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Posts from the Interviews Category

Since moving to New York over three decades ago, guitarist David Gilmore has traversed a huge range of the city’s music scenes. He’s been active member of M-Base and the plugged-in collective Lost Tribe. He’s been a sideman with the likes of Wayne Shorter and Ronald Shannon Jackson. And he’s been an in-demand session musician, recording with Elton John, Cassandra Wilson, and Joss Stone, among others. This Friday at the Gallery, Gilmore will present music from his most recent solo record Transitions (CrissCross) with the original quintet. The record features a few Gilmore originals, as well as several tributes to recently-deceased jazz legends. We caught up with Gilmore to talk about his band, influences, and musical direction; excerpts from that conversation are below.

The Jazz Gallery: You’re  performing with your quintet. How did you guys form?

David Gilmore: This quintet came about as a result of a record I did last September for Criss Cross records. They approached me to record something, and I had not had this thing in mind until approached by them. I thought of having a tribute to some recently deceased jazz ambassadors, like Toots Thieleman, we do a version of “Bluesette” by him; also Victor Bailey, a bass player who recently passed away—we did one of his songs. Bobby Hutcherson also passed away last year, so we played two of his songs, and Paul Bley, not a song of his but one he recorded by Annette Peacock, a tune that sort of encapsulates what he was all about in my opinion. I then wrote two originals, and we did another by Hermeto Pascoal, a tune called “Nem Un Talvez.” It’s sort of a mixture, but it’s mostly paying homage to a few of the recently deceased jazz greats, and so together these jazz guys I’ve worked with in various situations—like Mark Shim and Carlo DeRosa and E.J. Strickland—I thought it be good to take this direction. Victor Gould is a pianist I’ve known since he was a student at Berkeley, and he’s played my music before. So that’s how it came about. I called them up, and fortunately they were available and we knocked it out in the studio.

TJG: For the show on Friday will you be playing tunes from the record?

DG: It’s the original cast of characters from the CD, minus the guest artists, so the core quintet playing, and we’re going to play most of the tunes from the CD.

TJG: What do you see as the challenges and highlights of the ensemble?

DG: The highlights are the level of artistry that each musician brings. We’ve only done a handful of gigs since the record was recorded, so it’s different every time, and it’s just a level of artistry and chemistry that I think is great amongst these guys. What’s also great is the fact that we can actually get along—there are bands that don’t get along, but I always like working with people that I have a good time with, there’s that factor.

As far as the challenges, I could say on a personal level I find some of the music challenging. One tune of mine, “End of Daze,” is one that’s always a challenge to play, and some of the Bobby Hutcherson blues are not the repertoire I’m known for playing. To me this is more of a—dare I use the word—straight ahead kind of a vibe, which you’ll find on a lot of Criss Cross releases. My thought was to sort of bring in a concept in tune with the label and what it generally does and represents. For me that’s sort of stepping outside the box stylistically; it’s more straight ahead—I hate that word—but you know what I’m saying? There’s some out there stuff in there, but there’s some 4/4 straight-ahead swing. For me that’s actually a challenge to get inside that box, more traditional yet kind of still retain a modern edge to it. I’m not being ultra traditional—that’s not what I’m after in my music—but it is a tribute to older jazz. It is one foot in that world and one foot in the modern world, trying to bring a fresh interpretation.

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From L to R: Edward Gavitt, Andres Valbuena, Steve Williams, Alfredo Colón. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Jazz musicians have long mined contemporary popular culture to find new avenues of expression, whether Sonny Rollins’s inveterate exploration of hidden songbook gems, Miles Davis’s psychedelic fusions, or Brad Mehldau’s rhapsodic takes on Radiohead. Secret Mall—a young collective featuring Alfredo Colón on EWI, Edward Gavitt on guitar, Steve Williams on bass, and Andres Valbuena on drums—continues this tradition through their exploration of electronic music subgenres like Vaporwave and popular music more generally.

This Thursday, July 27th, Secret Mall will make their Jazz Gallery debut with two sets of subversive covers and curious originals. We caught up with members Colón, Gavitt, and Williams earlier this month to talk about the group’s origins, their upcoming EP release, and their thoughts on the silly and the serious in music.

The Jazz Gallery: How did you guys meet and how did this project start?

