A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Archive for

Photo by Jimmy Katz via

Rebecca Martin and Larry Grenadier have finally recorded a duo album. You may have heard the wife-and-husband team in previous collaborations, including on Rebecca’s albums When I Was Long Ago (Sunnyside) and The Growing Season (Sunnyside), or on the drummer Paul Motian’s On Broadway Volume 4 or the Paradox Of Continuity (Winter & Winter). But, if you’ve heard them together, you know what The Montreal Gazette means when they describe the duo as a “jewel of wife-and-husband intimacy.”

Both partners boast long records of acclaim for their artistry. A native of Maine, Rebecca moved to New York in the early nineties, where her duo project with Jesse Harris (who later penned the Norah Jones hit, “Don’t Know Why”) quickly caught the ear of executives at EMI. Before long, the singer was touring as an opening act with Shawn ColvinEmmylou Harris, and others. Additional attention followed as Rebecca built her own catalog over the course of the next decade, releasing on Fresh SoundMaxJazz, and Sunnyside while earning accolades from NPRThe New York Times, and many others. Nate Chinen elaborates: “As jazz singers go, Rebecca Martin exudes the plainest sort of poise, almost radical in its utter lack of flash… She was unerringly faithful to the melodies of the songs, both standards and originals, but at her best she made them seem less like songs than like articulations of her state of mind.”

Larry was born in San Francisco, CA, and grew up immersed in the region’s strong music scene. As a teenager, the bassist cut his teeth with titans such as Joe HendersonStan GetzBobby Hutcherson, and others. After graduating from Stanford with a degree in English Literature, Larry moved to Boston to join Gary Burton‘s band. Within a year, he relocated to New York, continuing to build his career in the groups of Betty CarterJoshua RedmanJohn ScofieldPat MethenyPaul Motian, and many others. During this period, Larry joined the trio of the pianist Brad Mehldau, and has been an active member of the internationally touring group for close to two decades. Besides being one of the most in-demand bassists in jazz today, Larry also co-leads the trio FLY with Mark Turner and Jeff Ballard. The group was formed, according to Larry (via The New York Times) “because of this ideal of ultimate democracy. They always say jazz is democratic music, and it is, but there are aspects of it that aren’t too. So in our desire to form a band apart from all of the side projects we do, part of the idea was, there’s not going to be a leader, and we’re all going to write for it.”

In January 2013, Rebecca & Larry will release Twain, their new album for Sunnyside. In the meantime, your best bet to hear them will be during their upcoming residency at The Jazz Gallery. Starting this Friday, August 3rd, and continuing on September 7th,  October 16th, and November 6th, the duo will present and develop their material on our stage.

Watch Rebecca & Larry perform “Tea For Two.”

Photo by Steven Sussman, via All About Jazz

A recent review in DownBeat hails John Benitez as “one of today’s top ranking bassists.” Since moving to New York almost two decades ago, the bassist has performed with a staggering roster of iconic artists, including Chick Corea, John Scofield, Tito Puente, Roy Hargrove, Danilo Perez, and Eddie Palmieri, who once declared John to be “the best bass player in the world.”

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, John got his start early, enrolling in the Escuela Libre de Musica at the age of thirteen. He later completed additional studies at the University of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rico Conservatory, where he apprenticed under Federico Silva. Yet his thirst for knowledge soon brought him to New York, where he continued his education under the tutelage of Ron Carter at the City University of New York.

John is a three-time Grammy winner, recognized for his contributions to Roy Hargrove’s Habana, Bebo Valdez’s Bebo de Cuba, and Eddie Palmieri’s Listen Here! The bassist also appears on Grammy nominated recordings by David Sánchez and Conrad Herwig.

In 2011, John released his album Purpose (Seed Music), which features a core ensemble including the pianist Manuel Valera, the guitarist Tom Guarna, the alto saxophonist Will Vinson, and John’s son, the drummer Francis Benitez, as well as special guests. DownBeat calls it “enthralling.”

Like Claudia Acuña, who we profiled and presented last week, John is a veteran of The Jazz Gallery, having performed here almost twenty times in the last decade. On Saturday night, he brings his group SUBJECT to our stage, featuring the reedist John Ellis, the guitarist Vic Juris, the pianist Axel Tosca, and the drummer Francis Benitez.

Watch John’s group perform the title track from Purpose.

Photo via MySpace

Chris Morrissey could be the shape of things to come when it comes to bassists and bandleaders,” proclaims Brenton Plourde in JazzTimes.

