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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Photo by Alice Zulkarnain

“The pianist John Escreet seems to be thinking about where jazz can go next,” writes Ben Ratliff in The New York Times. John Fordham of The Guardian agrees: “Escreet has quickly matured into one of the most original exponents of that highly disciplined, melodically and rhythmically intricate contemporary jazz style.”

Since the British-born pianist moved to New York in 2006, he has released three acclaimed albums, and cut his teeth in the bands of Antonio Sanchez, Ambrose Akinmusire, Adam Rogers, Tyshawn Sorey, and several others.

As we’ve mentioned previously, we were taken with John’s playing when he first appeared here as a sideperson with the saxophonist David Binney. We invited him back shortly thereafter to celebrate the release of his first album, Consequences (Posi-Tone), on our stage, and he has performed here on numerous other memorable occasions since then. One of these was the debut concert of his trio, featuring the bassist John Hébert and the drummer Tyshawn Sorey, which will return to The Gallery this Saturday. The performance will precede a short tour in Europe next month, and the group will be test driving some brand new music.

We posed a few questions to the pianist ahead of his upcoming performance, which he graciously answered. Without further ado, John Escreet speaks:


 

Tell us about your relationship to John Hébert and Tyshawn Sorey. When did you meet them? In what other contexts have you performed together? What motivated you to select them for this group?

I met and began playing with Tyshawn around five years ago. He first began performing in my regular working group, and is also featured on my debut album “Consequences” from back in 2008. I’m also in a few of his various ensembles, and on his recent album “Oblique – I”. We’ve played together on so many occasions over the years. He’s perhaps the most remarkable musician I know, and definitely one of the musicians I feel the most liberated with when playing music.

Tyshawn and I played together slightly less frequently while he was earning his Masters degree at Wesleyan University for a couple of years, and I was looking for an opportunity to resume working regularly with him again. I had started to think about forming a trio; it was the perfect opportunity. I had played with John on one or two occasions before forming the trio, but had been aware of his playing for several years due to his association with some of my favorite pianists like Andrew Hill and Fred Hersch. I was fascinated with his approach to music-making, and with his very unique and personal approach to playing the bass. His playing is somehow loose and accurate at the same time. He has incredible ears, not to mention amazing technical facility on his instrument. John and Tyshawn had not really performed much together in the past, but I thought they would be perfect together to realize my vision for the trio, and I was right.

Describe the music: What are your goals as a composer/bandleader for this trio? Are there any particular processes or frameworks you employ in composing for this group? To what extent do you take into account your collaborators’ personalities and input in the compositional process?

The music in this group varies from elaborate, through-composed works of mine, to completely open and improvised pieces, and everything in between. Often the lines get blurred between these two “approaches” which is when the music really starts to get interesting, in my opinion. The benefit of having musicians like John and Tyshawn in the group is that the scope of what they can both do is so vast, and encompasses so much. As a result, there are infinite possibilities when it comes to the music. They are both unique stylists on their instruments, as well as fully-formed conceptualists. They are both incredible improvisers as well as superb readers. They can deal with any music I put in front of them, and can develop it in ways I would not have thought of. Sometimes I do take into account their musical personalities when composing for the group, but in all honesty their personalities are so strong that they immediately own whatever they are playing anyway, whether it was written specifically for them or not.

Talk about your history with and relationship to The Jazz Gallery: When did you start coming here to listen? to perform?

I started frequenting the Jazz Gallery as a listener pretty much as soon as I moved to New York in 2006, as it was the venue with the most interesting music that I wanted to hear. I have seen so many inspiring concerts there over the years. I first performed there in 2007 with David Binney’s big band, and made my debut there as a leader in 2008 in celebration of my first album, “Consequences”. Since then, I’ve played at the Gallery many times as both a leader and as a sideperson. it’s definitely my favorite place to perform in New York, as well as to listen to music.


 

Listen to an early studio session from the trio courtesy of WBGO.