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Posts from the Interviews Category

Album art courtesy of the artist.

Marta Sánchez’s long-standing quintet will return to The Jazz Gallery this week for the release of their latest album, “Danza Imposible” (Fresh Sound Records). The quintet, highlighting intricate melodic work and rich arrangements, features Roman Filiú and Jerome Sabbagh on saxophones, Rick Rosato on bass, Daniel Dor on drums, and of course Sánchez on piano and compositions. In a prior Jazz Speaks post, we spoke with Marta about her quintet work on Partenika, her previous album, which was included in New York Times journalist Ben Ratliff’s ‘Top 10’ list for 2015. Sánchez was additionally awarded a 2017 MacDowell Fellowship, where she composed new works for prepared piano. We spoke at length with Sánchez about her textural and contrapuntal approach to composing for quintet.

The Jazz Gallery: Your album titles and artwork are always intriguing. Could you tell me a little about both the title and the art for Danza Imposible (Fresh Sound/New Talent), the new record?

Marta Sánchez: The title is actually from one the pieces, meaning “Impossible Dance” in Spanish. Iit has a triplet-based groove, but it’s in 11/8, so it’s good under the hands, but something’s still weird there. The artwork is by Alicia Martin López, a friend I met in New York. We both came over with Fulbright grants. When we met, I didn’t know what she was doing on her Fulbright, but when she returned to Spain she posted some of her work, and it was beautiful. She did my previous record, Partenika, and I loved that, so I asked her to do this one too.

TJG: What do you like about this cover for Danza Imposible?

MS: Well, I think it represents the music, and now that you ask, it has this weirdness as well. It’s beautiful and attractive, but at the same time mysterious. There’s some strangeness there, and we don’t know where it comes from. My music has a bit of that too.

TJG: Is there something about the concept of impossibility that excites you as a jazz musician? A challenge to break through or overcome?

MS: I don’t think in terms of breaking through the impossible. With my titles, I’m usually thinking of something in the moment. It might be trivial, but I try to be honest with what I feel, and use what I have in sight. Yes, you have to challenge yourself and discover your music, but what attracts me most are the unexpected things. I like when I hear music and it doesn’t sound exactly how I expected. I like the unexpected, but not impossible things [laughs]. Things that surprise you.

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Photo by Devin DeHaven, courtesy of the artist.

33-year-old pianist Gerald Clayton had made the transition from up-and-comer to bonafide stalwart on the international jazz scene. His fourth album, Tributary Tales,”was released this April to acclaim: it’s at turns glassy, soulful and funky, with introspective spoken word interludes woven in. (“His pellucid touch and quicksilver phrasing can evoke swinging touchstones like Ahmad Jamal and Oscar Peterson,” Nate Chinen wrote for WBGO.)

For this gig at The Jazz Gallery, Mr. Clayton will bring a different group than the one that appears on the album, but it’s nonetheless filled with familiar faces: Ben Wendel on saxophone, Matt Brewer on bass, Marcus Gilmore on drums, and Lage Lund on guitar. He’ll play some songs from Tributary Tales and some new ones. He called in to talk about the album and the gig; here are excerpts from that conversation.

The Jazz Gallery: What is the concept of Tributary Tales?

Gerald Clayton: I’ve been really inspired by nature and water. With a tributary being a small river that flows out of a larger body of water—I’ve been reflecting on that and how what we do is really connected to what came before us. We’re not setting out to recreate a language from the past, but the essence of the music that we love—that we’ve soaked up for years and years—still exists, and we carry along those messages that we learn from the elders.

It felt fitting to just to keep looking at everything as different tributaries. Another literal meaning of tributary is paying tribute, which definitely feels like it applies to the music I play: giving a nod to the masters. All the musicians on the record coming from different places and influences and there’s a sense of connectedness between everybody. And each song on the record might have a different character, yet there’s a flow that makes them feel like they all belong on the same disc.

TJG: Seems like you have a deep connection to water: where did that stem from? A single moment?

GC: I don’t know if it’s as poetic as a single moment. But I love nature, I love surfing, the feeling of being pushed by nature. Surfing’s one of the few sports where you’re tapping into an energy source.

