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From L to R: Johnathan Blake, Linda Oh, Chris Potter. Photos courtesy of the artists.

From L to R: Johnathan Blake, Linda Oh, Chris Potter. Photos courtesy of the artists.

As a special holiday surprise, The Jazz Gallery is proud to present a power trio composed of three of jazz’s foremost leaders on their instruments—drummer Johnathan Blake, bassist Linda Oh, and saxophonist Chris Potter. All three players swing through a variety of projects as both leaders and supporting band members, meaning that their convergence at the Gallery is a rare astronomical event.

Though Blake, Oh, and Potter have not played together in this exact configuration before, their common connections run deep. Not only have Oh and Potter been two of Pat Metheny’s most recent collaborators, but Blake has been a frequent member of Potter’s own sax-bass-drums trio. Check out their effortless swing on “Synchronicity” in the video below.


Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Eric Harland has been a sideman to many revered bandleaders: McCoy Tyner, Charles Lloyd, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Dave Holland, Chris Potter, and Joshua Redman, to name a few. But he will be front and center for “Harlandia,” coming to The Gallery on Dec. 22 and 23. He’s recruited some of his closest colleagues over the years to assist him in realizing his musical vision: Taylor Eigsti and James Francies on piano, Ben Wendel on saxophone, Harish Raghavan on bass, and Love Science Music DJing. In an interview with Jazz Speaks, Harland talked about Tyner, hip hop, and meeting Barack Obama. Excerpts from the conversation are below.

The Jazz Gallery: What does the concept of “Harlandia” represent?

Eric Harland: Harlandia is my world, the way I hear music. It is, in a way, a combination of my worlds from past to present: a little bit of retrospective, current, and future ideas. LoveScience is gonna be interplaying a lot of different music that we’ve worked on, including some that’s very current and hasn’t been released yet. I’m always willing to step on the edge, just to see how people feel about certain things.

Sometimes you just want to hear your world in its entirety. Taylor and Harish are kind of the core of a lot of what I’ve done over the years.The thing I like about both Taylor and James is they’re both very versatile—they can play piano, keyboard, and have an understanding of both instruments in the way they flow in a group setting. And Ben is one of the most versatile sax players on the scene, in how he can play really well in acoustic settings and real nail some big funk band settings.

TJG: You’ve played for so many amazing bandleaders over the years. How does your style as a bandleader compare to those you’ve learned from?

EH: You always learn so much playing as a sideman. You have to be able to react and respond to the needs or desires of the leader you’re playing with. One of the greatest experiences about playing with McCoy is that we never rehearsed. You had to either know the tunes or learn them by the first chorus.

That was a great experience for me because I feel like a lot of musicians tend to over rehearse. They want it to be so perfect so that the presentation is exactly the way they envisioned it. Whereas, I would say the older school of guys like McCoy, Charles Lloyd, Joe Henderson, Benny Carter: these iconic musicians taught me that the spontaneity of the music that brings out something you wouldn’t do repetitively. They were looking to get you to do something different, not for you to overemphasize the same thing you would normally do in any situation. Because then, the music is new for no one.

But then, I do love the current flow of where music is going, how guys are attempting to be perfectionists. If they get their idea to come across as perfect as possible, then there’s no regret as to whether people like or dislike their music.

TJG: So where do you fall on that spectrum?

EH: The middle. I do attempt for the state of perfection. But I’m also open to the fact that whatever happens is perfection. I believe a lot of that does come from having experience as a sideman. Your ultimate job is orchestration: how can I allow this moment to be the best possible moment it can be? The more you practice that, the more it comes across in everything that you do.


The James Carney sextet at the Rubin Museum of Art. Photo courtesy of Oscar Noriega.

The James Carney sextet at the Rubin Museum of Art. Photo courtesy of Oscar Noriega.

Perhaps you’ve had the pleasure of hearing an iteration of The James Carney Group perform around town. It could be that you’ve been at one of the nearly five hundred shows he’s programmed through his Konceptions concert series. Maybe Carney has come to your home, studio, or venue to repair and tune your piano. However your paths may have crossed, you’ll know that James Carney is one of New York’s most productive and captivating pianists.

Originally from Syracuse, Carney lived in Los Angeles where he attended CalArts and started a family. Carney was busy while in LA, winning grants and accolades from the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Composers competition and the California Arts Council Fellowship, to name a few. He released three records as a leader, always finding resourceful and innovative ways to enlist in-demand musicians and produce his own albums. After returning to New York in 2004, Carney won back-to-back awards from Chamber Music of America in 2008 and 2009, and released two more albums, the much-praised Ways & Means (Songlines 1580) and Green-Wood (Songlines 1566). There are more awards, albums, and collaborations as well: For a remarkably detailed interview with Carney, take a glance at his 2007 interview with Songlines.

