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Posts from the Interviews Category

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A master of trombone multiphonics in the tradition of Albert Mangelsdorf, and a successful arranger for TV, Joe Fiedler can cover huge aesthetic ground during the course of single performance. Fiedler’s home-base trio with bassist Rob Jost and drummer Michael Sarin can slide in and out of abstraction on a dime, while his low-brass quartet Big Sackbut showcases a diverse cast of top-notch players.

This month marks the release of Fiedler’s newest record as a leader, Like Strange (Multiphonics Music), which augments his working trio with saxophonist Jeff Lederer and guitarist Pete McCann. On Saturday, March 25th, Fiedler and his quintet will celebrate the release of the record at The Jazz Gallery with two sets of this new music. We caught up with Fiedler by phone to discuss his music’s new directions and how he thinks about combining highly-contrasting musical influences.

The Jazz Gallery: This record marks a bit of departure from your work with your trio or Big Sackbut. What made you want to write for a quintet like this one?

Joe Fiedler: It’s a pretty simple answer, really. I’ve had the trio for thirteen years, I believe, and we’ve done four records. I love playing with those guys. But compositionally, I felt like I needed to step away from things like using multiphonics and other extended techniques to fill the space and make things interesting. I was hearing richer harmonies and textures, so I decided to keep the same trio, but then bring on a couple of extra players—people I’ve played with in different sideman situations for twenty-some years. I wasn’t really looking for a specific instrumentation,  but more for specific creative voices, so Jeff Lederer and Pete McCann were no-brainers. They’re guys I have a rapport with, and so I know the hookup will be right there. They can also range from freer playing to more inside playing.

TJG: What in particular about Jeff and Pete make them the right fit for this group? Why have you stayed close musical compatriots for so long?

JF: There’s definitely an intangible factor to it. With Jeff, one of the things we share is that as young guys, we shared a lot of influences—and those influences stay with you your whole career. I was always into a lot of saxophone players, and we both loved David Murray, Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp. But if you talk to Jeff, he’ll say that his favorite instrument is the trombone, so we’ve dug a lot of the same trombone players as well. There’s just a lot of commonality there and as a result, both of our musics are grown out of the same pot, in their own ways. With that, I don’t have to explain what I’m trying to get at in a certain tune—he gets it.

Pete is just a freak of nature. He covers more terrain than just about anyone I know. He’ll play with singer-songwriters, and then he’ll play this super avant-garde gig, and then he’ll play with Darcy James Argue’s big band where the guitar book is really complex. He’s just a chameleon. Whereas Pete’s listening influences and definitely different than mine, he’s just a supportive player that no matter what I want to do, he’s able to follow. If I’m blowing a certain way, he gets it immediately and just comps so well. He’s one of the best guitar players on planet earth as far as I’m concerned.

TJG: In a lot of the tunes on the record, I was really struck by the rich harmonic palette and the clear song forms, compared to what you’ve done with the trio. Why do you think you were drawn to these kinds of materials at this point?

JF: This goes a bit back to some of my heroes as I was coming up, like David Murray and Ray Anderson. What always struck me about those guys was that they were able to play tunes—both had great standards records—and also have this incredible avant-garde creative voice that they could fit within that. While I was a young guy, I couldn’t do that. I would play my crazy free stuff all over the tunes and it sounded awful. As I was developing my own creative voice as a composer at the start, I had other thoughts in my head. I wanted to play with much more angularity, and a lot of the compositions were driven that way. But I’ve always wanted to get to a point—and I don’t know if I necessarily want to stay in this place—where I was writing more traditional songs, things that had a lot of flexibility. I love that in Mingus’s music you can have this blues-based tune and then have this really free solo in there and then have a really tonal solo in there. I also loved the accessibility that Murray or Anderson or Archie Shepp had. Avant-garde fans loved them, and mainstream jazz fans would dig them too. Not that I’m naive enough to think I’m going to be some jazz star, but I like the fact that I can play this record for my mom and she would dig it, versus for the other records she would be like, “Oh that’s nice, dear.” But again, it’s without compromising my vision, and especially my improvising. That doesn’t change from record to record, it’s just how it gets set up by the tunes.

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A Brooklyn-based singer, composer, and multi-instrumentalist, Nerissa Campbell grew up on the west coast of Australia and on the island of Bali, where she became enamored of the island’s traditional gamelan music. She later studied jazz at the Western Australia Academy of Performing Arts and since then has released four records as a leader, showcasing her distinct and worldly musical personality. Her 2016 album After the Magic (Crooked Mouth Music) is a beautifully ethereal affair, featuring original compositions performed by a mixed ensemble of jazz improvisers and members of the New York gamelan ensemble Dharma Swara.