When I was at the Monterey Festival, I got a tour of the Monterey Bay Aquarium and got to hear about their plastics initiative to clean up the ocean and be more aware of single use plastics. To get some firsthand information from people who devote their lives to that cause was a real honor and something I want to continue with moving forward.

TJG: What are you the most proud of about the album?

GC: The record is in a way a documentation of a single day. You go on, you play it more, you keep discovering new things. That’s definitely a part of the process I cherish. I really enjoyed getting to work with Aja Monet and Carl Hancock Rux and explore the relationship between music and spoken word a little bit more. Some of the post production work I did with Gabriel Lugo, the percussionist—I went further in than I have in the past in some of the sounds and effects. I’m proud of that work.  

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From L to R: Joe Sanders, Jure Pukl, Melissa Aldana, Greg Hutchinson. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Tenor saxophonist Jure Pukl returns to The Jazz Gallery this week to celebrate the release of Doubtless. The new record, released on Inner Circle, highlights the remarkable musical synergy between Pukl and his wife, saxophonist Melissa Aldana. The record also features Greg Hutchinson (drums) and Joe Sanders (bass), and was recorded in Pukl’s home country of Slovenia. We spoke with Pukl for the second time this year to discuss the inspiration, development, and message behind the new release.

TJG: Between our previous interview and now, I was actually on tour with an orchestra in Slovenia, and was amazed by both the magnificence of the country and the generosity of everyone I met. We played in a festival at a huge castle called Grad Snežnik.

JP: Man! I know the place. I probably was there twenty years ago, for a school trip or something. Slovenia is so small, but there are still these places hidden away [laughs]. I’ve heard of that festival at Snežnik. Right now, I’m trying to establish a festival too. It’s currently a one-week clinic at the end of February, using the clubs and music school in my hometown of Velenje. But we have lakes, a camping area, restaurants, lots of space, so it would be a perfect festival site in the future.

TJG: You recorded the new album in Slovenia. Do you return often to perform?

JP: I go back every time I go to Europe, usually twice a year. I love playing in Slovenia, especially now that I’m doing this workshop in my hometown. We have around eighty students from all around Europe, from age 12 to 25, even some older musicians who want to learn new things. I bring Joe Sanders, Greg Hutchinson, Melissa of course. This year we have Shai Maestro. Last year we had Kurt Rosenwinkel in residence. And there are always European cats too. We perform for the students, make spontaneous groups, and end with a three-night festival, so the students get the real thing. It gets bigger every year, and it’s amazing that I get to play in my own hometown with such great musicians.

TJG: That’s what happens when you create your own festival: You attract students and fans to learn and socialize, and then when you want to perform and try new things, there’s an audience.

JP: Exactly. That’s how this band on Doubtless got started. We were teaching and playing at the clinic in different settings. The band started as a friendship, a family thing. Joe was at my wedding to Melissa, for example. Our first gig was at Porgy And Bess in Vienna, and our second gig was in my hometown at the workshop. After the clinic week, we did a few more gigs, then went to a studio in Slovenia and tracked all the music. We made the record in three hours. We know each other so well, we were hungry for music, and it just poured out.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

If you haven’t heard Roman Filiú’s name, you certainly know the people he’s worked with, including Chucho Valdés, Omara Portuondo, Steve Coleman, Pablo Milanés, Michael Mossman, Roy Hargrove, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, and the Buena Vista Social Club. Filiú has released two albums under his own name, including Blowin Reflections (2006) and Musae (2012), the more recent of which featured David Virelles, Adam Rogers, Reinier Elizarde, Marcus Gilmore, and Dafnis Prieto.

With support from Chamber Music America and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Filiú returns to The Jazz Gallery this week, leading his band Musae in new project titled Okàn: El Libro de Las Almas. The lineup will again include Adam Rogers and David Virelles, with additions of Maria Grand on saxophone, Matt Brewer on bass, Craig Weinrib on drums, and Mauricio Herrera on percussion. We’ve spoken with Filiú before, about his influences and upbringing. This time, we spoke further on his compositional techniques and the thematic underpinnings of his work.

TJG: At The Jazz Gallery, you’ll be premiering a new work, funded by the Doris Duke Foundation and Chamber Music America. Can you talk a little about the work?