Alfredo Colón: I took a few lessons with Dayna Stephens and I was really inspired by his group 3WI, which features Gilad Heckselman on guitar and Adam Arruda on drums. I wanted to try doing the EWI trio thing—a bassless EWI trio with guitar and drums. So I tried that out with Ed, and a different drummer, and the result was, to be honest, kinda sad. Later, we got these gigs where we had the opportunity to put together our own music. We were playing outside, and it was a very low pressure gig, so we were really just focused on getting guys we liked hanging out with. Eventually the group became what it is now, not a bassless EWI trio, but Secret Mall.

Steve Williams: I got the call for the gig via Skype—well actually no, not Skype. I was in Texas visiting home for part of the summer, and Alfredo sent me about 10 Snapchats in a row while he was pretty drunk, being like “Yooo, we’re trying to do this EWI group. I want you to play bass.  We have this gig on July 21st, can you do it?” I was thinking “that’s the day I’m coming back from Texas” so I replied “ok, that’s the day I get back, I can do it then, but we have to rehearse that day.” Keep in mind, up to this point they have not heard me play bass yet.

AC: I hired Steve based on personality alone. And then when I got to the gig and he starts playing, I was like “Oh shit, he can play!” 

TJG: So this is definitely a friends group. What does that allow you guys to do musically, that you might not be able to do with people you don’t know?

Ed Gavitt: I think it allows us to open up more from a musical perspective. A really good example is when we took this gig at Yale. We basically hung out for 9 or 10 hours straight that day. We got into some deep jokes and I think that translated to the show—I still think that’s the most successful gig we’ve had yet. We were so comfortable in the musical setting to mess around with stuff and go in lots of different places that well-rehearsed bands don’t get to because they rehearse so much—for many of them it’s all about getting the music right and how it is on paper.

SW: I think there’s a certain amount of trust that’s there when you’re good friends with the people you’re playing with in that if we were all just sideman on this gig, and if all we did was only rehearse and not talk before and after the gigs, it wouldn’t be the same. Knowing each other so well creates an inherent trust that goes in. Our personalities off the instruments lead us to trust the personalities on the instruments.

TJG: And your inside jokes make their way into the music literally, right?

AC: So we have an EP coming out called the Yee(P)—Yee is a meme from 2010 that’s become probably the biggest inside joke in the group. If you look up Yee, it should be a six second video of a dinosaur singing [scats the melody]—we found out that the source video for that meme was from a bootleg version of the Land Before Time made by German people and sold in Italy, and we transcribed some of the text that one of the characters named Peek says, and it’s become not only the inspiration for title of our EP, but one of the tunes that we play and it’s become a musical phrase that we use throughout our sets.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Roopa Mahedevan is an in-demand Carnatic vocalist on the New York music scene, as well as around the U.S. and India. She sings regularly with a variety of Bharathanatyam dance productions and artists, and is herself a trained Bharathanatyam dancer. Roopa is the artistic director of the Navatman Music Collective, an Indian Classical Vocal ensemble, founded in 2014 by Sahi Sambamoorthy. The Collective released its first album, An Untimely Joy, in 2016.  Roopa is a core member of Brooklyn Raga Massive, who are joining her in hosting two sets at The Jazz Gallery on Friday, July 21st, as part of their “Raga Roots” series. For her Jazz Gallery debut Roopa will be joined by Anjna Swaminathan on violin and Abhinav Seetharaman on mridangam.

Roopa has a full-time job in public health policy, and wields degrees in biology and cognitive science. We caught up with her at a Midtown Manhattan coffee shop, in between her day job and her evening rehearsal, and chatted about the various projects she’s involved in, and about the challenges and opportunities that arise when playing Carnatic music in shifting settings.

The Jazz Gallery: Could you start by setting the stage for this upcoming show at the Gallery?

Roopa Mahadevan: It’s going to be pretty much a traditional Carnatic concert. I’ll be singing Carnatic vocal music. On the violin is Anjna Swaminathan. And on the mridangam, or double-headed percussion, is Abhinav Seetharaman. Carnatic musicians often don’t rehearse ahead of time, or make decisions collaboratively before they get on stage. Often the “main artist”—in this case it’s a vocal concert, so the vocalist becomes the main artist—will have a sense of what they want to do, but they may not necessarily tell the accompanists ahead of time. Because if you are a professional Carnatic artist, you’ve already spent years and years learning the technique and repertoire, so even if you don’t know a specific song, if you know the raga, or the scale, and the tala, or the rhythmic structure, you should be able to just go with it.

