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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Tim Berne (L) and Steve Byram (R). Photo by Wes Orshoski.

During his time on Columbia Records in the mid 1980s, saxophonist Tim Berne was introduced to visual artist and graphic designer Steve Byram. Byram had already gained notice for his album art, particularly for the European jazz/avant label JMT and the Beastie Boys’ classic Licensed to Ill. A review of Byram’s work in Eye Magazine described his style thusly: “His illustrations are messy, sprawling, some-times tentative and at other times explosively confident. His typography is obsessive but rarely conventionally neat.” Byram and Berne hit it off immediately, their explosive aesthetics proving a strong match. Since 1987, Byram has done album art for almost all of Berne’s work, as well as for Berne’s peers and collaborators including Craig Taborn, Django Bates, and Drew Gress.

This Monday, January 7, Berne and Byram will celebrate their three-plus decade collaboration with the opening of their art exhibition Old & Unwise at The Jazz Gallery. The exhibition features drawings by Byram and photographs by Berne and is based on a series of images compiled for their 2015 art book, Spare.  Byram’s drawing are composed digitally from an assortment of source drawings—or “spare parts”—while Berne’s photographs were taken during his spare time while on tour. To celebrate the exhibition opening, Berne will perform brand new music with pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Dave King. (more…)

Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Friday, January 4, The Jazz Gallery kicks off the new year with a performance by saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins and his quartet. Fresh off his Mentoring Series experience with trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, Wilkins is now preparing to record his debut album. In a recent conversation with Jazz Speaks, Wilkins spoke about his plans for the record:

I’m excited about it; I’ve mapped it out. At this point, it’s kind of about [putting] people in place to facilitate that for me. That’s also kind of why I didn’t try to wait for a label. I’m trying to do it myself and pitch it later. My vision is pretty clear now as [far as] how I want to be represented, and I’d rather not have something getting in the way of that. I’m in full-stubborn mode: “I know what I want. This is what I want.” Even if it’s immature, it’s what I want right now. That’s how I want to be represented, and that’s how I want to be documented. Especially on my first record, I want it to be whatever I’m doing right now.

For his Gallery show this Friday, Wilkins will be joined by bassist Daryl Johns and drummer Kweku Sumbry of his working group, but with Jason Moran filling in on piano (Moran is set to help produce the quartet’s record). Don’t miss seeing these talented young musicians mix it up with an influential mentor like Moran. (more…)

Design by The Jazz Gallery.

This weekend, The Jazz Gallery will present two nights of concerts in honor of our late co-founder, Roy Hargrove. Over the past few years, Roy has closed out the Gallery’s yearly season with concerts that have celebrated The Jazz Gallery community in New York and across the world—a community epitomized by Roy’s sincere, creative, and welcoming spirit. To get a small sense of Hargrove’s impact on the world community of jazz, it’s telling that this tribute show at the Gallery is only one of many Hargrove tribute concerts across the world—from Montreal to San Francisco to France to Kenya to Indonesia and back to his hometown of Dallas, Texas.

To celebrate Roy’s life and music, the Gallery welcomes a number of Hargrove’s friends and collaborators to our stage, including saxophonist Jaleel Shaw, pianists Orrin Evans & David Virelles, bassist Eric Revis, drummer Nasheet Waits, and special guest vocalists Gretchen Parlato and Renee Neufville. This is a wonderful chance to come together and celebrate Roy in one of his true artistic homes. (more…)

Album art courtesy of the artist.

Andy Milne’s Dapp Theory has been a constantly evolving musical organism for nearly two decades. The current iteration, Dapp Theory + 5, just released a new record, described by Pop Matters as a “daring, gorgeous achievement.” The new record is The Seasons of Being, an evening-length suite commissioned by Chamber Music America’s New Jazz Works grant. The album has also been nominated for a GRAMMY in the category of “Best Jazz Instrumental Album.”

