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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Posts from the Interviews Category

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Artists hard-pressed to consider the vibraphone to be their first-call instrument nevertheless find Joel Ross to be a first-call instrumentalist. A typical work week might take Ross downtown on a Monday night, uptown on a Thursday night and leading his own group on Saturday and Sunday—and those are just the New York gigs.

At 23, the vibraphonist and composer has traveled the world, collaborating with some of the music’s most enduring and distinctive voices, from Herbie Hancock and Christian McBride to Gerald Clayton and Ambrose Akinmusire. In a rare moment of rest just after his hit with Marquis Hill’s Blacktet at the White Plains Jazz Fest—and right before his record date with Melissa Aldana’s quintet—Ross slowed his tempo to a walking pace long enough to discuss rhythmic interpretations, reactions versus reflections and what he learned—and unlearned—studying with Stefon Harris.

The Jazz Gallery: You have a deliberate way of articulating each sound while maintaining a fluidity in your lines and across all your ideas. Can you talk about how your touch, specifically, allows you to interpret the music the way you hear it—or the way you want to play it?

Joel Ross: When I was at the Brubeck Institute, I was studying with Stefon Harris, and he basically revamped—we had to deconstruct, then reconstruct—my entire technique. After working with him was when I started feeling better on the instrument. I used to get pain in my forearm or in the palm of my hands from not stretching before a gig or from using the wrong technique while playing. So once he helped me get that together, I felt like I could do more with the instrument.

With that newfound freedom, I was able to figure out what I wanted my sound to be. I very specifically want clarity. I want people to be able to hear every note. I’m very particular with how I approach rhythm, so most of my playing is very rhythmic-oriented, first and foremost, and I want the clarity of those rhythms with whatever harmony might be happening at the same time.

TJG: You began on the drum kit.

JR: I started playing drums with my brother. We were about 2 or 3 years old. I didn’t start playing mallet instruments or the vibraphone until I was about 10—in the fifth grade.

TJG: And how would you say your commitment to clarity of rhythmic intention and rhythmic articulation has influenced your clarity with what you want to articulate harmonically?

JR: I’ve only recently reached this feeling of how I relate to rhythm. But I’ve had this type of harmonic—well, I’ve always been a big theory fan. I’m not sure how much I actually know, but I’m very interested in theory. So I would learn, at least in high school, what harmony and scales relate to what chords, but I was never one to transcribe. I never transcribed in high school. Me and my brother, we were church musicians, so we’d just be using our ears. I would listen to records—Miles, Trane and Monk—and just kind of hear what they’re doing, hear the language, but I never transcribed it. So when I would go back to try to play something I heard—I was usually just trying to go from memory—I knew it wouldn’t be exactly what they played, but it would be inspired by [their sound] enough to my liking, and it would also include my own sound. So that was the harmonic concept I had for a long time. And then once I studied with Stefon, we also went over some harmonic stuff that helped get my ears together. So at that point, which was when I started figuring out more of my rhythmic thing, I was able to connect the harmony—from my ears getting stronger—to the rhythm I was hearing and wanting to play.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Bassist Hwansu Kang will present a collection of all original compositions at The Jazz Gallery this week. The overarching theme is “We go forward,” which has become something of a mantra for Kang. A graduate of The New School and a masters student at the Manhattan School of Music, Kang uses music to emphasize how he and his peers have collectively been discovering the beauty of a tradition of “music that never stays same.”

For his show at the Gallery, Kang is presenting a quintet featuring New York-based colleagues—Brandon Woody on trumpet, Abdulrahaman “Rocky” Amer on trombone, Guy Moskovich on piano, and JK Kim on drums. Speaking by phone, Kang dove into a few of his compositions, and shared his artistic vision for the upcoming generation of young musicians.

TJG: You graduate from school next year, correct?

Hwansu Kang: This will be my last year, yes. I graduated from the New School last year, and I’m at Manhattan School of Music right now for my masters, so I have one more year to go. It’s really good, things just got started again this week. Stefon Harris is the chair right now, and he’s bringing great artists through school. Buster Williams, Kendrick Scott, lots of amazing people.

TJG: You assembled an interesting quintet for this show at The Jazz Gallery. Could you tell me a little about some of the people you’ll be playing with?

HK: JK Kim is my best friend. I met him in New York about two years ago. When I first played  him, he was the drummer I always dreamed of, the one I’d always wanted to play with. We speak the same language, we’re from the same country, and we understand each other musically. In a short amount of time, we grew up together as musical partners. He always brings more than I expect. I also met Brandon, the trumpeter, at MSM, where we put a combo ensemble together. He’s got a great thing going. He speaks through the trumpet. His language is so unique, his voice is so fresh to me.

