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Posts from the Interviews Category

Album art courtesy of Sunnyside Records.

Dan Tepfer, a Jazz Gallery regular, will release his new record Eleven Cages (Sunnyside) this week. The immersive album features drummer Nate Wood and bassist Thomas Morgan, working through the challenging and probing compositions of Tepfer, as well as several unexpected covers. As always, Tepfer’s playing is remarkable, exhibiting grace, dexterity, and a sharp, mindful approach to improvisation. Along with Morgan and Wood, the three approach Tepfer’s music with levity, enthusiasm, and hyper focus.

For this two-night release, the Dan Tepfer trio will include Wood on drums, as well as bassist Or Bareket. We spoke with Tepfer about the recording process, the details on developing his left hand technique, and some of his compositional concepts.

TJG: Diving right into the sound on the album—the drums have so much air, and the piano and bass meld together so well. The ‘live’ trio sound really pulls the listener in: Walk me through the preparation and recording process.

Dan Tepfer: I’ve made all my recent records at the Yamaha performance space in New York, starting with my Goldberg Variations/Variations record that came out in 2011. I’ve been a Yamaha Artist for the last seven years or so, and am lucky to have a relationship with them. For the most part, I’ve recorded these records myself in their space. For this session, Nate and I co-engineered it, using our own gear. It was literally just the three of us in the studio, which I love. If the music needs more space or time, it’s not going to cost more money. You’re not on the clock. I took a lot of time with the mixing process: I had a residency last summer at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire, where I was composing a piece for string quartet and piano. While working on that piece, I did my own mix of the album. I mixed it all again in New York with Rick Kwan, then Nate mastered it—he’s an amazing engineer.

TJG: A live record is a performance, in many ways. When we talked last about your work with Lee Konitz, you spoke about preparing for the moment, being ready to let go and be free on stage. Knowing that you’d be doing one-room recordings, did it inform your composition and rehearsal process?

DT: There’s a limited amount of editing you can do, sure. I wouldn’t say the recording method dictated the composition process: These are tunes I’ve written over the last five or six years. Putting this record out feels very cathartic for me. It’s a lot of music I’ve been wanting to get out there for a long time. Above all, each tune is an idea, a system of constraints that we work our way through. But there are actually a couple of free tracks on the record that have a lot to do with the space we’re in. Those are some of my favorite tracks on the record, because there’s nothing preplanned about them. We’re just listening hard and playing together in the space.

TJG: I’m glad you brought up the concept of the cage, of constraints. The album has eleven tracks; eleven cages, eleven different confines to explore?

DT: That’s kind of the idea, that cages make you more free. In the United States, we have ‘the tyranny of choice’ in many ways. I’ve gotten so much out of restricting my choices and seeing what can happen in that environment.

TJG: How have you personally found positivity in understanding and growing within your limitations?

DT: Well, I wouldn’t call them “my limitations,” per se; they’re limitations I choose to impose on myself. I see it as a positive thing: I think we’ve all experienced this, especially people who’ve grown up on the boundary of the internet age. The internet is just constant stimulation. So, one thing the internet never gives you is the opportunity to be bored. I grew up without a TV, and as an only child, being creative was something I did to entertain myself. When you restrict your options, it allows you to get bored, and subsequently fight your way toward something new. It’s all about keeping yourself psyched. The problem with having too many options is that you don’t have to work very hard to keep yourself psyched.

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From L to R: Matt Mitchell, Kim Cass, Kate Gentile. Photos courtesy of the artists.

Phalanx Trio consists of Matt Mitchell on piano, Kate Gentile on drums, and Kim Cass on bass. The trio is the rhythm section for Mitchell’s band Phalanx Ambassadors, the same musicians appear in Mitchell and Gentile’s project Snark Horse, and Mitchell and Gentile can often be found playing Cass’s music. All of this is to say, these musicians are no strangers to each other, and have immersed themselves in a new, open, and collaborative body of composition. Rhythmically complex, rigorously structured, and wildly exploratory, Phalanx Trio represents a dynamic and mercurial collective of rigorously rehearsed ideas. We spoke with all three members of the trio about the material they’ll be bringing to The Jazz Gallery this Saturday evening, their rehearsal practices, and their mutual fascination and affection for polyrhythms.

