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Wikimedia Commons

Steve Coleman needs no introduction. As one of the most formidable improvisational thinkers of the past few decades, he has left an immeasurable impact on the modern jazz scene today with his incisive perceptions and research into the rhythms of music of the African diaspora, as well as his forward-thinking conceptions of just about every other parameter concerning contemporary improvisors negotiating their relationship to this music known as jazz. Drummer Billy Hart is quoted as saying of Steve:

Steve Coleman’s way of playing is so influential. You’ve got the Wynton Marsalis regime, and the strongest force other than that is Steve Coleman. He’s produced Vijay Iyer. That’s Steve Coleman. I mean we could name anybody, they’re influenced by him. You could name Greg Osby, and there’s Jason Moran. I mean Scott Colley, Marvin “Smitty” Smith, Robin Eubanks, Dave Holland is even influenced by that. As a concept, that’s totally Steve Coleman’s Arguably, Dave Binney is influenced by that as a concept, definitely that’s Steve Coleman. It’s incredible. There’s a group in Belgium called Aka Moon, and they sound like Dave. They all have influenced this whole thing. Danilo Perez, I mean that whole concept is that. Jeff Watts, Branford Marsalis, Ravi Coltrane, that’s all Steve Coleman’s influence as far as I’m concerned. (Being Here, 260)

Steve is one of 25 featured interviewees in Radhika Philip‘s Being Here (2013), a study into creativity and improvisation in the contemporary New York city scene. Many of her interviewees are alumni of The Jazz Gallery, and full list itself is rather remarkable: Andy Bey, Ben Monder, Billy Hart, Bill Frisell, Brian Blade, Butch Morris, Chris Potter, Dafnis Prieto, David Binney, Dave Douglas, Gregoire Maret, Henry Threadgill, Jane Ira Bloom, Jason Moran, Kenny Wollesen, Maria Schneider, Mark Turner, Robert Glasper, Steve Coleman, Thomas Morgan, Vijay Iyer, William Parker.  (more…)

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Filter via pixlr

Setting poetry to music is delicate business, yet Frank Carlberg has nearly perfected the process. Over five quintet albums spanning 13 years, the Finnish-born, Brooklyn-based pianist has crafted full bodied compositions from the poems of Wallace Stevens, Jack Kerouac, Kenneth Rexroth, and more, placing longtime collaborator Christine Correa’s vocals front and center. The group’s most recent release, 2009’s The American Dream (Red Piano Records), features settings of Robert Creeley poems commissioned by Chamber Music America. Carlberg’s strong, idiosyncratic melodies would stand on their own without words; the poetry only adds depth to an already nuanced collection of compositions. All About Jazz called the album an “inventive recreation” of Creeley’s work, and the Boston Phoenix praised Carlberg’s “full art-song arrangements.”

The quintet Carlberg brings to Thursday’s double-billed show with the Michigan-based Songsmith Collective will include longstanding members Correa and drummer Michael Sarin as well as saxophonist Jeremy Udden and bassist Jay Anderson. Outside of this group, Carlberg teaches at multiple schools and leads his own trio and big band, but even if you limited his output solely to quintet projects, the result would be impressively prolific.

The Frank Carlberg Quintet and Songsmith Collective will perform at The Jazz Gallery this Thursday, March 27th, 2014. The Frank Carlberg Quintet features Carlberg on piano, Christine Correa on voice, Jeremy Udden on saxophones, Jay Anderson on bass, and Michael Sarin on drums. Songsmith Collective features Elliot Weeks and Brooke Lauritzen on voice, Curtis James on trumpet, Dominic Carioti on soprano and tenor saxophone, Blake Cross on tenor saxophone, Luke Marlow on trombone, Marcus Johnson on baritone saxophone and bass clarinet, Kellen Boersma on guitar, Mark Niskanen on piano, Denis Shebukov on bass, and Steven Perry on drums. Both ensembles will perform short sets at 9:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. $20 general admission ($10 for Members). Purchase tickets here.

Photo by Jimmy Ryan

Photo by Jimmy Ryan

Along with musicians like drummer Dafnis Prieto and saxophonist Yosvany Terry, pianist Manuel Valera is one of the most visible Cuban musicians in New York combining the music of his homeland with the sounds and forms of modern jazz. In his flagship group, New Cuban Express (whose debut album was nominated for a Grammy in 2013), Valera takes Cuban styles like Timba and uses their rhythmic energy to power the band’s improvisational flights of fancy.