Born and raised in Minnesota, Chris grew up equally immersed in the city’s thriving creative jazz and alternative folk scenes. His early years freelancing on the Twin Cities circuit led him to become the only bassist to sub in Happy Apple, a Minneapolis-based but internationally significant trio consisting of the drummer David King (also of The Bad Plus), the saxophonist Michael Lewis, and the bassist Erik Fratzke. During this period, he also found himself performing and recording with the leading lights of the alt-folk genre. While he was in college, Chris received a call to audition for Mason Jennings‘ band, and the bassist subsequently began working with Andrew BirdBill Mike, and Ben Kweller, among others.

Before long, Chris began to expose the common ground created by his involvement in the creative jazz and alternative folk scenes in his own group. In 2009, Sunnyside Records released his debut album, The Morning World, which features David and Michael of Happy Apple, as well as the saxophonist Chris Thomson and pianists Peter Schimke and Bryan Nichols. In a 3.5/4 star review of the album, Jeff Simon of Buffalo News comments, “I hope the world is ready for yet another blazing, genre-busting young jazz band from Minnesota to go with The Bad Plus and Happy Apple, because it just got one. This is hugely inventive and swinging stuff.”

Chris brought his groups to The Jazz Gallery twice last year, and we welcome him back this Friday, July 27th with a new quartet featuring the reedist Ben Wendel, the pianist Kris Davis, and the drummer Mark Guiliana.

Watch a video of Chris’ group performing “Sub-Prime Sword Claims Another” live at The Jazz Gallery, courtesy of Search & Restore.

Photo via

What does Claudia Acuña sound like? Newsday proclaims that she sings with “the voice of an angel.” The New York Times praises her “strength and grace,” and the LA Times marvels, “she has mastered the essential elements of jazz with startling effectiveness.”

Great artists share the sentiment of the press: Claudia has toured and/or recorded with the likes of George BensonBilly ChildsRoy HargroveTom HarrellChristian McBrideDanilo Perez and more. The vocalist signed with Verve for her first two albums, Wind from the South and Rhythm of Life, the MaxJazz imprint followed with Luna, and, most recently, Marsalis Music released En Este Momento. In addition to her musical commitments, Claudia was also recently appointed as a spokesperson for World Vision Chile, an organization which helps fight poverty through child sponsorship.

A native of Santiago, Chile, Claudia was raised in Concepcion. Though surrounded by the arts in her community from a young age, Claudia found that her parents did not share her enthusiasm. Nonetheless, she decided at a young age that she wanted to further her abilities, eventually making a career in music, and friends and faculty members who heard her recognized her talents from an early age. Yet finding ways to develop her skills proved to be a balancing act:

“I was the only member of a college choir who did not attend the college, for instance, and my parents approved of that because it was at a college. When I became older, and chances to perform with rock or jazz groups arose, I’d start lying about going to a friend’s house. I would also sneak into the conservatory on the way home from high school and try to memorize the lessons. I would sing anything, and after people heard me sitting in and began to hire me, the money I made became the excuse to get work. “

Claudia eventually moved back to her birthplace, continuing to pursue her art while making a living recording jingles and voice-overs for cartoons. Yet she didn’t forget about her dreams, and after meeting a few supportive musicians from New York, decided to move there four years after she arrived in Santiago. While she originally planned to attend one of the local universities, the costs were prohibitive. However, she soon found herself learning quickly on the bandstand from several of the best young musicians on the scene at the time, including, among others, Jeff BallardAvishai CohenGuillermo KleinBrad Mehldau, and Jason Lindner. These experiences solidified Claudia’s foundation, and provided her with a set of like-minded peers: “It was like a little music gang. I knew then that I had made the right decision, and had arrived at the right place. I wasn’t in school, but every note I heard was a lesson.”

Claudia is a Jazz Gallery veteran – this weekend will mark her twentieth performance here since 2003. She will be joined by her collaborators Juancho Herrera (guitar), Michael Olatuja (bass), and Yayo Serka (drums). Tickets are $20, but FREE for members or SummerPass holders (at just $35, the SummerPass lets you in to ALL shows in July and August at no additional charge. Get yours here).

Watch Claudia perform “Vida” live in the studio with keyboardist Jason Lindner, who brings his own group to The Gallery later this summer.

Courtesy of Pi Recordings

Speaking about the saxophonist Hafez Modirzadeh, the pianist Vijay Iyer proclaims:

The scope of Hafez’s synthesis of concepts across cultures is staggering. There is great detail in his critical engagement with traditional intervallic systems, tuning systems, and modes, and there is also a grand sweep to his vision across disciplines and historical eras. In spite of its technical complications, there is genuine heart to this music and a real spiritual clarity. Modirzadeh is not simply a ‘scholar’ or ‘musicologist,’ but a genuine artist, with a profound, lifelong stake in the unification of research, creative work, and personal inner quest that is expressed in his music.

