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Photo by Brett Walker

Matana Roberts is a Chicago-bred, NYC-based composer-performer with an interest in “the mystical roots and spiritual traditions of American creative expression.”

Over the course of fifteen years of working as a saxophonist, composer, and bandleader, she has released numerous albums under her own name and led ensembles in performance in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. In addition to her own projects, Matana has cut her teeth as a sideperson with Greg Tate’s Burnt Sugar, Reg E. Gaines and Savion Glover, The Oliver Lake Big Band, The Julius Hemphill Sextet, and Merce Cunningham dance, and collaborated in the studio with bands such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor and TV On The Radio.

Matana’s most recent release, COIN COIN Chapter One: Gens de couleur libres (Constellation), earned numerous accolades, including the #2 slot on SPIN magazine’s list of the 20 Best Avant Albums of 2011. They write:

Deeply spiritual, sadistically dissonant, and evocative as any novel, New York composer Matana Roberts uses numerous jazz disciplines to concoct this arresting patchwork of “compositional sound language”: tortured “scream sing,” post-rock improv, saxophone flurries, and spacepressionist Sun Ra mayhem. The album is an hourlong suite about the 18th Century African experience in America, part fact and part fiction, with Roberts taking harrowing roles as orphans and slave auctioneers in between hailstorm sax workouts.

After presenting her work in various configurations over the past ten years, we invited Matana to test drive new work on our stage during a three-month performance residency. This Saturday, Matana will give the first of three performances (one each month) with a quartet featuring the guitarist Liberty Ellman, the bassist Kevin Tkacz, and the drummer Ches Smith.

We really look forward to this run, and apparently so does Time Out New York; they’ve selected the residency as a Critics’ Pick.

You can stream a mix from COIN COIN Chapter One: Gens de couleur libres below, courtesy of Constellation Records (the label notes that this album is “some of the most honest and compelling work…that [they]’ve had the privilege to be associated with”):

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If you are hungry for more, head over to The Village Voice blog “Yes In My Backyard” (penned by Christopher Weingarten) for a free download and accompanying interview. Or just buy tickets.

Photo by Adam DePaz

When he plays, the drummer Enoch Jamal Strickland emits “fields of cumulative energy, clouds of feather-touch and heavy-handed syncopations, latent with power like an oncoming storm” (Thomas Conrad, DownBeat). “Here’s a jazz drummer who wields all sorts of subtleties,” declares Jim Macnie in The Village Voice. “His swing is flecked with funk; his groove provides nuanced polyrhythms.”

E.J. was born and reared in a musical family in Florida. His father, who was once a percussionist in the Fort Lauderdale Symphony Orchestra, raised E.J. and his identical twin brother, Marcus, on the music of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Stevie Wonder, and Jimi Hendrix. E.J. and Marcus devoted themselves to pursuing a life in music at a very early age. E.J. was steadfast in his ambition as performer, furthering his skills on local bandstands, but also began to compose after sitting in on some of Marcus’ piano lessons. In an interview for Alternate Takes, E.J. recalls, “I was like, well, this can open some doors…Maybe I can play differently if I know what’s going on around me.” After graduating from high school, the brothers both moved to New York to attend The New School.

As a student at The New School, E.J. not only studied with drummers such as Joe Chambers, Lewis Nash, and Jimmy Cobb, but also set aside time to polish his piano playing and continue crafting his compositions. He also quickly found himself in demand as a sideman; before graduating, E.J. had already performed with artists such as Wynton Marsalis, Abbey Lincoln, Christian McBride, Herbie Hancock, and Dianne Reeves.

E.J. has spent the past decade collaborating with the saxophonist Ravi Coltrane as a member of Ravi’s quartet. He has also continued to work closely with Marcus, occupying the drum throne in several of his brother’s projects. As always, E.J. has focused himself on composition, leading two of his own groups, The E.J. Strickland Quintet and The E.J. Strickland Project, and releasing his debut album, In This Day (Strick Muzik), in 2009. E.J. speaks about his compositional process:

I guess a lot of it has to do with most of the time when I’m composing a song, I’m singing along with it.  No matter how complex the harmony is or what rhythmic things are going on, I always sing the melody, and since I can’t sing a fast line or anything like that, I’m forced to deal with simple structures or simple figures that are very catchy or very melodic, things like that.  And it’s good in a lot of ways.  Only recently I’ve kinda gone into more complex lines, things like that.  But for the most part I think it’s because I sing along with what I do.