THE MUSIC

Kate Gentile: We’re excited to be playing two sets back-to-back. We love the music we’re playing. There’s a lot of written material, a lot of ink on the page. It’s fun to play compositions; we love improvising, but we also experiment with keeping it concise, while still going crazy places. We’re playing a few tunes from Matt’s last project, ‘A Pouting Grimace.’ On the record it’s a totally different instrumentation, with a large ensemble of eleven musicians, which included me and Kim [Cass]. In the original piece on the record, all of the improvisation is fixed in length. At The Gallery we’ll break things apart and go different directions. We vamp, we improvise, we play the ink.

Matt Mitchell: I didn’t want to repeat material from set to set. If you stay for both sets, you’ll hear two distinct sets of music. Most of this material is still brand new, even to the avid-listening general populous, but for myself and the trio, I wanted to expand. I have a lot of music that doesn’t get played as much. This show I’m excited for, because there’s stuff that hasn’t been played a huge amount live. One of the tunes we’re playing is actually just a piano trio on the record, a bizarre head, so we’re taking that and making it its own free-standing piece on Saturday. There’s another piece called Brim, and that’s a piece where everything stems from a piano part I’m playing. Basically, it’s nineteen variations on the same short piano phrase. I’m using that as a chance to move through and play freely over each of the variations, hang out in each of the zones for a while. With this trio, it’s a chance to play the music I want to play, to keep the music going, and to give me ideas to bring to larger groups.

Kim Cass: It’s this kind of anti-gravity underwater vibe. It’s what I would want to hear as an audience member. You often can’t find the beat if you don’t know where it is, which means it has to be super accurate. That’s the thing about playing really hard music. It has to be stress-free, and we’re finally getting there. We’re all interested in the same thing, which is really practicing rhythm a lot, to the point where it’s natural, if not easy. We know this material in a way where we don’t have to be freaked out to play it. If we threw this in front of someone, the results would be messy, even stressful, but the goal that we’ve had in mind is to get to a zen kind of place with it.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Already a MacArthur “Genius Grant”-winner and a multiple Grammy-nominee, drummer and composer Dafnis Prieto is still not done pushing his art in new directions. This summer, Prieto will head to the studio to record his first big band album, Tribute, featuring all original compositions and guest appearances from the likes of Steve Coleman, Henry Threadgill, and more.

This week at The Jazz Gallery, Prieto will convene his long-running Si o Si Quartet for two nights of performances, including a special reception on Thursday evening where you can get a chance to meet Dafnis and help bring this exciting new album to fruition. We at Jazz Speaks caught up with Dafnis by phone to talk about the challenges of writing for this new medium and the importance of the big band sound to the Cuban jazz tradition.

The Jazz Gallery: This is a blunt question to start with, but why put together a big band and why now?

Dafnis Prieto: It’s a combination of a few things. First, it’s that I’ve had the experience of playing with a few big bands in the past—I did a recording with the Bebo Valdes big band, for one—and I’ve always been curious about how my music and my ideas would sound in a larger format. I’ve also written a few pieces for Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra and I liked the way they came out. After that, I got a call from my co-producer Eric Oberstein, who became a great friend and partner on this big band project. I’m really excited to have the guys play my music and to have the experience of my music done in this way.

TJG: Were those pieces for the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra the first time you had written for big band?

DP: Yes, they were. At that time, they were working with Jazz at Lincoln Center and they commissioned me to write something for their concert. The resulting piece was called “Song for Chico,” which was dedicated to Chico O’Farrill. That was my first experience writing.

