable knowledge of the blues vocabulary of giants from Coltrane and Parker to Stitt and Mobley, and has held the sounds of masters close as his own playing has evolved. Says Alexander, “The legacy left by Bird and all the bebop pioneers, that language and that feel—that’s the bread and butter of everything I do.”

While Alexander has performed on what seems like every jazz stage in New York, this performance marks his first appearance at The Jazz Gallery as a leader. For this upcoming show at the Gallery, Alexander will deviate from his usual quartet configuration, and will present two sets of standards and originals alongside bassist Doug Weiss and drummer Johnathan Blake. (more…)

Photo by Lily Chen, courtesy of the artist.

Dutch saxophonist and composer Marike van Dijk has no qualms about dividing her time between Brooklyn and Amsterdam. In fact, she’s built a project around it. Her upcoming album features a collaboration between her large ensemble and two singer-songwriters, Jeff Taylor (USA) and Katell Keineg (UK). The Stereography Project feat. Jeff Taylor and Katell Keineg was recorded in Brooklyn and Amsterdam, funded with help from the Dutch government, and the album was made possible via Kickstarter. The feeling of support and collaboration resonates throughout the album. 

Marike nan Dijk and The Stereography Project will visit The Jazz Gallery on May 3rd to celebrate the release of this new album. The show will feature singer and guitarist Jeff Taylor. This will be one of the group’s only two appearances, the second being in The Netherlands in July. We caught up with van Dijk to talk about the project’s journey.

TJG: Take me back to the beginning of the The Stereography Project. How did it start, and how has it grown?

Marike van Dijk: I was at NYU, studying saxophone and was taking composition classes. There was one class where we had to compose for large ensemble with strings. I wrote something for the class and I really liked the sound. After some adjustments to the instrumentation, I started writing more charts and doing reading sessions, just because it was fun. I decided to do a couple of those songs at my graduation concert at NYU, and then I thought, “Might as well make a record.” It wasn’t quite as simple as that, of course, there were different versions of the band, and we played with different people. In 2014 we recorded our first album and released it in 2015, over three years ago now.

TJG: Interesting things have probably happened in those three years. Has the project grown in unexpected ways?

MVD: Yeah. The biggest thing was getting the idea to work with singers. At some point in time I found myself hanging out a lot at Rockwood Music Hall. I had been going to so many jazz concerts, and sometimes I just enjoyed listening to singers. Then I thought, “Why not do the jazz thing that I do with large ensemble and combine it with a singer?” I was fortunate to get a grant from the Dutch government, they supported me in a project to work with two singer-songwriters. I was able to travel a lot between the US and Amsterdam and work on the project on both sides of the ocean.

TJG: Talk to me about the pairing of Jeff Taylor and Katell Keineg.

MVD: The biggest influence in that pairing is the producer for this project, Ruben Samama. He’s a jazz bassist and a producer. He knew Jeff because he’s lived in New York for a long time, and had toured with him in Europe. I was looking for another singer and was reaching out to a couple of singer-songwriters, but there kept being conflicts because of record deals or other things. Then Ruben said, “You know, I’m a big fan of this woman’s record, maybe you could do something with her.” That was Katell. We first recorded with Jeff, and that was super scary because I hadn’t really arranged for a lot of vocalists yet. When you’re taking someone’s song and re-arranging it, you want to be super respectful of their material, because I know how close to your heart it can be. The same with Katell’s music. In the end it worked out pretty well, I think.

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From L to R: Michael Mayo, Vuyo Sotashe, Sachal Vasandani, and J.D. Walter. Photos courtesy of the artists.

For his upcoming show at The Jazz Gallery, vocalist Sachal Vasandani has assembled a true vocal super group. With Michael Mayo, Vuyo Sotashe, JD Walter, and Vasandani, the ensemble features vocalists with different perspectives and approaches to their shared craft.

Vasandani is a jazz singer and artist who, throughout the last decade, has released a series of critically-acclaimed albums through the Okeh label and Mack Avenue Records. This upcoming vocal showcase will also include pianist Taylor Eigsti and saxophonist Dayna Stephens, who also played on Vasandani’s latest album, Shadow Train, to be released at the end of May. We spoke with Vasandani about his expectations and anticipation for the upcoming showcase.

The Jazz Gallery: Your theme for this collaborative show is “What A Time To Be Alive”—there’s no doubt about that. How does this put the music in context?

Sachal Vasandani: With this group, we have an opportunity to comment on the state of jazz through the voice. It’s rare, at least for me, to have the opportunity to play with other singers, especially male singers. With JD, Vuyo, and Michael, we’ll have a great chance to explore different directions. The thing about improvisation, and jazz in general, is that it always feels like it’s the right time for it. It’s a celebration of the present. That’s why with the title of the show, “What A Time To Be Alive,” we’re highlighting the opportunity to celebrate the present and comment on how we see the world at this moment through improvisation.

TJG: What do you mean when you say you can comment on the state of being a jazz vocalist today? What is that state, for you?

SV: While I think that the world considers me a jazz vocalist, I consider myself an artist with a statement to make. That statement is sometimes a reflection of the past, but more and more, I’m concerned with the present and the future. I’m thankful that these three other singers, as well as Taylor and Dayna, are all thinking along these same lines. You get us all together, and there’s going to be very individualist approaches. We’re not going to adhere to any particular tradition, it’ll be more a celebration of different viewpoints. That’s exciting to me.

TJG: You’ve assembled a wonderful trio in Michael, JD, and Vuyo. Tell me about your choices. How did those singers come to mind as you put this show together?

SV: In my opinion, they are some of the leading lights. They each represent different attitudes, traditions, even age groups. We might have some free improvisation, we might have something rooted in one tradition or the other, we might have some electronics. That’s part of the collective experience. Personally, I think I will be challenged by what they bring. That’s what I live for.

TJG: Are there things that differentiate each singer approach that you’re excited to explore?

SV: I think you hit it. There’s a mix of traditions, some overlap in the jazz language, some stylistic similarities, and then some domain that might fall more into the specialties of each of the men. I think there’s enough individuality and overlap for there to be some really nice common language.

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