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Photo courtesy of the artist.

So many aspects of Lara Bello’s new album Sikame are novel and fresh. The music comes from a combination of collaborators, songwriters, and musicians, such as Lionel Loueke, Richard Bona, Gil Goldstein, Leni Stern, and Rajiv Jayaweera. Born in Grenada Spain, Bello’s music stands on a rich foundation of flamenco, classical, jazz, and popular styles. Her new album is being released in a new physical and downloadable format, The Biopholio, on Fabian Almazan’s new Biophilia Records label. The details come together to create a rich musical, visual, and collective experience.

We’re thrilled to be hosting Lara Bello and her band for the release of Sikame. The show will feature Bello on vocals, as well as Julian Shore (piano & Rhodes), Vitor Gonçalves (accordion), Romero Lubambo (guitar), Samuel Torres (percussion), Rajiv Jayaweera (percussion), and special guests Hadar Noiberg (flute), Leni Stern (ngoni), and Janet Sora Chung (violin). We spoke with Bello on the phone about singing in Spanish, the new Biopholio, and the ins and out of building the new album from the ground up.

The Jazz Gallery: Congrats on the release of your new album!

Lara Bello: Thank you. After almost two years working on it, it’s nice, to say the least. The label, Biophilia Records, it’s amazing to work with them. It feels like harmony.

TJG: What kind of work did you do with the label?

LB: Everything. It’s a new format, The Biopholio, that Fabian Almazan has developed. The label, Biophilia records, is concerned about ecology and music. Fabian wanted to avoid CDs. Not for printing costs, but rather because CDs are not biodegradable. He wanted to give importance to the physical part of the experience by creating something new. It’s a paper design for people who want a physical piece of art. It’s like origami, with a digital download code inside. The cover isn’t square, it’s made of interlaced diamonds. Everything had do be done from scratch. My album is the first Biopholio out there, so it was a challenge for everyone. It’s a very creative label, and we did a beautiful video too. It was intense work.

TJG: Sounds like you all deserve a vacation! Tell me about the title, Sikame.

LB: Sikame is a word from Benin in Fon, the mother tongue of Lionel Loueke, who is featured on the album. The title song is a new version of his tune. Lionel likes to give names to people. I asked him, “Lionel, give me a name!” He said, “Sikame.” I asked, “What does it mean?” and he replied, “It means ‘the soul of the gold’.” It’s the essence of the gold, the thing that makes gold gold. Wow, I said. That’s a beautiful name. When I was thinking about my album, listening to his music, everything came together. Richard Bona came from Africa. Everything on the album is related to African grooves in some way. 

TJG: Leni Stern, who will be at The Jazz Gallery show, has African ties too, and seems like a terrific collaborator. Have you played before?

LB: She’s part of the album, yes, and we played a few concerts together. I met her some years ago. She liked the flamenco influence in my music, which is popular in some African traditions. I recorded some vocals on her album too. The whole album is filled with friends.

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Photo by Todd Chalfant.

In any context, be it joyous or unsavory, the word mercy evokes compassion, forgiveness, gratitude, even surprise. It appropriately matches the music of Jon Cowherd, who will bring his Mercy Project to The Jazz Gallery this Friday, March 24th. As a landmark in his dynamic and multifaceted career, the Mercy Project is an evocative and engaging venture, representing Cowherd’s first release under his own name.

Cowherd is a cofounding member of The Fellowship Band with Brian Blade, which released “Landmarks” (Blue Note, 2014) around the same time as Cowherd released Mercy. His touch on the keyboard is deft and bluesy, and his sound as a composer is expansive and engaging. A wide range of projects has lead him to collaborate and tour with Cassandra Wilson, Rosanne Cash, The John Patitucci trio, Claudia Acuña, The Grahams, Myron Walden, Scott Colley, and Mike Moreno, to name a few.