This Thursday, March 23rd, Ms. Campbell will take The Jazz Gallery stage to perform selections from After the Magic, as well as new material. We caught up with Campbell by phone to talk about working with traditional folk instruments in a new context and how she’s carved out a niche for herself in New York’s busy and diverse jazz scene.

The Jazz Gallery: I wanted to talk about your latest album, After The Magic. The gamelan ensemble, Dharma Swara, is in New York, and it’s one you’re a member of. How did you get connected to that scene?

Nerissa Campbell: When I was a kid, we spent a lot of time in Bali, living there, but I wasn’t allowed to play gamelan, since I was a girl. I was always totally fascinated with it, and always asked if I could play, but it was like, “no, no, no, you can’t.” So I was living in New York for a while, and I saw this Balinese gamelan, Dharma Swara, was going to be playing at BAM café, and I was super excited and wanted to take my husband to see it, so he could see the music that I grew up amongst. So we went along to that show, and there were women in the group! So I was like, “maybe I can play gamelan finally!”

I’d already been thinking about writing some music that was an exploration of our time in Bali, using the sounds that I remembered and my background in jazz, trying to combine the two, so I was really excited at the prospect that I could actually join a gamelan and learn more about the music. I’ve been playing with Dharma Swara on and off since 2010. I’m not playing in the group at the moment, but I feel very much a part of it, and hope to get back to it soon.

TJG: What was the composition process of the album like for you?

NC: It was really challenging, actually. Not so much compositionally but more personally and emotionally. I felt a really strong pull to write for gamelan in a technical way that honored how gamelan is played traditionally, but the more I explored that, the more I realized that it wasn’t going to be true to the project. I had some concerns about that, because I didn’t want to take away from what gamelan music was. I was lucky to meet Balinese composer and musician Dewa Ketut Alit who was here teaching Dharma Swara as an artist in residence. We became good friends and had a lot of conversations about writing new music for gamelan and what it meant for Balinese music and new music in general. Alit, along with a few people close to me, were a great help in me getting my head around what I wanted to do and being true to the project.

TJG: You came up with this idea in 2007, and the album came out in 2016. Clearly, a lot of things must have changed, because it was a long process—can you talk about that?

NC: Yeah. I had the idea in 2007—I started writing the songs after a return trip to Bali, and played some of them in a jazz setting over the years. So they came into being in a more traditional jazz combo setting. The songs on the album were always sort of mulling around, becoming, and in that time, 2007-2016, I actually released two other albums of completely different music. This allowed for the After the Magic material to really develop itself, which is an amazing luxury to have.

It went through different iterations, I was always revisiting the material, thinking it needs to be more of this and less of that, and it was kind of a confusing process. It was an album I was really glad to have had so much time to contemplate, and in the end it came out how I imagined I wanted it to be; it’s a simple album, very dreamlike and haunting, and very close to my heart.

TJG: I’m interested—not that it has to be one or the other—in if you felt your presence more as a vocalist or as a composer, or how both those things are present for you in your work.

NC: I see them both as being entwined. Performance is an important part of what I do, and then the other side of being a composer is just as important, it’s just a different process. I guess a lot of musicians can understand that, if they write and perform. It’s been my focus for a really long time to write original music, so they’re both who I am. My background is in jazz, so I came up singing standards and doing a lot of gigs in that setting, but I felt like personally I didn’t have anything additional to contribute to that particular world, which I love, and which is always a part of who I am musically. But at an early point in my career it became clear that I wanted to write original music; it has been a way for me to really develop my personal style, both in performance and writing, and contribute that way.

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For one night this weekend, The Jazz Gallery will become home to the evanescent Phantom Station, a modular and exploratory trio assembled by guitarist Brandon Ross. Phantom Station, in this iteration, will consist of drummer JT Lewis and pianist David Virelles. Lewis is a fellow member of Harriet Tubman, Ross’s often-described ‘avant power trio’ which recently released a new album, Araminta.

Over the years, Ross has collaborated with a voracious array of experimental musicians, including Henry Threadgill, The Lounge Lizards, Me’Shell N’degeocello, and Wadada Leo Smith. Beyond his releases with Harriet Tubman and his duo work with Stomu Takeishi, Ross’s Costume was released on the Japanese label Intoxicate Records to rave reviews, and Ross’s compositions can be found in the scores to various films and commissioned works. We caught up with Ross to discuss his musical upbringing in the city, his approach to improvisation, and the life of the author Chester Himes.