It’s interesting because it’s an hour-long set, which is short for Carnatic concerts. If you want to do full justice to all of the options that are available in a Carnatic concert, you could do a two-and-a-half-hour, three-hour concert. So it’s actually kind of an interesting challenge, to do this kind of music, in a setting like The Jazz Gallery, because—how do I include all of the elements I want to include in an hour? But I also think that all of us want to go deeper into the pieces that we do. There is sort of a trend in Carnatic music to amass as much as you can and then kind of vomit it all out, and I actually think there’s a lot of value in being patient with how you treat a particular piece. So this [shorter set] will help me actually, to do that.

The other interesting thing about this gig is that there are two sets. And that’s really weird for us. You don’t do two sets! So I have to decide—am I doing two different sets, or the same set twice? That’s what happens, though, when you do this music in a different kind of cultural context, these issues come up. And I would also just add that my generation of Carnatic musicians, and those of us that are not so tied to all the cultural constraints of performing it in India, for example, we share our set ahead of time. Because we want everyone to be at their best. So this idea of surprising the violinist—“hey you didn’t know I was going to do that!”—it doesn’t mean much. I’d rather us all be able to enjoy everything when we’re on stage. Knowing that the other musicians are happy and confident gives me confidence. It feels like we’re in it together as a team.

TJG: Have the three of you played together as a group before?

RM: Anjna and I have played together many times. Abhinav is very busy—he’s as student at Columbia—it’s hard to track him down. The last time we all played together actually was for my group, Navatman Music Collective. I composed a tillana, a little rhythmic piece. We had Abhinav, Anjna, and then a Portuguese guitarist, Pedro Henriques da Silva.

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Michael Cain (middle) and members of Sola. Photo courtesy of the artist.

A true musical polymath, pianist Michael Cain has forged a unique path through the international jazz scene over the last three decades. Cain has worked closely with artists as diverse as Jack DeJohnette, Billy Higgins, Greg Osby, and Me’Shell Ndege’Ocello, and his own music draws from traditions from around the world. His current working band is called Sola, and finds Cain exploring various forms of hip hop and electronica. An old Gallery regular, Cain will bring Sola to our stage this Thursday, July 20th, for two sets. We caught up with Cain last week by phone; excerpts of the conversation are below.

The Jazz Gallery: What’s your history with The Jazz Gallery?

Michael Cain: I’ve played there many times, but it’s been a while. I used to play there all the time when it first opened. The Gallery was my spot—it was my favorite. I’ve been friends with Rio Sakairi since before the Gallery opened, so I’ve seen it go through its various evolutions.

TJG: Can you talk about your band Sola, which is coming to the Gallery?

MC: Sola is the name of my working band right now, and the name of my last album. It was a combination of different horns and keyboard sounds and electronics. It’s an ensemble that helps me get to the world that I like living in.

TJG: What is that world?

MC: I would say that it’s some sort of combination of jazz, and some hip hop in there, and EDM and electronica, and somewhere there’s rock & roll—a kind of hybrid music. I hear all of those elements most clearly in the music.

TJG: Who are some of the people in the hip hop world that you’ve been listening to recently?

MC: I’m really into Kendrick Lamar and I’ve been spending a lot of time with Jay-Z’s new album. Definitely a lot of Migos.

For me, I need to hear what’s happening in the community right now, what people are dancing to. These days, I feel like I live in different places. I teach at Brandon University in Canada, and I spend a lot of time nowadays in Las Vegas, which is my hometown. When I’m in Vegas—which is a great place for music—I’m going out clubbing every night I can. So I’m listening to whatever’s playing in the club, whatever remixes are coming through. I feel I have to get that side of the music.

In my music—I’m 51 years old, so I’m not trying to imitate that music. But I have to hear that music to get to the sounds that I want to play, for some reason. I’ll start there, and really get a sense of what people are dancing to in a big way.

TJG: Are you trying to directly connect to this popular culture with your music, or is it just something that you’re opening yourself up to as a potential influence?