TJG: What did you learn from the Afro-Latin Orchestra commission about writing for big band, or how your compositional voice transferred to this new medium?

DP: I really learned a lot about the possibilities that the instrumentation provided, especially in terms of textures and voicings. I had new ways of manipulating how a musical idea comes out, making it sound as rich as possible with all the various timbres of the orchestra. There is of course a lot of richness in terms of pure sound, but I also sought to have a richness of rhythmic ideas between all of the parts.

TJG: When you were translating some of your preexisting music for smaller ensembles to the big band, how did the instrumental forces change the impact of the piece?

DP: Actually, I felt that many of the pieces that I adapted from other bands were the most challenging to work with. I already had a sense of completeness with these pieces, whether they were for a quartet or sextet. I hit a wall a few times trying to figure out what else to do with them. At those points, I had to let myself go, open myself to new possibilities, and let my imagination come through, and I eventually figured out what else I could do with those songs. A few of the older songs that I re-did for this project have completely new introductions, for example, and then some of the original material for smaller ensembles are embedded within the arrangement.

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From L to R: Gerald Cleaver, Cameron Brown, Jason Rigby. Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Saturday, April 29th, versatile,and high-flying saxophonist Jason Rigby returns to The Jazz Gallery to release One, his latest CD on the Fresh Sounds label. The new album features Cameron Brown (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums) in a configuration they’re calling the Detroit-Cleveland Trio. Known for his ‘inside-outside’ style of playing (which we discussed at length), Rigby strives to sound at home in many styles, leading to an authoritative and multidimensional sound. Rigby also teaches at Towson University, where he maintains a saxophone studio and premieres new music. At the Gallery this week, Rigby will perform new tunes from One, as well as music from a brand-new unnamed suite of music in response to our volatile and mercurial social climate. We spoke about all of the above in a recent phone interview.

The Jazz Gallery: I know you’ve been on the road for a while. Have you been getting together with the guys in the trio to work through the material from the latest album?

Jason Rigby: I’m going to get together with Cameron to work on some unison stuff that we have together. But I actually try not to rehearse too much with this group. I feel like it’s better to just let it happen.

TJG: Interesting—was there a time where you felt like you killed the energy by rehearsing too much?

JR: I don’t know if ‘killed it’ is the right phrase, but I chose these two musicians because I feel like I have a strong individual and musical connection with them. Putting the band together, it was a situation where intuition would be crucial. The times we have rehearsed, I immediately knew that we should just learn the structures and ideas, and not go too deep for rehearsal purposes.

TJG: It’s good to know how to rehearse to sound your best.

JR: Yeah, it took a little while to figure that out. The default is to think, “Oh, we gotta rehearse all the time to sound great.” That sentiment goes hand-in-hand with composing. I’ve learned a lot about how to compose for this group. After a few performances I realized I had to change some things. It’s about writing enough of a structure and themes to give the piece an identity, maybe multiple sections if it happens that way, but the group is so improvisation-based that if I over-write, it can get in the way.

TJG: If you were introducing your newest album to an uninformed listener, how would you say One follow your previous releases, Translucent Space and The Sage?

JR: First of all, for tenor players, the trio is one of the historically favorite formats over the last sixty years of recorded jazz. There have been a lot of awesome collaborations in this format. One of the first recordings I’d ever heard was Sonny Rollins Live at the Village Vanguard, which I think was actually the first live recording of a show from the Vanguard, sometime in the mid 50s. It has a couple different groups and sets, so it’s sort of a mishmash of different groups. But I think that’s the first live recording from the Vanguard. So, to an uninformed listener, the format stems from a long tradition of tenor trio albums. It differs from my earlier stuff because, on the previous two records, there was a lot of focus on composition and orchestration with the band. I feel like I’m a fairly different player now than I was on those recordings. This project is more about stretching out. I don’t feel like I allowed myself a huge amount of space on the first two records, and that’s the focus of this group. We’ve played together a bunch, I never know what’s going to happen. It’s really cool.