RF: I always try to work on a theme. This project is based on an imaginary book, written by a fictional writer, on the people who have helped me in my life. Important people pass on or leave your life, you don’t see them anymore, and when you’re a kid, you say, “Well, that’s life.” But when you have a kid, you start to think about the people who supported you and never asked anything of you in return. I imagine a book where all the people who have helped me have their stories there. I love science fiction, and have been reading a lot this year, Dan Simmons’ Hyperion, books by Orson Scott Card and Ursula K. Le Guin. I similarly try to link my music to something unreal, to create something different. I’ve been trying to imagine an alternate universe where all these people who helped me still live. Sometimes you never had the opportunity to say thank you. So this is a kind of tribute, in a way.

TJG: I think I understand the concept of the theme. Could you talk about how, for you, it translates into the music?

RF: It depends on the personality of the person on my mind, the specific things they did, our ages, our relationship, or where we met. I build the music around those ideas. For example, when I was a kid, there was an old man, eighty-something years old, from Haiti. He never said a word, but when I was little, with my big saxophone, he would always help me carry it. He was slower than me, man: To walk a block with him was like one hour. But he saw my saxophone and he came by my side to help me. That happened for two years straight. I was thinking of him, of the specific slow walking pace that he had, almost like an invalid. Something like that is how I link the music and the form with the personality.

TJG: Do you know what happened to that man?

RF: Never found out. I moved when I was fourteen, to go to boarding school, and I think he moved to another part of the country around that time, or right before. I didn’t see him any more.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Sunday, October 8th, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock back to our stage. Laubrock is among the most active and sought-after exploratory improvisers working in New York, performing with luminaries like Anthony Braxton, and many acclaimed groups led by her close collaborators including Mary Halvorson, Kris Davis, and Tom Rainey. Laubrock is an active leader in her own right, always seeking novel combinations of instruments and players, like in her 2015 Jazz Gallery Commission project.

On Sunday, Laubrock will convene a new lineup of her band Serpentines. Featuring Miya Masaoka on koto and Sam Pluta on electronics, alongside more typical jazz instruments, the group straddles many compositional and improvisational traditions. We caught up with Laubrock by phone to discuss the challenges of blending these diverse instruments and organizing a team of top-flight improvisers.

The Jazz Gallery: The instrumentation for this group is a little unusual—could you talk about that?

Ingrid Laubrock: The origin of this band is not what the lineup currently is—usually we also have Peter Evans, who is not available, and Kris Davis is on piano and Tom Rainey is on drums—but the music is written in a relatively open way, so the instrumentation can be adapted. Originally this was basically a commission by the 2014 Vision Fest, which asked me to put a group together, people who I’d like to play with, and I wrote for it. I really enjoyed it—for that particular event I wrote a very very open piece. And then Intakt records, who I usually record for, agreed to record the group, and I added Peter Evans to it. Since it has koto in it and electronics, I had to adapt my usual way of writing; certain specific things can’t be played on the koto since it’s not a chromatic instrument, and likewise, on electronics, I think of it as a different instrument, therefore not a traditional jazz instrument, so it was a good challenge for me.

TJG: How do you approach writing for these things differently?

IL: I check back a lot with Miya and with Sam, so I’ll write something or have an idea—sometimes it’s very intentional, maybe global idea, a sort of drone or sound or how I want a piece to communicate electronics over the course of the piece—things like that I’ve sort of closely checked with Sam, and Miya while I was writing it. I’ve gotten together with Miya a couple of times and seen what is possible on the koto, for her to demystify it a little bit so that I could write something that was meaningful for it.

And then of course they’re all fantastic improvisers and I wanted to make sure they had scope to express that, to have a certain open modes where they can really just put in their own taste buds.

TJG: There’s also a certain amount of large group coordination that goes on that I’m curious about, how that comes into play.

IL: You have to balance it all, more than with a smaller group. In a smaller group I might not specify combinations of improvisers, I might have an open section. In a large group, it’s more like I’ll ask—you three improvise, and then you two improvise and the rest are like backgrounds, or I specify backgrounds as in improvised intersections with cells of material, so it’s a little more organized than you might find in a smaller group, to prevent it from descending into chaos.

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