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Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Pianist and composer Aaron Parks is testing his own musical boundaries. He is exploring new textures on the piano, new ensemble configurations, new melodic approaches, and expanding into new facets of his already-lush multiplicity. In a recent phone interview, Parks discussed his favorite authors and storytellers, his newest collaborators, and the sensitivity with which he approaches music today.

The Jazz Gallery: So you’re in New York now?

Aaron Parks: Yeah, I got back a couple of days ago. I was all over, but most recently I was out in California doing the Stanford workshop, that was really fun. Then I did a red-eye to get to a gig in Richmond after playing a gig with Charles Lloyd, which was a trip and a half. We did a show in Richmond with James Farm, then took the first flight out, and I’ve sort of been straight into stuff in New York! I’ve been playing gigs for most of the last few days. Some really fun ones, including a great one tonight.

TJG: What’s the hit tonight?

AP: Tonight is with Matt Brewer. He put together a really nice band, a sort of West-coast crew, with Ben Wendel, Charles Artura, and Justin Brown. I love Matt’s tunes, man. They’re so particular and beautiful.

TJG: What do you mean by ‘particular?’

AP: He has a very special approach to harmony, really beautiful voice-leading in uncommon ways that all make sense. It’s relatively common these days to have written-out voicings, rather than simple chord-changes [in the piano parts]. He gives me both: his ideas for what the chords are, and his ideas for what the voicings are. A lot of people write out voicings, but the voicings he writes out are, man, so beautiful. The other thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of his tunes are written on guitar: Most of the harmony, at least at the exposition of the melody, is flushed out via arpeggio in one form or another. Basically, a moving line where you can sustain the pedal and it spells out a harmony in a river of motion. We had a rehearsal the other day, and everyone in the band was intuitively zoning right into a nice space.

TJG: I guess that’s the power of a good composition.

AP: That’s true, the power of a good composition and the right band.

TJG: So you’re playing with a lot of people, even just in the last month, between Stanford, James Farm, Charles Lloyd. Is this the pace for you these days?

AP: It’s the way things are going this year, which I enjoy. I love playing with different people. Everyone brings out a different side. I just love figuring out what everybody’s idea of a party is, and joining it! [Laughs] I’ve been doing a bunch of things with different bands, which keeps me creatively nourished.

TJG: So, talk a little bit about “Little Big,” the project you’re bringing to The Jazz Gallery on August 21st.

AP: So this is a band where a lot of the tunes go back a long way. Basically, I put the band together with the purpose of playing these songs, a lot of which come from primarily non-jazz influences. I tried bringing them to various different projects, and it was always really cool, I’d have a good time, but there was something about it that made me say “You know, I might want to have a dedicated project for some of these songs, and get guys who, while having a grounding and history in jazz, don’t do that primarily.” The band is based around that—guys who used to be in the jazz scene in New York maybe ten or fifteen years ago, but who now are doing things with different rock bands or alternative/country artists.

The idea is to get people who love playing songs. The improvisation element is an important part, but I want to be playing the songs in a way where it feels natural and flowing and organic where things can happen. But with this project, the point is the song.

TJG: So how do you seek out musicians for that? There are plenty of folks who love a good melody, and there are plenty who can improvise, but that combination can be hard to find.

AP: It definitely can be. I tried a lot of different versions, and it ended up settling into this one. Greg Tuohey is a guitar player out of New Zealand. He’s a unique and beautiful musician. He came up around the same time as Kurt [Rosenwinkel], went to Berklee with Kurt and Mark Turner and met all those guys up there. Then he got a little burnt out on the whole improvised music thing, I’d say maybe ten years ago, or maybe the struggle of it. And, he was finding interest in other things. So he’s been touring with different bands, most recently with a guy named Joe Pug. He had come to me because he’d heard a record I did some years ago, Invisible Cinema, and he said to me “Man, this is kind of the first thing that’s made me want to play jazz again in a while.” So when I was thinking about these songs again, and writing some new ones in that vain, I said “Hey, what about that guy?” So I started getting together with him and working on the music, teaching it to him, a lot of the time by ear.

