Grammy-nominated vocalist and contemporary composer Theo Bleckmann is bringing a new quartet to The Jazz Gallery for a full evening of songs. The program includes compositions from four corners of the musical map, creating a cross-generational, multimodal backdrop over which Bleckmann and his band will freely explore. The band includes pianist Mike King, bassist Chris Tordini, and drummer Ulysses Owens. Read on for Bleckmann’s thoughts on the new band and his approach to programming a concert of old and new music.
The Jazz Gallery: To start, I must say that I love the band that you’ve put together for this show, with Mike King, Chris Tordini and Ulysses Owens.
Theo Bleckmann: I do too. Have you heard Mike King play?
TJG: Not in person, but I’ve heard recordings.
TB: He’s amazing. He can play edgy and hard, but he also has a lyrical side that is just completely mesmerizing. I realized how amazing he was when we did a soundcheck, and he started playing “Skylark.” I joined him, and it just worked beautifully. Skylark was just a random tune, yet he played it so sensitively, so spaciously, with such beautiful voicings. It had so much emotion and space. He gets a sound out of the piano. That sealed the deal.
TJG: Do you have the words to describe how it felt?
TB: It felt like we didn’t have to talk about anything. It was just clear how the music should go. When you find someone you really like to play with, you don’t have to talk all that much about what needs to happen. You both take each other to a place that feels right.
TJG: Are there specific ways that you feel Mike adapts to your voice?
TB: Mike is his own person. He has his own viewpoint when playing. He plays lyrically, very hard and aggressively, which I really like. It’s not just one personality or one sound. His playing is as deep as a real person. Sometimes it’s mad, sometimes it’s sweet. It’s not just one color. I appreciate that.
TJG: What starts to happen when you get Chris and Ulysses into the mix?
TB: We’ll see! I’ve been playing with Ulysses for three years now, I just love his playing: His drumming makes me smile. As soon as he starts to play, my heart opens up. It’s this magical feeling that I can’t name. I’ve played with Chris many times as well. The first time was in John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet when Chris was subbing for Drew Gress. I hired Chris for my last ECM record, Elegy. He has a beautiful sound, he has all the makings of a musician I like to work with, and he’s also extremely nice [laughs]. He’s open to not having to solo on every other song, and the same is true for Mike and Ulysses. The musicians I like to work with are interested in the shape of things, not necessarily on being ‘important soloists.’ They’re interested in creating something together.