The Jazz Gallery: You’ve been on the scene for a long time. Where would you point a new listener to help orient them to your sound?

Brandon Ross: I would probably bookend the approaches I do, starting with For Living Lovers, my acoustic duo with Stomu Takeishi. We did an album of that music in 2014 on Sunnyside Records. Next, I’d send new listeners to Make A Move with Henry Threadgill back in ’96. Then, to one of my Japanese CDs, Costume or Puppet. Then, of course, anything by Harriet Tubman.

TJG: You’re involved with a large number of projects and collaborators, but it’s not a disparate collection of gestures or statements—it’s a reflection of a singular approach. Do you find yourself referring back to former projects for guidance? How do you keep your integrity while moving forward?

BR: I’ve been talking about this a lot lately. I’ve always gone back to something Ornette Coleman told me the first time I met him in the early 80s: “Always be musically yourself.” In the process of acquiring skills and knowledge, it’s easy to become enamored by things we appreciate. They may have something to do with who we are, or they ultimately may not. With most of my mentors—Leroy Jenkins, Henry Threadgill, Butch Morris, Muhal Richard Abrams, Lester Bowie, Wadada Leo Smith—the focus was always on coming to something they were asking you to do as innovators and composers. Coming to something in your own way, finding your own path. Not playing in a style. That early mentoring and musical experience keeps me high, so to speak.

TJG: Young musicians keep pouring into the city. Do you still see that system of mentorship alive around you?

BR: I don’t see it in the same way. I don’t say that critically, it was just another time. When I came to New York, you could get gigs with people who were professionals, they had ideas, concepts, they were working, you could get a direct connection and play somewhere. These days, it’s more about the academy. People are referencing artifacts in recordings. Some people still teach, but it’s largely a new and different process of arriving at what the music’s all about.

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“Listen, I came to you to study karate, and you have me doing all these chores.” Victor Provost summarized his life-changing lessons with legendary jazz educator Charlie Banacos by paraphrasing The Karate Kid. Provost is no stranger to dedication. A native of St. John in the Virgin Islands, Provost discovered the steel pan at an early age, and quickly took flight with an independent, enterprising spirit. By learning tunes from records, taking correspondence lessons, seeking out mentors, and holding down solo gigs, Provost has built a singular voice on a complex and unusual instrument. He eventually moved to Pittsburgh, then Virginia, where he dedicated himself to studying with Charlie Banacos—his own Mr. Miyagi, if you will—and internalizing his infamous exercises and lines. Provost ultimately obtained his Bachelors and Masters in Music at George Mason University, where he now teaches, all while touring and expanding his sound, working with the likes of Paquito D’Rivera, among others.

This week, Provost will play at The Jazz Gallery to celebrate the release of Bright Eyes (Sunnyside, 2017). Praised by Downbeat for his “hypnotic speed and seductive melodicism,” Provost has covered significant new ground on his latest release. Citing his 2011 release, Her Favorite Shade of Yellow, Provost said “I wanted to shatter built-in expectations by showing that you can swing on this instrument… On Bright Eyes, I let all of those cultural influences seep back in.” The show at the Gallery will feature a world-class quintet consisting Jacques Schwarz-Bart (saxophones), Robert Rodriguez (piano), Zach Brown (bass), and Ulysses Owens Jr. (drums). On a cold winter morning, we chatted with Provost about the power of discipline, his teaching residency in the Virgin Islands, and the timeless lessons of The Karate Kid.

The Jazz Gallery: Congrats on the release of Bright Eyes! You’re getting some stellar press, which is good to see.

Victor Provost: Thank you, thank you. Back in August, I was calling PR folks, and a few actually turned me down, saying “We don’t understand how we can push or market this project for you.” A few more said they were booked for the summer. I was feeling kind of down on my luck, but then I just hit the pavement, made as many calls as I could make, and things started happening. The Washington Post feature, the Downbeat editor’s pick. Sunnyside has done an amazing job too; the album is getting hooked up with the WBGO scene. I’m pleasantly surprised and proud.

TJG: No need for the surprise, the album deserves it. Will you be performing tunes from the album at the upcoming show?

VP: Oh yeah, that’s the idea. We’ll play through the record in full. And then maybe we’ll swing a little bit too. I enjoy doing it but don’t get to just swing too often. I’m super excited to be playing with these guys at the Gallery. The guys on the record are Alex Brown and his brother Zach, as well as Billy Williams Jr. On this date for The Gallery, I’ll have Robert Rodriguez on keys, Ulysses Owens on drums, and Zach will play bass, then my friend Jacques Schwarz-Bart will join us on saxophone.