We met Rocky, our trombone player, through the same MSM ensemble. He can literally speak anything through his instrument. He knows how to control it, how to make any sound, how to express himself. And Guy Moskovich, I’ve probably known him for a couple of years, but had never played with him until last year. I brought him in to play a tune of mine once, and he played exactly how I wanted it to be played: I didn’t explain anything, we didn’t really talk, we just started playing, and he just got it. We’re all from the same generation, and I believe we understand certain things that we don’t have to talk about. I trust and appreciate every one of these musicians in the band, and they respect me as a composer and bassist.

TJG: What will you be playing?

HK: It’s going to be all my originals. Almost everything has been written while at MSM, and the music has just come out of me. I’m going to playing some of these tunes for the first time in this show, and I’m really looking forward to it.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

“I’ve been in New York for thirteen years,” says bassist Harish Raghavan, “and I can probably count the gigs that I’ve led on one hand.” It’s not like Raghavan hasn’t been busy during his time on the New York scene. He’s a top-call sidemen for veteran bandleaders and his peers alike, including vocalist Kurt Elling, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, and saxophonist Walter Smith III. But since the end of 2017, Raghavan has started stepping out as a leader with a working quintet, featuring four young Jazz Gallery regulars—saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, vibraphonist Joel Ross, pianist Micah Thomas, and drummer Jeremy Dutton.

Raghavan and company return to The Jazz Gallery this Saturday, September 15, for two sets, with guitarist Charles Altura filling in for Mr. Ross. We caught up with Raghavan by phone to discuss the impetus for starting this band, where the project has taken him as a composer, and what’s next for the group.

The Jazz Gallery: You’ve been working in this quintet figuration for several months now. What made you want to start a working band?

Harish Raghavan: This had been a long-term idea of mine. I wanted to do a record, because I hadn’t done one yet. I didn’t want to just throw something together. I wanted to get the music out in front of people and feel that energy. I had never really led a band before—I led gigs here and there.

So with that idea for the record, I wanted to go out and book some gigs—for the first six months of the year, I was going to book a gig a month and see if we could get a sound together. I recorded the second gig that we did at ShapeShifter Lab and even by that point, it really felt that we had a sound. I think it’s because I know all of these guys, but also because they’re all friends with each other. Instantly, there was a rapport and we really got through the music quickly.

That was the first six months. Since then, the guys in the band have gotten super busy. In June, I was looking for a time for us to get into the studio, but we couldn’t get everyone together for a session until December. So at that point, I decided to book more gigs, which is how this Gallery show happened.

TJG: In terms of putting out a record, did the motivation come more from having a band or presenting your compositions?

HR: I’m a very goal-oriented person. I need something to push me to do something. The music didn’t come first. I chose the band and booked the gigs, and then I decided that I wanted all new music for the gigs. It didn’t take that long—I don’t know why—but I was able to get a some new music together more quickly than usual. Back in December of last year, I booked our first gig—not with this band exactly, but with a few of the guys—just to see how it felt to lead a group and it felt really good. It almost felt obvious that this is what I should be doing more of. That inspired me to write more, and that’s the material that we’ve been playing up until now. Since we can’t all get together until December, I decided to write a new music. For this gig, I wanted to have two sets of all new music, but that’s not going to happen. Though we are going to have one new set of music.

Mainly, I’ve been writing from the piano, but I feel I’ve exhausted everything I can do at the piano right now, so for this gig I composed everything from the bass. This is a bit of a change for me, and I definitely needed a goal like this gig to get me to try something new and finish it.

TJG: Why did you pick these young guys to be in the band, rather than players with whom you have a longer history?

HR: First of all, these guys are mature beyond their years. I had heard them a lot and knew them and knew that they could really play. Second, they could do the gigs! Because I wanted to do six gigs as a band, if I wanted to do that with Eric Harland, Taylor Eigsti, Logan Richardson, and Charles Altura, we could only do that many gigs over the course of like three years. The young guys were here in the city, could rehearse when we needed to, and then play all the gigs. Having those regular monthly gigs also really helped me with the writing because I always had a deadline. This process really helped me progress as a composer.

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Trina Basu (L) and Arun Ramamurthy (R). Photo courtesy of the artists.

It’s not uncommon for musicians to find inspiration in a realm beyond their musical upbringing. Violinist Trina Basu takes that idea to the next level, having been raised in a Western Classical tradition and subsequently immersing herself in the worlds of both jazz and Indian Classical music. A native of Miami, Florida, Basu received a fellowship in 2007 to study Carnatic Classical violin in Chennai, India. After arriving back in New York, Basu found herself performing in a wide range of style-defying ensembles.

Today, Basu co-leads the chamber ensemble Karavika, as well as Brooklyn Raga Massive, A.R. Balaskandan’s Akshara, Adam Rudolph’s Go: Organic Orchestra, Neel Murgai Ensemble, and many others. As an educator and music therapist in the New York area and beyond, Basu has organized musical initiatives focusing on both underserved youth, hospitalized children and adults, and Alzheimers and stroke patients. Like her own performance career, Basu’s educational work focuses on expanding the musical horizons of her students. 

