UPDATED 6:10 P.M., 9/5/13: DUE TO UNFORESEEN CIRCUMSTANCES, THIS WEEKEND’S PREMIERE PERFORMANCES HAVE BEEN CANCELLED.
Over the past year, pianist David Virelles has emerged as one of the most exciting voices on his instrument, armed with a potent imagination, a wide aesthetic palette, and an endlessly versatile touch to match. His 2012 album Continuum, featuring bassist Ben Street, drummer Andrew Cyrille, and percussionist/poet Román Díaz was New York Times critic Ben Ratliff’s album of the year, with Ratliff writing, “…it sounds obsessed with tradition and newness and how they bleed into each other. But doing it in a way that isn’t glib, that backs research with a lot of intuition and risk, seems very special.” In February, Virelles took the stage with his Continuum band at the Village Vanguard, once again winning much critical acclaim.
As a recipient of a 2012-2013 Jazz Gallery Commission, Virelles has used the opportunity to compose a new series of pieces for his Continuum group, which the pianist and his cohorts will premiere on this Friday and Saturday, September 6th and 7th. We caught up with David by phone to hear about what these new pieces had in store for the Gallery audience.
The Jazz Gallery: Your new piece, “Threefold,” is written for the same group of musicians that you released your album Continuum (Pi) with last year. Is this piece a continuation or a departure from the pieces on your album?
David Virelles: Yeah, it’s a continuation. I’m just trying to keep building on something that we started. I used this piece as an opportunity to keep developing the sound of the group because we haven’t had much chance to play! We have done a lot of stuff inspired by Afro-Cuban religions, and so the whole thing kind of spins out of that. It’s not specific to any particular religion, though.
It’s not a suite or anything like that—it’s a group of pieces that have the same kind of ideal and goal. I used the opportunity to write some ideas for the group that I haven’t been able to do before.
One of the things I tried to explore with these pieces was basically rearranging forms. By form, I mean not only temporal elements, but tonal elements and timbral elements also.
TJG: What do you mean by rearranging forms? How does that process work on the bandstand?
DV: A lot of times we improvise on a fixed structure or we improvise the structure spontaneously. My idea was so that when we play on fixed structures, have them be flexible, have them be modular. By moving these elements around, you can create new forms out of elements that already exist in the composition.
To give an example, let’s say you have “ABC,” and that gives you a form to improvise on. Within that form, you have certain parameters, whether it be rhythms, or chord changes or melodies, or any combination of those elements. Usually, every time you get to the end of the form, you go back to the top and repeat the same form. One of the things that I tried with these pieces is that instead of going from left to right: “ABC,” is that you can start on C and then play A, and then play B, and then every time you come around, you can rearrange the order. And it’s up to the players to build these new forms out of the existing material.
It’s really nothing new at all. You have it in sampling, for example. Beat-makers sample things from records. They’ll sample a song or a segment of a song and assign it to a button on their drum machine. It could be a long sample or a short sample. If you have multiple samples, you can play them in any order you want, play them forward, backwards, set up the way in which they will loop (or not), but, basically, by triggering those samples you’re setting up a form.
So, that idea with this material is related to that beat-making approach, in a way.
TJG: How do you communicate these changes with the other members of the band?
DV: I’m bringing a laptop to the gig, but the laptop isn’t going to be making any sound. The laptop is going to be making what I call the “spontaneous chart.” I have a program that makes chord sequences. I’ll play the first chord and then the computer responds and creates a 16-chord sequence. It does this in real time.
Everyone’s different roles are kind of embedded in the composition. For example, in a particular section, I might want the drums to make the decisions and we all respond to that direction. I want to base all these parameters off what the musicians in the group do, as it is not my interest to dictate any particular direction. We can have certain things that have been established previously, but then have the chance to expand on them.
David Virelles and Continuum—Ben Street (bass), Andrew Cyrille (drums), and Román Díaz—will be performing “Threefold” at The Jazz Gallery this Friday and Saturday, September 6th and 7th. Sets at 9 and 10:30 p.m., $20 general admission and $10 for members. Purchase tickets here.