In this project, Milne explored the body, spirit, and mind on music, using the diagnostic principles of homeopathy while working with homeopath David Kramer to capture the emotional characterization of each soloist. According to Milne, “My composition process was empowered by the principles of homeopathic healing, helping me identify the musicians’ emotional lineage. My objective was to place each featured improviser in a musical setting that would support their unique emotional characterization, creating a pathway for participation in their own healing.” In a conversation with Jazz Speaks, Milne dives into the origins of the homeopathic musical process, as well as his thoughts on the evolution of Dapp Theory.

The Jazz Gallery: Let’s jump right into the new album, The Seasons of Being. Reading the section of the liner notes where you describe the homeopathic listening techniques you used, it completely blew my mind. Would you mind explaining the backstory of how that technique, that way of thinking, came onto your radar?

Andy Milne: It’s funny that you use the word backstory because, no pun intended, it started when I had issues with my back. Through a series of different healers, I found my way to homeopathy, and while I was undergoing observation–if you will–with a homeopath, I began to learn a bit about the way a homeopath diagnoses a person. Our bodies and spirits are always dealing with something, and our emotions tell us about different points in our lives. It’s a holistic approach, literally considering the whole body. If you go to a Western doctor for pain in your back, they may not be terribly concerned with other things going on in your life, because that’s not what they’re looking for. With this particular homeopath, the investigation was broad. He talks about how elements within the body, and the way disease can move through the body, has musical overtones, in terms of material, texture, cadence. That idea sparked my curiosity.

On another level, I had this observation about how musicians respond to requests from bandleaders. This is going back about eight year or so. Usually, a bandleader writes a bunch of music, brings it to their band, and distributes activity based on their vision. They’ll say “Take a solo here,” or “Try soloing here,” and ask for the musicians to do this or that. I had an experience years ago in Dapp Theory, where one of the musicians basically said, “No, I’m not feeling it.” It felt like they were being difficult, but at the same time, I’ve been in the same position. I’ll often think, “I’m not really feeling a solo here.” I was curious to see if there was something deeper happening, aside from just musical taste. So I began to build models for trying to figure out how either a musician or non-trained layperson might respond to sound, to music. I worked on this idea with the support of this homeopath, and began crafting questions and music to essentially ask: “You’re a musician, you’re going to solo on this piece; what’s the sweet spot based on your emotional lineage?” I spent a lot of time thinking about which aspects of my music I could sculpt to build a better picture of what it might sound like from the point of view of an emotional space, rather than trying to convey a certain emotion or thinking about the way a certain musician might play.

TJG: So when your back hurt, and you went to the homeopath, did you go that route because traditional or Western medicine wasn’t working? It’s interesting, because if you hadn’t seen that homeopath, this project and musical inquiry may not have happened quite this way.

AM: Well, my father was a doctor of conventional Western medicine. I never really had a “doctor” growing up, because my dad was my doctor, so I didn’t have to interface with conventional medicine in the way people usually do. That set the stage for my relationship with formal medicine. Because my relationship with my dad was so personal and matter-of-fact, that changed my relationship with how I view healing. As I grew older, I felt committed to seeking an alternative to mainstream medicine, especially once I began to have back problems. Now, I was concurrently seeing a few doctors, because I recognized I had a complex problem to solve, but as I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t getting the understanding of the results that I was seeking in Western medicine, so I was trying everything.

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Design courtesy of the artist.

Kassa Overall uses language like he uses music. Everything is a metaphor, a colorful snapshot of a larger picture. When he speaks, the next idea could be from poetry or chemistry, economics or philosophy, film or fashion. In Overall’s words, African-American music has frozen assets in the form of meaning and interpretation; these musical flowers will bloom for larger audiences when people begin listening to new music like they read unfamiliar poetry. Everything is a remix. This type of genre-clashing in the world of music, according to Overall, is a way to “reconnect the dots, intuitively and systematically, of the past present and future.”

Raised in Seattle and trained at Oberlin, Overall has performed around the world over the last decade with Geri Allen, Vijay Iyer, Das Racist, Mayer Hawthorne, Wallace Roney, Ravi Coltrane, Gary Bartz, The Late Show band, and many more. His identity as a jazz drummer blends seamlessly with his production and rapping skills, which can be seen on his recent Drake It Till You Make It EP, where he covers Drake, Snoop Dogg, and Kanye West–the new standards, says Overall–alongside Theo Croker, Julius Rodriguez, Dominic Missana, and Aaron Parks.