On December 21st, James Carney will play with his newest ensemble, including Ravi Coltrane (saxophone), Stephanie Richards (trumpet), Oscar Noriega (woodwinds), Dezron Douglas (bass), and Tom Rainey (drums). We caught up with Carney to discuss the birth of his newest ensemble, the joys of being a piano technician, and his latest ‘improvisation-and-transcription’ way of composing.

TJG: Later this month you’ll be playing at The Jazz Gallery with the latest incarnation of your band. What will you be playing?

JC: As we speak I’m writing it now; I’ve got four compositions that are partly written on the computer, and a few more elsewhere, probably six tunes total. This project is a reprise of this first recording that we did in February. What I’m also doing this time is writing intentionally simpler music, just so we can get into it quickly. The worst thing is to kill the mood by having something be so complicated and hard to get into that it distracts from the overall approach and goal. I’m trying to learn from the first experience with this group, as well as drawing on my experience with mid-sized ensembles. I’ve done a few records with four or five horns, and having the three horns is nice because that fourth voice can take a lot of time to orchestrate correctly. I like to give everybody challenges and feature everyone at different times, you don’t want one person to get all the nice parts. I always go back to what a teacher told me a long time ago, which is that “Even if you feel like you’re not writing at the moment, you’re always assimilating ideas, and at some point it’s going to come out. You can’t help yourself.” With that attitude, it makes the process a lot easier, more fun, and less filled with pressure.

TJG: What does your writing process look like these days?

JC: As a compositional tool, I’ve been keeping my Zoom H6 next to me. I always write things at the piano, and don’t really put it into Finale or write it down until I’ve worked through it on the instrument. Usually by the time I put it in the computer, there’s twenty or thirty bars of music. What I’ve realized is that with the Zoom, you can take your improvising and directly use it as material for composing. I’ve said this to students before. When I sit down to compose, I think like an improviser. That’s what we do when we compose, we improvise until we find something we like a lot. If we can come up with something that’s memorable, that’s the composition. But it’s impossible to remember everything you play, so having the recorder and going back to listen to pure improvisation is great. My composition process involves a lot of transcribing, editing, and not getting in the way of things. Before using the recorder, it took a lot more time to write. I can write six compositions now in less than a month, and I used to be a lot slower. It’s been helpful.

I like having something where the harmony is implied by the lines, whether melodic line or bass line. I like to work in a more linear sense instead of banging out chords. Thinking that way allows a rhythmic counterpoint to happen, where things can go over the bar. It’s good to have the vertical harmonic foundation, but if I think about the interaction of melodic lines over the bass, I feel like I can make more interesting music. We’ve done this both on stage and in the studio—I think about the sequence of tunes as if we’re recording while I’m writing. It’s almost like writing a suite of music, a complete album. I’ve done it on the last couple of records and it seems to do pretty well. It helps me figure out the pacing, and I can make changes in the process accordingly. Writing for these guys is really gratifying, they’re all amazing readers and can play anything. It’s nice to come in with something clear, simple, a little challenging, and being able to get out of their way and let them bring to it what they will.


Photos courtesy of the artists.

Photos courtesy of the artists.

This Thursday, December 15th, The Jazz Gallery caps off its final edition of the 2016 Mentoring Series with a performance by saxophonists Dayna Stephens and Patrick Bartley. Over the course of three performances, the pair have explored their own original compositions, as well as different instrumental possibilities including the clarinet and EWI. We caught up with Bartley by phone to hear about his experience working with Stephens thus far; our conversation is below.

The Jazz Gallery: Had you worked with Dayna before this experience?

Patrick Bartley: Yes, actually. I’m a big fan of Dayna. He’s been one of my favorite saxophonists that I’ve heard since coming to New York in 2011. But the reason this all came about was because I met him on this big band gig with trumpeter Etienne Charles that I had at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola a year and a half ago. Etienne called me to play second tenor in the band and Dayna was playing first tenor, so I met him on that gig. It was really great because I was able to connect with him on this mutual level. We both really like playing EWI—the electronic wind instrument—and so that was a bridge that brought out this inner geek in both of us. We talked about that for a good hour or so. I feel that getting to know him has helped me learn how to play his music. I’m not just learning the notes, but seeing his personality through the writing.

TJG: What kind of stuff have you been working with Dayna for this project?

PB: We’ve been exploring some of his new music, but he’s also given me the opportunity to bring in some of my own music. Most of Dayna’s pieces haven’t been recorded or performed before. This is exciting for me because I’m piloting an inaugural element in these pieces. Some of the pieces he’s been playing in groups with trumpeters, like Philip Dizack. Some of his tunes are family-inspired, which is really cool—he has one tune dedicated to his uncle Junior.That kind of personal approach is really resonant for me. There is this one tune that I’ve brought in called “Blues for the Living.” I recorded it on an album in 2013 called The Red Planet and it’s a tribute to those who are alive and those who are suffering, who are just living on this planet, as opposed to just mourning for those who have gone. It’s a celebration of life, but also an acknowledgment of what people have to go through on a daily basis and the experience of being able to pass that down through family. This kind of writing makes me think of Dayna because of all that he has been through and getting the new kidney last year, which is incredible, and getting to push on. I feel we have a meaningful set of music that’s also quite fun.

