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Photos via Facebook

Photos via Facebook

De Akokán, the name of the co-led ensemble of the guitarist and songwriter Pavel Urkiza & the reedist Ricardo Pons, means “from the heart” in the Yoruba language. Pavel was born in Ukraine to parents of Cuban descent, and has produced much of his creative output from Spain. He has been heralded as a “maestro” by his peers in the Afro-Caribbean music community, and specializes in a style he helped develop called filin progresivo. In Pavel’s words: “I started to discover new codes, new fountains from which to drink, new colors — and I came to perceive music like painting — beyond the notes are the textures.” This is a music that incorporates elements of jazz, and rhythms from West Africa, Brazil, the Mediterranean, and India, which Pavel was exposed to in Lavapiés, an immigrant neighborhood in Madrid.

In the early nineties, Pavel teamed up with the Cuban singer Gema Corredera to form the Gema & Pavel duo, whose pioneering music the Miami New Times described as, “a post-Cold War fusion rooted in their island upbringing and marked by the émigré experience.” Pavel has also collaborated with Omara PortuondoAngelique KidjoAlejandro Sanz, Tito Puente and many others.

Ricardo’s collaborative involvement in De Akokán pushes Pavel’s filin progresivo in a new direction. Ricardo was educated in New York (he holds a bachelor’s degree from City College and a M.A. from Queens College) and has performed with a breadth of artists including Chick Corea, Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Mario Bauza, and Willie Colon. His interests lies in various expansions of Puerto Rican traditional music, which he explores as the Musical Director of Viento de Agua and a member of the Puerto Sax Quartet.

On Saturday, we are excited to bring De Akokán to our new stage (1160 Broadway, 5th floor). The group will be rounded out by the bassist Yunior Terry and the percussionist Tony Rosa.

We recommend checking out De Akokán’s album, Buscando la esquina, and this intimate live video of the duo performing “Luces Del Camino.”

Photograph by Jimmy Katz

Photograph by Jimmy Katz

Ben Ratliff describes the music on Figurations (Sunnyside), which is the most recent release from the guitarist Miles Okazaki, as “slowly evolving puzzles of brilliant jazz logic, worked out among some new-model brains.” The album made it onto Ratliff’s Best of 2012 shortlist in The New York Times. In 2009, Vijay Iyer listed Generations (Sunnyside) – another of Miles’ releases – among his top ten albums of 2009 in ArtForum, offered a similar characterization: “a recursively structured, fractally detailed labyrinth of music — the sonic equivalent of Escher or Borges, but with real emotional heft.”

Characterized as “an exceedingly skilled guitarist with a head for rhythmic convolution” by The New York Times, Miles was raised in Port Townsend, Washington. He holds degrees from Harvard, Manhattan School of Music, and Juilliard, and was the 2nd place finalist in the 2005 Thelonious Monk Guitar Competition. He has honed his skills in bands led by Stanley TurrentineKenny Barron, and Steve Coleman, among others.

We’ve presented Miles numerous times since 2007, including the CD release concerts for all three of his albums. Additionally, the music on Figurations was commissioned by The Jazz Gallery during our 2011 Residency Commissions series, and the album was recorded live on our stage during the premiere concert. This Friday, we welcome Miles to our new stage (1160 Broadway, 5th floor) with a quartet featuring the bassist Hans Glawischnig, the drummer Dan Weiss, and the reedist Ben Wendel.

Read a guest post from Miles about the pioneering guitarist Charlie Christian, via Do The Math.

Photo by Miho Aikawa, courtesy of the artist

Photo by Miho Aikawa, courtesy of the artist

On Thursday, March 28th, Miho Hazama will celebrate the US release of Journey to Journey (Sunnyside) at The Jazz Gallery. The Japan Times praises the album, which has already been released in Japan by Verve, as “refreshingly original,” and writes that it “stood out as one of the most notable releases in Japan last autumn.”

The composer-pianist has collaborated with Yosuke YamashitaVince Mendoza, and Ryuichi Sakamoto as well as large ensembles like the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Metropole Orkest. Her arrangements have been performed for audiences in six countries across three continents. In general, Miho chooses to ignore genre boundaries. “To be honest I don’t really like categorizing music,” she says. “I just need some kind of concept, plan or structure in my mind before I start writing.”

Miho began her classical piano studies at the age of thirteen; by then, she had already been exposed to a broad range of music. Her compositional ambitions developed soon thereafter, but it wasn’t until years later as an undergraduate that she first discovered jazz:

When I was a freshman, I just happened to catch a concert by the college big band. To be honest, before that day I wasn’t even aware that the college had a big band. Anyway, I thought they sounded really cool and that I might be able to experience something exciting in the band. So, I started playing piano with them, and through that I got to know the music of Maria Schneider, Vince Mendoza, Jim McNeely and Mike Holober — all of whom have become big musical influences for me. From that point on, I became more and more interested in jazz composition.