The Mercy Project encompasses a suite of compositions by Cowherd. It was originally documented on the album Mercy, recorded by Cowherd on piano, Bill Frisell on guitar, John Patitucci on bass, and Brian Blade on drums. The music has been performed by multiple incarnates of the ensemble, depending on the season and venue, including Tom Guarna on guitar, Doug Weiss on bass, Dan Reiser on drums. At The Jazz Gallery, the band will comprise of Cowherd (piano), Steve Cardenas (guitar), Tony Scherr (bass), and E.J. Strickland (drums). Regarding The Mercy Project, Cowherd has written that he “felt the need to make a statement under my own name.” In Mercy, that statement was sure-footed and compelling, garnering rave reviews and a swell of enthusiasm sustaining the project years after its release.

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From L to R: Greg Tuohey, Jerome Sabbagh. Photos courtesy of the artists.

Back in 1995, saxophonist Jerome Sabbagh and guitarist Greg Tuohey were recent international transplants in New York City—Sabbagh from Paris, France, Tuohey, from Auckland, New Zealand. They both threw themselves into the city’s vibrant scene, playing with talented peers like Mark Turner, Ben Monder, Ari Hoenig, and many more. Along with bassist Matt Penman and drummer Darren Becket (international transplants themselves), Sabbagh and Tuohey formed the collaborative group Flipside, releasing an acclaimed eponymous album on Naxos in 1998.

After the release of that album, however, the pair went their separate ways musically, while remaining close personally. Sabbagh went on to record a string of highly regarded solo albums and played with drummer Paul Motian and the legendary drummer’s final Village Vanguard shows. Tuohey mostly left the New York jazz world, working as a session and touring guitarist for rock groups, including indie singer-songwriter Joe Pug. In 2010, Tuohey returned to improvised music and released his debut album as a leader, First, in 2013. Tuohey and Sabbagh have now reconnected musically to form a quartet that showcases their own original compositions.

This Friday, The Jazz Gallery is proud to welcome the Sabbagh/Tuohey group to our stage for two sets. Check their effortlessly-swinging and unapologetically-catchy tune “Vintage,” performed live at Smalls, below.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Wednesday, March 15th, The Jazz Gallery is proud to welcome alto saxophonist Caleb Curtis and his band Walking Distance back to our stage. With his bracing tone and incisive lines, Curtis is a favored sideman in high-energy groups where he can cut through the mix, whether the Fat Cat Big Band, or groups led by pianist Orrin Evans, like in the video below.

Walking Distance is Curtis’s home base group—an improvisational collective of likeminded peers including tenor saxophonist Kenny Pexton, bassist Adam Coté, and drummer Shawn Baltazor. In an interview with Jazz Speaks from this past October, Curtis described how the group came together:

Walking Distance is a collaborative quartet that I started in 2012 at a workshop run by Aaron Diehl called the Catskill Jazz Factory. It’s myself on alto, as well as Kenny Pexton on tenor, Adam Coté on bass, and Shawn Baltazor on drums. We went upstate for five days of rehearsals, then played a concert. It was a sudden opportunity to play with people I could trust. Today, we’ve gotten to a place where everyone knows the music so well that we don’t have to count off tunes. We can start playing without even talking. We all own the music. It’s not a problem if any of us come in halfway through a tune and change the direction. We’re all into that—we shift and make these sudden changes.

Recently, this tight-knit quartet has begun to experiment with bringing the piano into their sound world. This summer, the group will go on a short tour with Orrin Evans holding the piano chair, and this week, they have invited Kevin Hays to add his distinct personality to the mix. Don’t miss this great young band push their sound out in new directions. (more…)

Photo courtesy of the artist.

It seems that just about every young guitarist on the planet wants to figure out how Charles Altura does what he does. When you type Altura’s name into a Google search, the first four auto-completes include “Charles Altura gear,” “Charles Altura pedalboard,” and “Charles Altura lesson.” His effortless lines feel like they’re slipping through harmonic wormholes, while his distinctive sound combines a jazz guitar’s traditional warmth with just the right amount of distortion to cut through a hard-driving rhythm section, like in this performance with Terrence Blanchard’s E-Collective.

This weekend is an ideal opportunity to find out more about the exciting mysteries of Altura’s guitar work, as he brings a top-notch quartet to The Jazz Gallery for four sets of music over two nights. Featuring Eden Ladin on piano, Rick Rosato on bass, and Marcus Gilmore (Friday) and Kendrick Scott (Saturday) on drums, Altura’s quartet will surely throw down the gauntlet on some blistering original tunes. (more…)