MC: That’s a great question. I would answer that two ways. One, because I’ve been a teacher for so long, I’m always connected to young culture. I keep getting older every year, but the students don’t, so I always have to stay plugged into what they’re talking about. Teaching is an exchange for sure, so they’re learning from me and I’m learning from them. So that’s part of it, but my ear has always naturally flowed that way too. I’ve always been fascinated with the music that young people are making. I’ve always been interested in their perspective—the sounds, the ideas, the concepts, how they’re constructing their world.

More specifically, it’s the nature of dance. It’s what’s happening in the club. For me, the club is the ritual. That’s where a lot of the music is really alive. What’s interesting about clubbing in Vegas, though, is that it’s not a velvet rope thing, or an age thing. Everybody from all generations can be there. I feel that the club is where everything comes together—the people, the dance, the sound, the energy. Because I study this music so much, when I go to write my own music, I can really feel how those sounds and sensibilities can play out in what I’m doing.

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40Twenty (2012, Yeah Yeah Records)

“…those ‘forty-twenty’ sets the club owners wanted everybody to play. They wanted you to begin your set twenty minutes after the hour and play until the end of the hour and then come back twenty minutes later and play another set”

Miles Davis

Writing about 40Twenty for The New York Times back in the summer of 2010, Ben Ratliff described the band, a Brooklyn-based collective featuring trombonist Jacob Garchik, pianist Jacob Sacks, bassist Dave Ambrosio, and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza, as reminiscent of the mood of ’60s Paul Bley albums with their “dry, controlled radicalism; a smeary version of chamber jazz.” In advance of their sets at The Jazz Gallery this Wednesday, July 12, 2017, we caught up with the band’s pianist to discuss in greater detail the origins of the ensemble; the past, present, and future of the long-form gig; and how repeat performances enable musicians and listeners alike to move beyond the surface of the music and understand the core values of a band.

The Jazz Gallery: Everybody in the band has known each other for years, but how did this particular ensemble form?

Jacob Sacks: The concept of that band was to try to do a long-form gig, basically. Vinnie Sperrazza and I had talked about this idea: how Monk would play six months at the Five Spot. At that time, we were talking about we felt like we’d missed something, not getting to do something like that, and I’d gotten to play with Paul [Motian] at the Vanguard for a week—five different weeks, actually—and each of those weeks was really instructive.

When you get to do more than one gig in a row, you get deeper into the music, and when Brian Drye gave us two weeks at IBeam, we got it together, more or less.

TJG: There’s that great Miles Davis quote you reference in the 2012 album’s liner notes.

JS: Yeah, but he hated that, though. He eventually got it so he wouldn’t do all those sets they want you to do, because those cats would often play from 9 to 4, six or seven sets, whatever it was, if you can imagine.

TJG: The name of the band’s sort of ironic, then?

JS: Yeah. When we play, we usually try to perform 40 minutes sets and take 20 off. We won’t do that at The Jazz Gallery where the format is two longer sets, but we often set up the gigs like that.

TJG: So even though Miles wasn’t into it, you still tried it out?

JS: Well, it wasn’t so much the convention of 40/20 that was the thing—it was more the convention of playing a bunch of nights in a row. It was to try to experience what our heroes in the music often did (obviously on a much smaller scale). They would do six months, maybe five to seven hours a night; we did two weeks, two sets a night.

When I was a kid though—I grew up in southeastern lower Michigan, northwestern Ohio area—Rusty’s Jazz Cafe was 9 to 2, so you’d play four sets at least at that place. That was my training as a kid, and you might play Friday to Saturday, two nights of five set gigs in a row. Even some places up in Ann Arbor, like I used to play at this place called the Bird of Paradise: That was 9 to 1, and that was 3 sets at least, if I remember correctly; and so that was my upbringing—having to play 25 to 35 solos a night.

You do a lot of tunes, but I realized when I moved to New York that, back in the Midwest on those gigs you could play 35 tunes over the course of a gig, but you might not need to know how to play them 100 different ways. You might know one way of playing on each tune, and the tune itself might change—the variables:  different tempo, different feel, whatever it was—but here in New York, I always felt like, “Oh, you need to know 500 tunes and 500 ways of playing each of those 500 tunes,” which is good, actually. So that’s the one great thing about New York, is that so many different people are here. You just get a sense there are a lot of different ways to play the same old thing, whereas there, there were a number of great musicians, but not the numbers here, where there’s probably 1000 great jazz piano players in New York alone. That’s 1000 great ways to play right there.

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