But Valera’s Cuban heritage makes up only a part of his musical personality; he’s also a dedicatee of the post-bop piano tradition from Bill Evans through Chick Corea and beyond. On Saturday, Valera will perform at The Jazz Gallery, showing his jazz piano bona fides with a new trio featuring bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts. We caught up with Manuel by phone to talk about the joys and challenges of playing in a piano trio, and how his music bridges the gap between his Cuban heritage and his life in New York.

The Jazz Gallery: Recently, you’ve been working with larger groups like New Cuban Express and jazz combos augmented with classical wind sections or string quartets. What made you want to go back to a trio for this show?

Manuel Valera: I wanted to do something different for this gig at The Jazz Gallery. I’ve been playing with Jeff “Tain” Watts really often lately and we were talking about doing something with a trio. The opportunity came around and he was available, and I thought it would be a really cool thing to play a trio with him and Hans Glawischnig, so it’s really exciting.

TJG: What do you like in particular about working with a trio versus a larger group? What does it allow you to do differently?

MV: Essentially, it’s a lot more open. In my larger groups, I generally end up writing a lot more: there are a lot more sections of tunes, there’s through-composed stuff. With a trio, the tunes can be less involved and they can reflect more of the personality of the other musicians—as opposed to the New Cuban Express, where the vision that I have for that is not super strict, but it has some limitations. There are some grooves and section changes that are sort of set, and they sort of have to be that way. With the trio it’s more open, and instead of writing too much I just like to hire musicians that I really like and have them do their thing over my maps.

TJG: You said you’ve been playing with Jeff “Tain” Watts a lot recently, both in his groups and in your groups. What do you like about his playing that comes out in a trio setting?

MV: I knew about Jeff way before he knew about me. I’ve been listening to him on recordings with Kenny Kirkland, Branford Marsalis, and Kenny Garrett for a long time. I’ve always been an immense fan of his; he’s probably my favorite drummer of all time—at least my favorite drummer alive today. He’s aggressive, but he can be gentle too. The amazing thing is that everything he can play loud, he can also play super soft. His sound on his instrument is really amazing; the stuff that he plays is so him. There’s really no parallel. A lot of people try to imitate him, but when you hear him play, you realize the people that are imitating him are far, far from the real thing. He’s a great composer. I’m really a fan of all the aspects of his musicianship. It’s really a thrill to play my tunes with him. (more…)

Photo courtesy of the artist

Photo courtesy of the artist

Lauded by the New York Times for his “deep and soulful sound,” composer, educator, and bandleader Dezron Douglas returns to the Gallery this Friday with a new variation of his Black Lion Quartet. Nephew of the late legendary drummer and composer Walter Bolden, Douglas grew up entrenched in the Hartford, Connecticut jazz community and has been playing in New York City since 1999, carving a name for himself both as a leader and as a sideman amongst all of the highly acclaimed usual suspects. Dezron debuted the Black Lion Quartet at the Gallery back in 2011, and this week is poised for more high intensity playing as Dezron brings the concept quartet back to its original home.

To discuss his career at large, the context of the Black Lion Quartet, the upcoming performance, and his passion for music, we sat down with Dezron at Peanut Butter & Co. in the heart of Greenwich Village, where he expounded on everything from breaking synthesizers to imaginary rooms to overcoming walls. Here’s what he had to say:

The Jazz Gallery: 2013 was certainly a great year for you. Some notable accomplishments include the release of Dezron Douglas, Live at Smalls, playing the Detroit Jazz Festival, accompanying Ravi Coltrane on a Village Vanguard run, recording with Louis Hayes and joining his Cannonball Legacy band, playing with Cyrus Chestnut and Victor Lewis in your “Quartet of Doom,” and so forth. What were your thoughts on how it went?

Dezron Douglas: Yeah, it was my first time playing with Ravi at the Vanguard. I think I played with Al Foster at the Vanguard for the first time in 2012. The Vanguard is a different spot man, you know…it’s serious. I’ve been working in New York since ’99 and I didn’t get my first gig at the Vanguard until 2012; there are a lot of great places to play in New York City—including The Jazz Gallery—but the Vanguard has that historic thing happening. But yeah, last year was great with the Smalls record coming out. You know, sometimes when you’re caught up in the moment you don’t tend to remember a lot that you did but that’s pretty deep, just already hearing some of the things that I was able to do. This music—it brings you everywhere.