Hafez grew up in Northern California, and got his start on the horn at age 12. Before long, he was moonlighting at the Keystone Corner club, learning and drawing inspiration from the great saxophonists that came through town: Sonny Stitt, Dexter Gordon, James Moody, Joe Henderson, and Sonny Simmons. Hafez began to dialog with the music of his ancestry early, taking lessons in the Persian dastgah in his formative years with the renowned musician Mahmoud Zoufonoun. He also performed and recorded internationally with the likes of Don Cherry, Zakir Hussain, Steve Lacy, Oliver Lake, George Lewis, and others.

After earning degrees from New England Conservatory, UCLA, and Wesleyan University, and cutting his teeth on the New York scene, the saxophonist returned to California to teach; he is currently a Music Professor of World Cultures at San Francisco State University. He spent his early years there developing his pioneering “chromodal” concept, a cross-cultural musical approach developed from his own American jazz and Iranian dastgah heritages. Chromodality allows the practitioner to piece together elements of different musical languages from around the world while carefully respecting the traditions of each.

However, a chance encounter with one of the world’s greatest reedists inspired Hafez to take his ideas into the next stage of development. The press release from Pi Recordings tells the story best:

As years turned into decades, and although awarded two NEA Fellowships and a Fulbright, still, the feeling never escaped Modirzadeh that his life’s work was slowly dying on the vine. The story might have ended there if not for a serendipitous visit to Ornette Coleman’s home in New York City in 2007. Modirzadeh had been interested in finding out how it was that after years of developing his own musical approach through Persian and various other non-western systems that he would somehow arrive at a tonal language similar to Coleman’s. A single afternoon visit turned into days of discussion and playing, leaving Modirzadeh convinced of the need for a universal “post-chromodal” approach that breaks free of all cultural barriers. Consequently, Coleman invited Modirzadeh to play with him at the 2007 San Francisco and Monterey Jazz Festivals.

Soon thereafter, Hafez met the Iraqi-American trumpeter Amir ElSaffar; the connection was instantaneous. I sat down with Hafez for an interview yesterday (snippets are included below, but stay tuned for a lengthier version in the weeks ahead) in which he elaborated:

Amir ElSaffar can play every clean shade of any note without any alteration to his horn – just a slide and his embrasure. That’s a training that he received not only from studying classical music, or from the equilibrium of Cecil Taylor’s sonic world, but also from the Iraqi Maqam. He’s coming from Iraqi Maqam and I’m coming from Persian Dastgah – they share this value system of resonance. We both just take that as another inspiration, but what it has done is train our ears. Now, his ears are something else! He’s fifteen years younger than me and it took me like twenty years to get what he got in five, but everybody is different!

Hafez points to the way in which the rhythmic vocabulary of improvised music has developed over the course of the last quarter century as a predecessor to a current revolution in the way we think about resonance: “Rhythm in this music over the last 25 years or so has come to such a sophisticated level. You see rhythmic components being abstracted from and inspired by these cultural traditions, but they recombine and reassemble organically, and in a way that transcends time and place, and reveals something deeply human.”

Hafez’s new release on Pi Recordings, Post-Chromodal Out!, is a manifesto in resonance. On it, you hear Hafez’s barrier-breaking new “post-chromodal” approach embodied by Vijay Iyer, who plays a de-tuned piano; the front-line team of Hafez and Amir ElSaffar, whose previous collaboration Radif Suite (Pi) was described by The New York Times as “scintillating… a radical cultural exchange;” and the rhythm section of  Ken Filiano and Royal Hartigan, with whom Hafez has been working for decades.

Hafez seeks to collapse cultural boundaries in the pursuit of a new idea of resonance:

The standardized temperament for piano, as beautiful as it is, carries an unbalanced weight of influence over players and listeners, leading many to believe that there is no other resonance to work with but this one. This creates a value system that is unjust and ultimately limits the discovery of other, more personal tuning possibilities. By retuning the piano – the one instrument that imposes a dominant influence on the world’s music – the musician is freed to explore all tonal possibilities.

In our conversation yesterday, the saxophonist added:

I feel so grateful to be at the source of a link in a very long chain, and over time, other links will take shape. Subsequently, we’ll have pianists – creative pianists, hopefully some brilliant ones in the mix – carrying that hammer, that tuning hammer, to build their own house!

Want to hear what the music sounds like? Stream the second track, “Facet Fourteen,” from Post-Chromodal Out! below, or just go ahead and reserve your tickets for the CD Release Party at The Jazz Gallery this Friday night.