From there, we tried a few different people. The drummer, that’s one of the hardest things. You’ve gotta have someone who really grooves, but doesn’t groove in a way that’s inflexible, but rather sort of permeable. There’s a lot of guys who can really do that, but in this particular project, I was looking for more of a rock guy who also improvises. And so I ended up getting a recommendation to try Darren Beckett, a fantastic musician originally out of Ireland.


Album artwork by Justin Hopkins.

Album artwork by Justin Hopkins

Darius Jones is a saxophonist with both deep roots in the traditions of African-American music, and an unfettered conceptual imagination. Beginning with his debut album Man’ish Boy (A Raw and Beautiful Thing) in 2009, Jones has created a deeply personal musical language that he has continued to explore on subsequent albums—Big Gurl (Smell My Dream), Book of Mæbul (Another Kind of Sunrise), and The Oversoul Manual (all released by AUM Fidelity). These four albums comprise the beginning of Jones’s ongoing Man’ish Boy epic, a project that will eventually encompass nine albums.

This week marks the release of the next installment in Jones’s series, Le bébé de Brigitte (Lost in Translation), and The Jazz Gallery is proud to present Jones and his group in concert on Thursday, August 20th. For this installment of the project, Jones is joined by a new collaborator—French jazz singer Emilie Lesbros. Back in January 2014, Jones performed with Lesbros in the US for the first time at The Jazz Gallery. In a conversation with JazzSpeaks, Jones spoke of his and Lesbros’s musical meeting point:

One of the things we have in common is this woman Brigitte Fontaine, this legendary French avant-garde artist who has done all kinds of great things. We’re trying to deal with Bridget’s perspective as a musician and artist, and the tradition that I come from, which is jazz and gospel and the blues. We’re trying to say something different with these traditions.

Read the rest of Jones’s JazzSpeaks interview here.

The new album introduces a new character named Brigitte into the Man’ish Boy universe, a tribute to Jones and Lesbros’s common influence. But beyond this common influence, Jones, Lesbros, and the rest of the group come from diverse musical backgrounds, leading to musical frictions. Writing on the AUM Fidelity website, Jones notes:

In the process of creating this music, we often fell into moments of miscommunication because of differences in culture and language. I think this created a sense of mystery, and forced all of us to listen more deeply to each other’s nuances and subtleties, because we didn’t always have words to fall back on.

These musical frictions have led to some beautiful and moving results—songs that sit unsafely between musical traditions and can transport listeners to dark and unexplored parts of the mind. Check out some excerpts of this exciting new music in the player below, and come to the Gallery on Thursday night to hear the rest.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

It’s been ten years since Philip Dizack released his debut album, Beyond a Dream (Fresh Sound), an explosive, Nicholas Payton-esque post-bop affair that marked the trumpeter as a daring yet precise player. The honors poured in, and Dizack was listed as one of Downbeat’s “25 Trumpeters to Watch” alongside Ambrose Akinmusire and Avishai Cohen.

With his second album, End of an Era (Criss Cross), Dizack expanded his sonic palette by adding strings to his simmering, soulful compositions. For Dizack, the album marked a turning point, both as a maturing musician and on a more personal note. “End of an Era represents a moment when what you had is gone,” he told WBGO’s The Checkout. “For me, it’s specific things like family relationships that ended. Both of my grandparents passed away. All those things were very personal, but I saw that everyone goes through something. And it’s all the same.”

Dizack’s latest release is Single Soul (Criss Cross), which manages to feel even more expansive with nothing more than a standard jazz quintet. The trumpeter’s compositions, like the title track, are intricate yet romantic, while his solo take on the Duke Ellington standard “I’ve Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)” showcases Dizack’s control of both angular lines and gentle lyricism.

