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Design courtesy of the Kaufman Center.

This Sunday, December 10th, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome the Samurai Mama Big Band back to our stage for one set. The group is the jazz arm of the Kaufman Music Center’s Face the Music Program, and is led by saxophonist/composer Aakash Mittal. Since their inception, the group has tackled a wide range of contemporary work for large ensemble, including pieces by Anthony Braxton, Maria Schenider, John Hollenbeck, and more. When the group made its Gallery debut this past summer, they played a set of tunes from the band Snarky Puppy, including “Lingus,” below.
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Album design courtesy of the artist.

This weekend, the collaborative Borderlands Trio celebrates the release of their debut record, Asteroidea (Intakt), with four sets at The Jazz Gallery. The group features three standout improvisers—bassist Stephan Crump, pianist Kris Davis, and drummer Eric McPherson—exploring the full expressive ranges of their instruments through spontaneous composition. We caught up with Mr. Crump by phone and spoke about the group’s origins, the recording process, and how their music morphs from gig to gig; excerpts of our conversation are below.

The Jazz Gallery: How did this trio form?

Stephan Crump: Kris and I got together at first as a duo just a couple of times to try playing together and see what happened. I want to say that was three years ago. It was immediately thrilling to play together, and very interesting, and we looked into doing some duo gigs. While that was underway, the stuff we were looking for didn’t quite pan out, but meanwhile, we got together in my studio with some other people here and there and just kept playing. Eric McPherson and I have been playing for quite a number of years, in Rez Abbasi’s Acoustic Quartet, and Eric has also done some gigs with my Rhombal quartet, and we’ve also just gotten together with different people, to play in my studio. He and I have always had a really powerful connection. He’s one of my favorite drummers.
There’s a really strong rhythmic concept and focus to how Kris approaches music and how Eric approaches it, not necessarily in the same way, but I feel in both of them a strong rhythmic pull. I thought it would be worth investigating for the three of us to play together. The first time we did that was at Korzo, the Konceptions series, a couple of years ago. We just did a few gigs before recording. It was just a year ago that we did a weekend at The Jazz Gallery, like we’re about to do. We did a Friday and Saturday night, and then Sunday morning we went in to record the album. It was a good plan, cause things were popping.
TJG: And this show is to celebrate the album release.
SC: We all three of us really love what we captured on the album. Every performance takes us to different places in various ways, but a lot of aspects of the group are well-represented on the album, as far as the way we all share, like I said, an absolute dedication to the groove, always leaving the door cracked for it to develop and keep morphing, but maintaining a tightness and a cohesion. There’s also a trust where different members of the band can be orbiting that same groove from different perspectives, and we don’t have to follow each other in a linear fashion all the time to feel like we’re connecting. There’s a trust in each other, if we each stick to our own orbit, as long as it’s related powerfully it’ll wind up in some interesting places and it’ll keep growing.
I think we all share an orchestral sense, a sense of structure, as far as each member has a broad conception of the range of possibilities on his or her instrument, and the various colors and textures and overtones, and thinking about what one can offer to the music that orchestrates it properly at any given moment based on what the others are offering. That might take each of us into areas that aren’t necessarily traditional areas on the instrument, but everybody in the band percieves the music on that level as well. I think of it as orchestration. So that’s really satisfying, because on a simple level it means that everybody’s always making things work. Whatever anybody offers to the music, the rest of the band will contextualize it instantly so it works, even as things are always morphing.
TJG: You mentioned a rhythmic focus; is that on your mind when you go in?
SC: We compose music together, in the moment. We don’t write things down later so far; it’s what we most often call improvisation, but I like to think of it as spontaneous composition, because I think that is a way of framing it that speaks to the fact that we perceive it that way. We are composing and thinking about all the aforementioned aspects of structure and development.

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Photo by Anne-Claire Rohe.

Sam Harris is one busy pianist. Moreover, Harris keeps a relatively low profile, which means the best way to find him behind the piano is by looking at the tour schedules of artists like Ambrose Akinmusire, Ben Van Gelder, Logan Richardson, Roman Filiu, and Rudy Royston. Luckily, on December 7th, you need look no further than The Jazz Gallery to hear the deep harmonies and improvisations of Harris and his trio. 

Harris grew up in Dallas, Texas, and migrated to New York to attend the Manhattan School of Music. Since leaving MSM, he’s played at clubs and festivals across six continents. In 2014 alone, Sam Harris played on records by Rudy Royston, Ambrose Akinmusire, and released his debut album Interludes (Fresh Sound). The album, featuring Roman Filiu, Ben Van Gelder, Martin Nevin, Ross Gallagher, and Craig Weinrib, is a collection of vignettes, tone poems, and chamber-esque arrangements that our own Kevin Laskey has described asone part Herbie Hancock, one part Paul Bley.” Since that industrious year, Harris has been featured on additional albums by Akinmusire, Ben Van Gelder, and Ergo.