TJG: As a jazz percussionist, you must have to choose the other percussionists on stage very carefully. What do you like about playing with Ulysses Owens Jr?

VP: Man. The first time I worked with Ulysses was in 2009, right after I moved to DC. He was commissioned to write something for the Kennedy Center. This community student steel band I was helping got the call to play his music. We hit it off, man. It was the first time we’d met, and in that capacity we were fellow teachers. We met a few years later in Harlem, and he said “I’ve got a gig at Dizzy’s, come and join the band.” It was an instant fit. Then I took him to St. Thomas, and we did a concert out there together. He’s so sensitive. He’s got the perfect balance, he understands dynamics, he hears what the music needs, when to be explosive. He’s so naturally musical. A lot of these rhythms we’re dealing with on Bright Eyes have really strong Caribbean roots, whether it’s French Caribbean, like Martinique or Guadeloupe, or Afro-Cuban stuff. There are specific grooves that guys spend their whole lives listening to growing up. But someone like Ulysses is so musical, he can come in and nail it, and sound natural doing it.

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At Hamilton’s Bakery in Harlem, Adam Larson shows up early for coffee. Purple Rain shakes the place at full volume, followed by Superstition. We sit and I ask him about the neighborhood. Larson quickly gives me a rundown: “Tazo Coffee on 157th, Tsion Cafe on 148th, where Wayne Escoffery plays some Thursdays, Sylvana on 116th, the old St. Nick’s Pub, now closed.” Larson is a living vault of venues, musicians, and opportunities in New York City. His knowledge of the industry extends beyond the names of clubs and owners. At only twenty six years old, self-managed and self-motivated, saxophonist and composer Adam Larson has turned the elusive art of booking gigs into a tangible science.

It’s all in service of the music. Larson, now a father, still premieres new work with new ensembles on nearly a monthly basis at venues across the city. His upcoming show at The Jazz Gallery with Can Olgun (piano/nord), Desmond White (electric/acoustic bass) and Jonathan Blake (drums) is presented in partnership with Composers NowOver coffee, between texts to his wife and calls to the plumber, a very busy and hyper-focused Adam Larson discussed his upcoming gig schedule, his thoughts on composition, and the ways in which he pursues personal and musical growth.

The Jazz Gallery: You’ve been living in Harlem for a while?

Adam Larson: About five years, yeah. I’ve steadily been moving north since I graduated. Next we may move to Queens. In the 2008 brochures from Manhattan School of Music, it was like, ‘Don’t go above 125th street’ [laughs]. Now it’s all different. I love this spot, Hamilton’s Bakery. It’s pretty hipster, but this is my spot.

TJG: Last time we talked was before your previous Jazz Gallery show in September, right before your son was born.

AL: We were expecting him on Halloween. The 30th came, and we thought he was going to be late. Then, late in the morning, my wife feels these kicks. Eighteen hours later, he was born. Healthy, happy, great.

TJG: You were saying that show at The Gallery would probably be your last for a while, so you could spend some time with your son.

AL: I didn’t travel until two weeks ago. I stayed in the city from September to early February, which is new for me. Usually I’m out every single month doing something. And I took a month off from performing outside of New York, aside from playing at Birdland in November. I knew I had that on the calendar months in advance, and I considered cancelling since I wouldn’t be able to get a big turnout. But I had actually drafted up all my press emails a week before he was born, so in the recovery room, I had my phone and hit ‘send’ on these emails. The music is important, but getting people to the show is one of my major priorities.

TJG: So what was it like to be away from your son for the first time?

AL: It was difficult, but it was only about 36 hours. I didn’t really have time to think about it. I was so busy doing stuff while I was away. I have to provide, it puts things in perspective. My wife’s a stay-at-home mom, and the financial obligations fall on me. It’s not impossible, but it’s not easy. It’s a pleasure to have opportunities to create. It helps a lot. 

TJG: You seem like someone who’s always done the most to capitalize on your time. What’s it like having your time squished even more?

AL: It’s all about managing expectations. I can’t play four hours a day, like I did in college. And it’s okay with me: I want to be a part of my son’s life. I’ve always been conscious of my time, but can compartmentalize things. I can look at the clock and say, ‘Okay, I have 30 minutes right now, and 30 minutes this afternoon. How can I use these minutes effectively? Am I going to write? Play saxophone?’ It’s a tightrope act, making sure I’m being a good husband, a good father, and am taking care of my music.

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