TJG: It’s kind of your playground then?

JR: [Laughs] Yeah, it kind of is! I trust them a lot, too. (more…)

Clockwise, from top left: Chris Dingman, Bryan Copeland, Fabian Almazan, Joe Nero, an aardvark, and Jesse Lewis. Photos by Dominick Nero.

Whimsey, wonder, and despair go head-to-head on Bryan Copeland’s new album, Sounds From The Deep Field. Inspired by the Hubble Space Telescope’s photos of the impossibly endless depth of the universe, Copeland’s new album asks searching questions about our sense of self-importance on a personal and biological scale. The album is another in a flurry of releases from Biophilia Records, an environmentally-conscious effort headed by Fabian Almazan to raise awareness about our consumption on Earth.

At The Jazz Gallery this week, Bryan and The Aardvarks will take the stage to celebrate the release of “Sounds From The Deep Field.” The band will include Jesse Lewis (guitar), Chris Dingman (vibes), Fabian Almazan (piano/keys), Bryan Copeland (bass), Joe Nero (drums), plus special guest Dave Binney (alto saxophone). We caught up with Copeland over the phone to discuss the means and methods behind this extra-terrestrial new release.

The Jazz Gallery: In an interview with AXS, you said that after you discovered the Hubble Deep Field photos, you “had this insatiable desire to express this enormity in my music and I composed most of the album in about one month.” Has anything ever spoken to you like that before?

Bryan Copeland: It actually all coincided with buying Logic Pro X. I got so into the program that I’d sit there and compose for twelve, sixteen hours a day for a month, maybe two months. It was winter, two years ago, and I just sat there and wrote the tunes, one after another. We didn’t rehearse, really. I’d booked a studio to record another project, but I realized what I’d written was much more important to me. Everyone is so busy, but I pieced together the rehearsals, and the album came together. Some of these charts are like fifteen pages long, with big roadmaps. It was a bit scary having one day booked in the studio, there was a lot of pressure, a lot of open questions. But it was amazing. And The Clubhouse Studio in Rhinebeck is so great, so welcoming. It’s on a farm, with a converted barn for sleeping quarters.

TJG: In an interview with us from several years ago, you discussed how your composition process mostly happens on the computer, because it’s visual, and the musical elements become kind of modular.

BC: Yeah. Before Logic, I’d compose all my music at the piano, playing it myself. I’m fairly limited at what I can play on the piano, and I’m obsessed with being able to hear stuff back in real time. So I would spent hours learning to play these parts on the piano, just so I could hear them. It was hugely time consuming just to be able to hear the music I was creating. In Logic, you can record it, hear it, adjust things, move forward.

TJG: So what was so inspiring about the new Logic when writing the new album?

BC: It opened up a whole compositional world where I wasn’t limited by what I could play. Again, I could record bits and pieces, move them around, and I wouldn’t lose ideas. Playing by myself on the piano, I’d come up with something, try to revisit it, and forget where my fingers were supposed to go. In Logic, it’s there forever. So before, my compositions were more standard jazz forms, AABA, fairly simplistic. With Logic, it helps with arranging, opening up sections, finding new ways of charting the territory. My compositions have expanded.

TJG: You’ve mentioned that “When we stop and appreciate that we are such a tiny part of this unimaginably infinite universe, it becomes quite difficult to continue to imagine ourselves to be some all important center of it.” As a musical prompt, this feels beyond overwhelming.

BC: I was hit by seeing those gigantic trees I’ve discussed before: I started thinking about all the things humans do to justify doing ill will on their environment and each other, out of the belief that we’re the most important thing in the universe. The more you start to look at our place in the universe from an existential standpoint, you see that we’re such a tiny, imperceptible part of this gigantic, infinite thing. It’s hard. When we look at ourselves in this huge context, how important is what we think is important?

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