We met E.J. as he was finishing up his studies, and heard him performing on our stage with his brother and several other like-minded musicians. In 2005, we invited E.J. to bring his own groups to The Gallery, and we’ve been presenting his music ever since. On Friday night, E.J. will bring his quintet, featuring the saxophonists Godwin Louis and Dayna Stephens, the pianist David Bryant, and the bassist Joe Sanders, to our stage.

When we asked E.J. about his history with The Jazz Gallery, he responded:

I’ve been a bandleader for about six, seven years now. I have two projects, actually, The E.J. Strickland Project and The E.J. Strickland Quintet, and both of those bands debuted at The Jazz Gallery, and we continue to play here. It’s a wonderful thing…I can’t see the New York scene without The Jazz Gallery.

Listen to a recording of E.J.’s other group, The E.J. Strickland Project, performing a tribute to Stevie Wonder, courtesy of our friends at NPR/WBGO.

Photo by Shoji Ichikawa

“Patience is a virtue of which Adam Cruz is amply possessed,” writes Shaun Brady in JazzTimes. A quick survey of the drummers’ credentials, which include a decade long tenure in the trio of the pianist Danilo Perez, as well as consistent engagements with Chick Corea, David Sanchez, Edward Simon, Steve Wilson, and The Mingus Big Band, reveals a particular interest in developing deep relationships over time.

Similarly, when it came to developing his own music, Adam was careful not to rush into it. “I’ve had a vision to do something with my composing for a long time,” he says. “But I’ve also felt a certain ripening needed to happen. This is a big step for me. I’ve invested a lot of time in practicing and studying, working at my relationship with the piano and developing a compositional voice. I’ve just turned 40 and I’m happy the record is coming out now. There’s a certain amount of growth and maturity that I have gone through, deepening my dedication as a drummer and composer, particularly over the last decade.”

Adam has been playing at The Jazz Gallery as a sideman for years, and when we heard that he was planning to launch his own group, we happily invited him to test drive his music on our stage (as mentioned in this in-depth article in The Wall Street Journal). After a few performances, and with support from the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Adam took his band into the studio to record Milestone, his acclaimed debut album.

On Thursday, we will present Adam’s group, which features the alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón and the guitarist Steve Cardenas (both of whom can be heard on Milestone), as well as a few young artists we’ve been hearing a lot from lately: the tenor saxophonist Kyle Wilson, the pianist David Virelles, and the bassist Luques Curtis.

Listen to lengthy samples from Milestone here (scroll all the way down). We also recommend this interview with Adam posted by our friends at Alternate Takes.

Photo via

“The guitarist Lage Lund exudes a diffident and self-deprecating kind of cool,” writes Nate Chinen in The New York Times. “His playing and presence can both be casually magnetic. Like Jim Hall, one of the guitarists in his heroes’ gallery, he channels reticence into a whisper-quiet mystique.”

Originally from Skein, Norway, Lage moved to the States to attend Berklee College of Music, and was the first guitarist to be enrolled in Juilliard’s Institute of Jazz Studies. In 2005, he won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Guitar Competition. The decision was made by a panel featuring Pat Martino, John Pizzarelli, Earl Klugh, Bill Frisell, Stanley Jordan and Russell Malone, who explained, “Lage wasn’t flashy. He was just all music and soul – that’s what we all agreed upon.”

As a bandleader, Lage has released four albums. The fifth, Live At Smalls (Smalls Records), is a quartet effort that will be released in May. Since moving to New York in 2002, he has also been a first call sideperson, and has appeared on recordings and in concert with David Sanchez, Seamus Blake, Jaleel Shaw, Will Vinson, Jimmy Greene, Marcus Strickland, Carmen Lundy, and others.

Lage has performed here as a leader dozens of times dating back to 2006. On Saturday, he will return in a quartet with the pianist Glenn Zaleski, the bassist Chris Smith, and the drummer Bill Stewart.