Along with her musical partner and husband Arun Ramamurthy, Trina Basu will perform at The Jazz Gallery with a quartet rounded out by cellist Marika Hughes and bassist Rashaan Carter. The mission of the group, called Nakshatra, is to reimagine “the potential of string Chamber Music for our global times.” We caught up with Basu via phone, and discussed the breadth of her musical career

The Jazz Gallery: I’ve heard unbelievable recordings of you and Arun playing duo. Can you walk me through the experience of incorporating Marika Hughes and Rashaan Carter into your sound?

Trina Basu: Thanks! This show will be the first time we’re playing as a string quartet, so it should be fun. As Arun and I have been building more original material together, we’ve experimented with bringing other musicians into the fold. Marika and Rashaan have been friends and colleagues of ours for several years, and they’re two of our favorite musicians and improvisers. We’ve had our hearts set on playing with them, and this show at The Jazz Gallery seemed like the right time to bring them in. Marika and Rashaan will give us that beautiful low-end that is so essential to the string quartet sound. 

TJG: So what will you be playing together at The Jazz Gallery?

TB: The music is all original, written by Arun and myself. We’ve been playing together for about ten years. We met playing music in a group called Akshara back in 2007. We were playing on similar scenes but come from different musical backgrounds: Arun is a Carnatic South-Indian trained violinist but is influenced by much more, whereas I’m trained as a Western Classical violinist who came into Indian Classical and other styles later in life. When we met, we had great musical and personal chemistry. We ended up getting married several years later, and now we have children together, so life has gotten pretty crazy. Over the past couple years we’ve been developing original music together and it’s really exciting. The music will draw from our roots in tradition but will take on new shapes reflective of our individual voices. 

TJG: So what does that mean for the sound you’ve created together, in musical terms?

TB: Our music is rooted in the Carnatic ragas and rhythmic structures. As a string quartet we can tap into the chamber music sound and create beautiful rich drones which is perfect for raga improvisations. There is a lot of experimentation and “breaking rules,” if you will, but we do try our best to retain the spirit of the raga or whatever it is we are tapping into at the moment. We’re both influenced by so many different styles of music but I think you will also find threads of jazz, western classical, and some version of experimental minimalist music. 

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

It may come as some surprise that trumpeter Nabaté Isles, an accomplished and (by some standards) mid-career musician, just recently released his first album as a leader. That, in large part, is due to Isles’ career in the world of sports media, production, and entertainment, having been the host of So Much to Talk about on Manhattan cable, SiriusXM’s NBA Radio, and winner of both ESPN’s Stump The Schwab and Crackle/NBC Sports’ Sports Jeopardy. Leading two careers at once, Isles is no stranger to music, having played in big bands lead by Christian McBride, Oliver Lake, Mike Longo, and Charli Persip. His musical upbringing includes all forms of jazz, R&B, pop, Motown, as well as exposure to classical music from his time at Eastman school of Music.

Isles held nothing back on his debut solo release, Eclectic Excursions, produced by Sam Barsh. Featuring sixteen tracks with myriad influences, the album includes an outrageous lineup, far too long to list here in its entirety, but including such notables as Christian McBride, Nate Smith, Ben Williams, Johnathan Blake, Jimmy Owens, David Gilmore, Stacy Dillard, Jaleel Shaw, Frank Lacy, Alita Moses, and Michael Mayo. We spoke with Isles via phone about the full intersection of influences and experiences represented by his new album.

TJG: How goes the preparation for the show?

Nabaté Isles: It’s going well, I’m looking forward to it. We’re doing pretty much all music from the record, and most of the cats that were on the album are playing on the show.

TJG: You’re kidding! There were so many people on the album, how could they all fit on that stage?

NI: [Laughs] It’s going to be a somewhat condensed group, including Stacy Dillard on saxophones, David Gilmore on guitar, Adam Klipple on keyboards, Ben Williams on bass, Johnathan Blake and Jaimeo Brown on drums, all of whom were on the record except Jaimeo, who couldn’t make it. We’ll also have Jimmy Owens, of course, my musical dad, and flautist Elsa Nilsson.

TJG: That’s still only a fraction of the people on Eclectic Excursions—you really pulled out all the stops for this album. How did you keep track of the logistics involved? I imagine it must have taken a lot of work.

NI: I have to tell you, it actually didn’t take a lot of work. Everything went off without a hitch. Around May of 2017, I wrote down a list of everyone who I wanted to be on the album, and then contacted them to ask about the last week of November, after Thanksgiving weekend, because a lot of people are in town during that time, yet not much is happening then. Basically, everyone was free to do the session, which was amazing. Johnathan Blake, David Gilmore, Jaleel Shaw, we go back more than twenty years, and it was great to be able to bring them all together. The planning and organizational process beforehand, now that took time. I wanted to make sure everything was straight for these cats to feel comfortable and relaxed in the studio. We did two major days at The Bunker Studio. I came up with a schedule based on who was playing what, because I didn’t want many people waiting around. It was kind of like a Rubik’s Cube, getting all of the colors organized together.

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