Dizack has been a consistent presence at the Gallery over the last decade, and we’re proud to welcome him once again.  (more…)

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Victor Gould has become a staple sideman for many, and he’s also becoming a staple here at the Jazz Gallery. Gould is making his second appearance as a leader of his own trio this Saturday, August 15th, and we are excited to see what he has prepared for us in between his nonstop global touring with the likes of Wallace Roney, Etienne Charles, Sean Jones, and others. Victor could be described as an old soul—his comfort and mastery with his instrument defies his young age, and that is probably why musicians such as Donald Harrison and Ralph Peterson have taken him under their wings and included him in their musical ventures.

This Saturday, Victor will be joined by Ben Williams on bass, and John Davis on drums, two other musicians whose experiences belie their ages. We look forward to hearing some new compositions and arrangements by Victor and this youthful, energetic trio.  (more…)

Design by David Virelles

Design by David Virelles

Santiago-raised and Brooklyn-based pianist-composer David Virelles returns to our stage this Friday, August 14th, bolstered with new repertoire and collaborators that expand on the lexicon he has presented and crafted at the Gallery since first playing here with Steve Coleman. Nurtured by the support and collaboration of Henry ThreadgillMark Turner, Chris PotterDavid Binney, and Tomasz Stanko among others, the in-demand Virelles has made strides in developing his own voice, recently voted #1 “Rising Star Pianist” by the DownBeat 2015 Critics’ Poll. Through offerings like the 2012 Continuum (Pi Recordings), the Gallery’s own Commission Series and the 2014 Mbókò (ECM), Virelles has explored elements of folkloric rhythm and Afro-Cuban ritual, employing mixed-media tools like animation, poetry and abstract painting to compliment the sonic language at hand.

This Friday poses a new setting for dialogue, calling on Brandon Ross to join the forces of past and continuous Virelles collaborators, Thomas Morgan, Eric McPherson and Roman Filiú. We recently caught up with David by phone to learn more about the upcoming performance and his priorities at present:

The Jazz Gallery: Tell us a bit about the upcoming hit with Brandon–how did this come about?

David Virelles: This is something that I’ve wanted to put together for a while. I wrote new music, as it was special to get this opportunity to do something with him. He’s one of my favorite musicians. I’ve always admired his own records and his work with people like Threadgill, Cassandra Wilson, and Leroy Jenkins. I wanted to use the same rhythm section from my Mbókò tour this summer with Thomas and Eric. With Mbókò there is certain way in which we’re addressing things from a rhythmic perspective and that is also true of this project because of the players that are involved. In approaching rhythm and improvisation, when I consider every parameter across the written materials, I’m also taking into account the musical personalities that I’m working with because I consider that part of the composition too. It’s more of a special thing that I put together for this occasion….maybe in the future we’ll have the opportunity to expand on it.

TJG: The artwork you used to promote the show is also featured in a multi-media exploration IDEOGRAMAS with Romulo Sans and Alexander Overington that you just released–are these projects related?

DV: Well, for me, I see all areas of my creative activity being interconnected in one way or another. I like that image from the video and thought it somehow represented what I’m trying to do for this date so I wanted to use it. But the IDEOGRAMAS project is a different effort that I’m trying to address separately. While I wouldn’t call myself a visual artist, I’ve always been into drawing since I was a kid. I do it on and off. Sometimes I take things on the road with me but usually it’s a practice at home where all of my tools are. Since I started working on my Continuum project with Cuban artist Alberto Lescay, I’ve been exploring the idea of trying to visually represent whatever musical concepts we’re trying to put forth. For this project, I made these drawings loosely inspired by a Cuban folkloric graphic system “Nsibidi”. I was looking to work with a visual artist and animator and had the privilege of finding Romulo Sans through some things he had done for friends of mine. We worked really hard on that project for a few months–there is so much work that goes into a short piece like that.