Last year was a highlight in terms of the masters that I got a chance to work with. I was “batting three-hundred” at the Detroit Jazz Festival (I say “batting three-hundred” because I played with three different acts at the festival: David Berger’s Orchestra, JD Allen, and Ravi Coltrane, all in that weekend). Also, being associated with, getting to hang out with, and getting to play with people like George Cables, Cyrus Chestnut, and Victor Lewis; doing two live records with Louis Hayes; joining the Dexter Gordon Legacy Band; working with Papo Vazquez (we did a record that came out last year that was my first recording playing any kind of Latin jazz). I love working with Papo and we’re actually working on doing another record now with The Mighty Pirates Troubadours. We’re going to be in the studio in April right before I go on the road with Ravi.

2013 was great. The whole year was like an establishment of a friendship with Ravi Coltrane. Because of my fiancée, harpist Brandee Younger, Ravi and I kind of connected. We had been trying to connect for the past four or five years, and once we did, it was just like a match made in heaven, man. Our vibes match, we get along, we offset each other. Musically, Ravi never really tells me anything to do—he’s like, “Whatever you got, bring it! This is the music that we’re dealing with. Just play, man!” I appreciate that coming from a bandleader to a sideman. Last year, we really established a groove in the band with Johnathan Blake and David Virelles. It’s a great band; those cats are bad! Everyone is super killing and we’re just having fun.

Finally, 2013 was tough as we lost Cedar Walton and Mulgrew Miller.  I didn’t know Cedar well, but I met him a few times. I got to play a couple tunes with him during a master class in college and I had talked to him on the phone. There were a few moments where I was asked to learn the book, just in case David Williams couldn’t make it. Just having him not around anymore—it’s a really heavy blow to the scene.

I had a chance to play with Mulgrew a few times. That cat was golden! Their passing was a wake up call for everybody on the scene to try to get our lives together and do what makes us feel good. Those were heavy blows last year, man. (more…)

Photo by Dave Kaufman

Photo by Dave Kaufman

2014 is shaping up to be a big year for pianist Sam Harris: first off, he has already played on two of the year’s most critically-acclaimed new releases, Rudy Royston’s 303 (Greenleaf) and Ambrose Akinmusire’s the imagined savior is far easier to paint (Blue Note). Harris is more than just a sideman on these records; his harmonies give each one their distinctive color and feel, and he has been duly recognized for these contributions. In his review of 303, Nate Chinen of The New York Times singled out Harris as a “… strong voice in ascendence.” Meanwhile, while listening to Akinmusire’s new album, Steve Smith of the Times and Time Out New York tweeted this:

Secondly, Harris has just released his debut album as a leader, Interludes (Fresh Sound). The style and personality that shines through on 303 and imagined savior comes out in full force here. All of the tracks on this album are Harris originals, and he demonstrates a sense of form that is unique among his peer group. Rather than constructing tunes that stretch into vehicles for instrumental solos, Harris creates concise and intimate vignettes: tone poems for a chamber ensemble of jazz instruments. He expands typical post-bop piano harmony into new territory, with curious dissonances and asymmetrical spacings—one part Herbie Hancock, one part Paul Bley. He plays with texture in interesting ways, using vintage keyboards like the mellotron and Fender Rhodes to create a near-symphonic palette. He builds up intricate rhythmic grids and breaks them down again with equal aplomb. Interludes is thus a perfect descriptor of Harris’s music: a connector between the mainstream and the avant-garde, between the formal and the fanciful.

As fans of The Jazz Gallery know, Harris has been honing this unique sound on the Gallery’s stage for several years now as both a leader and sideman. On Thursday, Harris will perform two sets as a belated celebration for the release of Interludes. While the album features contributions from saxophonists Roman Filiu and Ben van Gelder, Harris will present the music on Thursday with his trio featuring Martin Nevin on bass and Craig Weinrib on drums. Come out to hear Harris’s memorable and atmospheric themes stripped down to an elemental form.

Sam Harris performs in a trio with bassist Martin Nevin and drummer Craig Weinrib at The Jazz Gallery on Thursday, March 20th. Sets are at 9 and 11 p.m. $15 general admission ($10 for members) for the first set, $10 general admission ($5 for members) for the second. Purchase tickets here.