TIME CAPSULE is the name of Overall’s new project, a Jazz Gallery residency and commission that will unfold over the next seven months. Overall’s idea is to “expand the limits of time and genre in music,” and to generate fresh, remix-able material with pianists including Jason Moran, Aaron Parks, Sullivan Fortner, Kris Davis and Craig Taborn. The first date will feature Jon Batiste, widely known from his gig as the bandleader on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. In  our recent phone interview, Overall spared no words, laying out his plans for the next six months in enthusiastic, technicolor detail.

The Jazz Gallery: Kassa, it’s my pleasure to interview you about the very first show in your TIME CAPSULE residency at The Jazz Gallery. What’s been keeping you busy?

Kassa Overall: Right now, I’m finishing up a new body of recorded work. I tend to make songs in a kind of backwards way. For example, I had this song with drums, keys, organ, all this different stuff. After it was finished, I wrote a little melody, and had a pianist record and sing it to me. I added it to the track, and I’m trying to figure out if it fits.

TJG: So it’s kind of a three-step process, where you put in everything except the melody, you add the melody, and you rebuild the song around it?

KO: That’s how it went this time. With every song, I never really know when it’s finished, until I’m at the deadline, and I say “Word, it’s finished I guess” [laughs]. This thing started as more of an interlude or intro, so it didn’t really need a melody, and the drums were introduced throughout the song as a speaking part. The melody is minimal, just one or two notes, but it almost re-contextualizes the whole piece. Do I want to do that or not? Do I want to keep the drums out front, or should I give the people the melody? A lot of it is decision-making, more so than composing. It’s like, “Do I wear the red shoes, or do I wear the black ones and let the colorful shirt be the main focus?” The answer is different for every song.

TJG: Got it. So, let’s jump to the Jazz Gallery show, I’ve got some questions about the upcoming residency. I’ll start art with a quote from Jonathan Zwickel, who interviewed you for City Arts Magazine in Seattle.

KO: Oh yeah, I loved that interview.

TJG: Me too. Jonathan wrote, “Kassa is one of those people who’s not only good at everything he does but is often the only one doing the thing he’s doing.” How would you describe what you’re doing, and do you think you’re the only one doing it?

KO: Because I do a lot of different things, the correct thing to say would be, “No, I’m not the only one doing what I’m doing.” But, at the same time, the answer is yes, because I’m the only one doing what I’m doing in the way I’m doing it. A lot of it has to do with the way I’ve divided myself and my surroundings in the past. For example: I play the drums, and many people play the drums. But I approach drumming a certain way. For me, that magic thing that speaks to me is the polyrhythmic side, or the harmonic rhythm, of drumming. Elvin Jones was one of the greatest independence guys, where the cymbal, snare, and bass drum are doing different things. A lot of cats from that era, from Art Blakey and Max Roach to Tony Williams and Kenny Clarke, were dealing with that kind of information. But even back when Elvin was the man, there were a lot of drummers who weren’t dealing with independence, and were coming from different aesthetic perspectives. So in that sense, considering the harmonics of drumming, there are only a certain number of cats who see that evolution as an important aspect of drumming today. I’d consider myself one of those drummers.

Then you have different producers who are dealing with jazz aesthetic, chopping up live music, and so on. A lot of musicians and producers are doing that, but there aren’t that many jazz musicians that are also doing that. That puts me in a smaller group of people. You have the lineage of J Dilla, Madlib, Flying Lotus… For example, I was just in Chicago, hanging out with Makaya McCraven. He showed me his own approach, coming from that same hip hop/jazz/live beats lineage. There’s not too many people doing that. And then, I also write lyrics and rap. So when you take all of these different elements and compound them, there’s probably nobody doing exactly what I’m doing. If you take any specific element of what I do, there are people I look up to in every direction. I’m the only one with my perspective, but we all have our own perspective, and it takes a long time to find out what that is. It’s an infinite journey.

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