After honing her skills and receiving her bachelor’s degree, Miho made the move to New York to attend the M.A. program at the Manhattan School of Music. Relocating and immersing herself in the city’s thriving scene resulted in a creative awakening for the composer:

It was definitely a great experience in terms of finding myself in a lot of ways. Not only as a composer, but also as a person from a classical music background, as a Japanese woman, and so on.

Before I studied abroad, I was struggling to find my own voice, something that truly said, “This is me.” “But after I started my MSM life, a lot of friends and teachers told me that my compositions were unique and interesting, and they encouraged me to keep going. Eventually, I got to the point where I decided that I wanted my music to be heard by a wider audience.

Watch a video teaser for Journey to Journey, featuring animation by Oerd van Cuijlenborg.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Last year, we enlisted four bassists to draft new works through our 2011-2012 Residency Commissions series, dubbed “Leading From the Bass.” Joe Sanders took this idea and ran with it, creating music and arrangements showcasing a quartet of acoustic basses. Joe speaks:

The goal is to have the audience understand that the role of the bass isn’t always to stand in the back. You can be the bandleader [as a bassist], and still also play the same role that you were, which is the same as everyone else in the band.

The bass is a beautiful instrument and it has so many capabilities – it can produce beautiful melodies and negotiate tricky harmonic and rhythmic situations – which aren’t explored often enough. Every one of the bassists that will be performing on Friday night is capable of showcasing those capabilities.

For several weeks, Joe spent almost every afternoon (and several nights) at The Gallery, honing and shaping his compositions for this group. The experience shifted Joe’s outlook. At the time, he remarked, “I’m a bass player. I play bass all the time, so I’ve always felt like a bass player. Sometimes, I feel like a bassist-composer. But, at this point, I feel like a composer-bassist. It’s been really weird being in the house all day not touching my instrument and just writing for ten hours!” Although he found himself adjusting to spending time away from the bass, Joe created a series of pieces that draw upon his deep understanding of the instrument:

I know bass players. I know them really well. And I knew that these guys would be gung-ho about this, because it’s something really different, and something new, and [they would do] anything to advance the bass. These guys have been wonderful. And I’m in the same boat that they are, which is usually not the case. Because [no bandleader] really knows what you’re doing with the bass – [e.g.] the fingerings or bowings that you have to use – so we’re all in the same space. And I’m playing this music too, and it’s hard for me, and I wrote it!

The premiere of Joe’s commissioned work for his Chamber Bass Project last Spring was a truly memorable event, and we are very excited to welcome them back to our new home (1160 Broadway, 5th floor) this Saturday. The performance will feature fellow bassists Shawn ConleyRyan Berg, and Christopher Mees, as well as saxophonist Pat Carroll, pianist Gerald Clayton, and drummer Kevin Kanner.

Read our full interview with Joe from last Spring, which touches on the highs and lows of composing, developing ideas at The Gallery, and leading from the bass.

Photo by Jason Gardner via ArtInfo

Photo by Jason Gardner via ArtInfo

According to JazzTimes, the O’Farrill Brothers Band “displays a maturity and polish that one might expect from an older, more veteran group of musicians.” All About Jazz concurs: in their words, the group is “reaching a level of artistic confidence that eludes most musicians of any age…an already airborne crew of mighty musical flyers.”

At a very young age, Adam and Zack O’Farrill have made serious strides. The two sons of GRAMMY-winning pianist Arturo O’Farrill co-lead the O’Farrill Brothers Band, which The Wall Street Journal proclaims “bristles with confidence and creativity.” They have already performed with a range of artists: between the two of them, the list includes Stefon Harris, Arturo O’Farrill, Benny GolsonDJ LogicKenny Burrell, and James Moody.

“Afro-Latin music is a mixing pot of countless sounds, ideas, and influences from countless places and people,” says Adam O’Farrill. “Right now, I’m really working on making music that’s also a mixing pot, but of jazz, classical, rock, electronic, Middle Eastern, hip-hop, and many more, in the same way that Latin music was created.” It appears to be working; Larry Blumenfeld writes, “the music fits within a landscape of inventive jazz from a generation of players in New York who are catholic in their tastes, fluent in many styles, and capable of great compassion within a band.”

On Friday, the O’Farrill Brothers Band will take the stage at our new home (1160 Broadway, 5th floor) for the first time to celebrate the release of their new album,Sensing Flight (Zoho)JazzTimes proclaims: “The band performs the often challenging arrangements with total commitment and an adventurous spirit, making for an enthralling listening experience.”

We’ve featured the O’Farrills in several Jazz Speaks posts (you can read more, including words from the artists, herehere, and here). On this occasion, we’re pleased to bring you an exclusive first listen: stream “Drive,” the first track from Sensing Flight, via the player below:

[audio ]