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Photo by André Hébrard, courtesy of the artist.

Tony Tixier is a pianist, composer, and bandleader, whose prior albums and tours have included potent collaborations and vivid narratives with artists including Seamus Blake, Christian Scott, and Justin Brown. His new album, Life of Sensitive Creatures, is deeply personal, chronicling Tixier’s reflection of our role on the planet, spurred by the passing of his grandmother. The album has a complex emotional tenor, containing both optimism and pessimism.

With a trio rounded out by Karl McComas Reichl (double bass) and Tommy Crane (drums), Tixier leads a group that moves through the material with intention and confidence. “It’s a songbook of emotions, put to music,” says Tixier in the liner notes. “We’re making art—a moving painting—and I’m proud of that.” In anticipation of the album’s release at The Jazz Gallery, we spoke with Tixier about his thoughts on the growth of the album and the music he has yet to make.

The Jazz Gallery: Thanks for making the time to Skype on your busy tour schedule. Where are you now, and where are you going?

Tony Tixier: I’m in Amsterdam now, for a last-minute session at Bimhuis with Ben Van Gelder. I’m going to Berlin tomorrow, and then New York, to play the show at the Gallery. After that, Lyon, Paris, and back home to Los Angeles. Before that, I was in London, playing at Ronnie Scotts, then in Madrid. I was also with Seamus Blake, touring with his quartet, which was another good excuse to be in Europe.

TJG: What are you doing in Berlin tomorrow?

TT: We’re playing at A-Trane with my German trio. I had a friend at MSM who lives in Berlin, Tom Berkmann, a bass player, and I play with him and drummer Mathias Ruppnig. We’re doing songs from Life Of Sensitive Creatures there. It’s way different with this trio. They’re more in the learning stage of the music, getting to know it. With my New York trio, Tommy Crane and Karl McComas-Reichl, we’ve been playing for three years, so we know the music, we know where we want to go. But it’s also great playing with newer people, because they’re fresh. They have a different type of focus and intensity.

TJG: In the new album’s dedication and video trailer, you wrote; “Along the way we meet, question, and feel a wide range of emotions, all while continuing to breathe and cohabit together. Stay listening. Stay sensitive, never forget that all creatures on this earth share the same home. That’s what this music is about.” Did you write this?

TT: Yeah, it’s my broken English [laughs]. You know, when I wrote the music for the album, my grandmother had just passed. That’s when I started, and decided to take it into the studio. She was 86, and would talk a lot about the world, how we, human beings, are burning it, consuming it too fast. We’re a selfish species. Are we too focused on ourselves? Tommy, and Karl, they’re into talking about this. And through playing with them, I’ve learned how to open my heart to other creatures, you know? The music is really about this human conversation. The titles are sometimes kind of negative, but I like to take the negative and transform it into a beautiful dream space. It’s an ode to life, to all sentient creatures.

TJG: Yes, many of your titles are cynical. “Denial of Love,” “Illusion” and “Calling Into Question,” even “Causeless Cowards” and “Blind Jealousy of a Paranoid.” How do you take that cynicism and spin it into something beautiful? How is that cynicism presented?

TT: The album is like a book. I’m actually going to do a book for children with songs from the album. The introduction is “I Remember A Time of Plenty,” to put people into the shoes of kids. Let’s be more open-minded, try to listen: It’s a reminder that we should all love each other, or at least in general, have more love. Sometimes people look at you with judgement. We don’t give each other our hands, and I think we should. “I Remember A Time of Plenty” asks, “Why is it this way? Let’s open our hearts again. Don’t deny us this.”

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Clarence Penn, John Hébert, and Andy Milne. Photos courtesy of the artists.

This Sunday, December 3rd, The Jazz Gallery is please to welcome pianist Andy Milne and his trio to our stage. Milne is a master arranger and bandleader, comfortable with managing large-scale projects such as his acclaimed “Strings & Serpents,” and “The Seasons of Being.” However, over the past several years, Milne has taken a look back at his pianistic roots with a trio featuring John Hébert on bass and either Clarence Penn or Gregory Hutchinson on drums. The group features top-tier virtuosity and well-honed interplay on both original material and jazz classics. Before checking out the group at the Gallery, take a listen to Milne going toe-to-toe with pianist Kenny Werner in the video below.

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