I was a little hesitant at first to bring in my own material because I had never played with the guys in the rhythm section before. I didn’t know what they would like or what they would be interested in playing or how the vibe would work out. But I ended up bringing in two of my songs, and one has been working out really well so far.

We’ve really just been playing, hanging out, talking to each other. I’ve tried to absorb the band’s vibe, and hopefully they’d be saying the same thing about me. It’s a great learning process seeing how these guys naturally operate in their environment because it’s just another gig for them. Since the rhythm section and Dayna have known each other for a long time, it’s really interesting to see how they play and how comfortable they are with each other. I’m trying to tap into that and grow within their energy.

TJG: How has the rehearsal process been?

PB: We actually haven’t gotten to rehearse that much. The groups have been a little different every show because everyone’s an in-demand musician in New York, especially the rhythm section. Each time it seems that the new person in the band has to listen to the chart, look at the sheet music and then go. The guys have been able to fool the audience at every single show. It’s incredible. We got to do a good rehearsal the day of our first show, and the recordings we made that day have been helpful in teaching the music to the new players. I think it’s a testament to Dayna’s music that it really works in this context. It’s music with a cyclical form that gets more comfortable the more you play it on stage. Even though there may only be 12 to 36 bars of material, it’s rich enough that you can keep cycling through it for ten minutes and it doesn’t get old. Every 40-second cycle through the form, you’re learning something new about the musicians on stage. This is what’s really cool to me and what keeps the music pushing forward.


Photo by Peter Gannushkin, courtesy of the artist

Photo by Peter Gannushkin, courtesy of the artist

Pianist and composer Kris Davis is a strong and unique presence on the New York jazz scene, and her projects have run the gamut from solo piano to large ensembles with organ and a clarinet quartet. You can check out the archives of Jazz Speaks to see more about her work with this particular venue over the years.

Davis’s latest album Duopoly, the first release on her own label, Pyroclastic Records, is a series of duets with musicians including Bill Frisell, Craig Taiborn, and Marcus Gilmore. Just a few days ago, Duopoly made it on The New York Times’ Best Albums of 2016 list. On Friday and Saturday this weekend, Kris will be playing at the Jazz Gallery with Eric McPherson (drums) and Stephan Crump (bass). We caught up with Kris on the phone, and talked about the ever-changing concept of the jazz piano trio and what happens when a prepared piano is added to the mix.

The Jazz Gallery: In discussing Duopoly, you mentioned that you organized the order to allow for these “phantom duets” to rise, between any two neighboring duo partners. Sometime with your work with prepared piano, it feels like the core identity of the piano is being amplified. I was wondering if that idea, of a sort of “phantom piano”, resonated with you, when you’re doing solo work?

Kris Davis: I don’t know if the “phantom” relationship is really there. Nice try, though!

TJG: Thanks! It’ll stay there for me. I am wondering what you would respond to that.

KD: I mean, yeah, it’s like having access to a secondary instrument, a percussive instrument. A piano is percussive anyway, but just having the preparations there makes it a sort of matching texture to the drums and allows it to interweave in between what’s going on with the drums. For me, especially with this group that we’re playing with on the weekend, that’s something that I’m interested in exploring more. Sometimes prepared piano gets lost, especially with drums, so it’s really nice that Eric is so sensitive about that, and it’s easy to try and explore actual pulse and the relationship between the two instruments with him. That’s why I’m excited to play with this group. It’s sort of a unique situation, especially as a piano trio.

TJG: How would you describe the uniqueness of this trio as opposed to other trios you’ve played with in the past?

KD: Well, we’re improvising. That in and if itself is not anything new, but we’re not playing compositions, or we’ll make them up on the spot. In the past when I’ve used piano preparation with other groups, I use it more as a textural effect. In this group it’s more about the actual interplay of rhythm between the prepared piano and percussion that’s going on, and also with Stephan, who plays more groove-based vamps and pulses. So this group is much more rooted in one pulse, whereas other groups that I play with, there are sort of multiple levels of things going on. Here, with the preparations, the piano creates a textural, rhythmic background. And then outside of that it can also be used as a soloist, as something that creates texture, and also like a singing voice. These are some of the images that come to mind, and that’s how I approach playing. The piano is more of an orchestral instrument for me than the traditional jazz piano approach – comping in the left hand and soloing in the right.

TJG: If the function of the piano changes in a setting like a trio, which is so set in our imagination, how do the other two band members work out within that dynamic?

KD: Usually, or in the jazz piano tradition, the piano is sort of the lead role and the bass and the drums are accompanying. That’s not necessarily true for this group. We’re equal voices. The piano can be behind everything, and the drums and bass can be at the forefront. And they do that often, maybe more so than what people are used to. The preparation of the piano sort of holds that back, and allows the piano to be underneath what’s going on with the bass and the drums. So they really take a leading role along with the piano, and sometimes more than the piano.