Listen to “Swagger,” from Unlikely Stories (Criss Cross), featuring Lage and Bill alongside the pianist Edward Simon and the bassist Ben Street.

Photo by Timothy Saccenti

In the words of the esteemed drummer Billy Hart, Rafiq Bhatia’s music holds “the true potential of the future.” The GRAMMY-nominated pianist-composer and longtime Jazz Gallery artist Vijay Iyer adds, “his music is innovative and fearless.” Valgeir Sigurðsson, a producer known for his collaborations with artists like Björk and Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, remarks that working with Rafiq “felt like learning a new language.”

Since moving to Brooklyn in 2010, Rafiq “has wasted no time grabbing wider attention” (Time Out New York). He’s been busy documenting and performing his music with a breadth of artists including Hart, Iyer, Sigurðsson, High Priest (of Antipop Consortium), The International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), and Shahzad Ismaily, among others, and has been lending his guitar playing to the bands of Gordon Voidwell and Tecla.

We met Rafiq soon after he arrived here, and are pleased to present his quartet, which features Jeremy Viner (woodwinds), Jackson Hill (bass), and Alex Ritz (drums), as a part of our debut series this Thursday evening.

Although this will be Rafiq’s first performance at The Gallery, he’s been working with us in other ways for some time, most recently as our new Director of Media and Communications. If you’ve been following this blog or reading our emails, you might recognize his voice in the guest post below.

–Deborah Steinglass, Executive Director


When I was a student at Oberlin College, I used to spend every moment that I could afford to spare in Billy Hart’s office. I would sit quietly in a corner while Billy taught drum lessons, listening as he freely shared secrets gleaned in his decades of experience alongside artists like Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Stan Getz, and Jimmy Smith (the contents of which would be more than enough for several dedicated posts, but that’s another story).

Those lessons really brought to my attention the idea that drumming in the African-American tradition underwent a series of abstractions in the first half of the twentieth century. The fluid and highly interactive styles of Max Roach, Tony Williams, and Elvin Jones can be understood as extensions of the prior innovations of drummers who played the dance music of their day.

This concept stuck with me. I became obsessed with music after hearing hip-hop in the mid-nineties (more on that here), and I’m still listening hard. Lately, I have records by producers like Madlib, DabryeFlying Lotus, Samiyam, James Blake, and Jeremiah Jae on heavy rotation. These beats tend to share a common trait: they challenge the mind but not the body. When listening, my mind notices precise subdivisions and variations, but has a hard time quantifying them or breaking them down. At the same time, my head nods uncontrollably, slowly rising at the start of a phrase and whipping down into the next. I imagine an improvised music that uses these principles as building blocks.

Not surprisingly, one can learn a lot about how producers have developed these rhythmic directions by spending some time with the interfaces they use to make music. Other clues are present in the source material: there are reasons why Ahmad Jamal, Herbie Hancock and Stanley Cowell have all been sampled so frequently. These and other similar explorations have had a major impact on my recent music.

I’ve also been paying a great deal of attention to the orchestrational possibilities that the studio provides. The technique of creating new, composite sounds from different combinations of instruments dates back centuries. Lately, producers like Tim Hecker, Ben Frost, Valgeir Sigurðsson, and Oren Ambarchi are pushing that idea to new heights, creating hyper-realities in which acoustic recordings are enhanced through highly detailed electroacoustic treatments.

Employing the studio as a compositional tool also provides opportunities to blend improvisation and composition in new ways. Much of the music we will perform on Thursday was developed through a studio-composition process that the producer Alexander Overington and I employed on my two forthcoming releases. First, we recorded each piece as performed by an improvising ensemble, and then framed the recorded improvisations in layers of overdubs and processing. Our live performances have come to incorporate these production elements; we use a combination of samples and live processing to achieve the sonorities we discovered through the recording process.

I’ve been developing this music through close collaboration with Jeremy Viner, Jackson Hill, and Alex Ritz, and we are really looking forward to performing it at The Jazz Gallery on Thursday. I’ve always admired the strength of the programming here, and the commitment to supporting new artists. Working at The Gallery doesn’t make it any easier to get a gig here, which makes the invitation to play feel particularly gratifying.

Tickets are available here. We hope to see you soon.