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Photos courtesy of the artists.

This Thursday, February 1, The Jazz Gallery is proud to present the debut of the band Ba Akhu on our stage. The group is led by young trombonist Abdulrahman Amer, and features slew of talented peers—saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, pianist Matt Malnowski, bassist Hwansu Kang, and drummer Savannah Harris. Amer describes the inspiration for the group and its music thusly:

In the ancient Egyptian language, the term “Ba” represents the container for our spirit/souls (which the Egyptians named to be our “ka”).

The term “Akhu” represents the existence of our ka when removing the ba, which is the container that limits our power (in our case, we are limited to 5 senses through our current containers). To reach Akhu is a metaphysical thought in which we can exist along with everything and escape from our self to be a part of a bigger picture.

The music I will be presenting is original music (both sets will contain different music) and are attempts to connect to a higher spirit by growing through experiences or by practicing empathy. I hope to help open and connect people through this artistic experience.

Don’t miss this opportunity to hear this young band’s already-well-honed interplay with two sets of new music.


Photo by Jessica Carlton, courtesy of the artist.

Kevin Sun is a “saxophonist, improviser, composer, and blogger,” but given the depth of his inquiry and practice, the title “saxophonist” alone certainly carries weight. Sun constantly works to avoid habits and heighten his awareness on stage, work that is plainly evidenced on his new album, TRIO. “Composing for three voices, I feel like I can really challenge myself,” Sun says of the project. “There’s plenty of room to make something happen… I picture it as a triangle versus a square: it’s still very sturdy, but you have to give it a point.” The music does have a point, often an explicit one: The trio, including bassist Walter Stinson and drummer Matt Honor, originated as a vehicle for Sun to explore compositional, methodological, and musical concepts.

Sun was the first jazz saxophone performance major to graduate from the Harvard-NEC Dual Degree program, studying with Miguel Zenón and John Hollenbeck along the way. Based in Brooklyn, Sun has been involved in a number of different bands over the past few years, including Great On Paper (GOP), Earprint, and Mute. Additionally, Sun is a longtime contributor to this very blog. His own blog, A Horizontal Search, has been recognized by National Public Radio’s A Blog Supreme and Ethan Iverson’s Do the Math. We spoke with Sun in anticipation of the release of his new record. Our conversation covered his compositional intentions, his transcription practices, and four independent references to Lester Young.

TJG: Congratulations on the album, which is only days away from being released. In a recent interview you did with Abe Perlstein, you spoke about how this trio was initially formed as a means for you to stretch out and try new things. What was the biggest stretch for you on the album?

Kevin Sun: A lot of the songs are really challenging. “Transaccidentation,” the first track on the album, was the first thing we ever worked on as a trio. I wrote it with the idea in mind of using another piece as a compositional model. Jason Palmer, the trumpet player in Boston, recommend that process to me one night while hanging out at Wally’s. So “Transaccidentation” is inspired by a Vijay Iyer song called “Habeas Corpus” from his album Blood Sutra [ed. note: Blood Sutra was commissioned by The Jazz Gallery in 2002]. I bought a book of his compositions as published by Mel Bay, and I was looking for people to work on his fascinating, challenging music. When Matt, Walter and I got together the first time, we played through Habeus Corpus. Writing something in that vein was the starting point for “Transaccidentation.” That process, and its result, is one example of a stretch for me.

TJG: It’s great that you can trace that chain of influence from Jason Palmer’s advice to Vijay Iyer’s tune to your own composition. Did that set the tone for the trio, in terms of how you’d work through the rest of your music?

KS: Pretty much. I don’t want to use the word ‘calculated,’ but it is pretty calculated in terms of cause and effect. Vijay was a big influence on me in school, and he always talked about writing compositions that were just out of reach, requiring some kind of stretch. Similarly, I want to write songs that demand things of me that I can’t really do, encouraging me to stretch. I’m especially interested if the stretch requires other people, such as sustaining or navigating lots of details and contours, while bouncing off the playing of others.

TJG: It’s not always easy to pinpoint what you can’t already do: You could easily say to yourself, “I’m a jazz saxophonist. I transcribe, practice, and gradually get better.” Do you have an established process for noticing or cataloging the things you’d like to improve?

KS: That’s a good question. I haven’t gotten to the point where I’m writing my goals for the next three, six, twelve months, but it’s on the horizon. I record myself compulsively: I think my friends all know this [laughs]. I do it surreptitiously, usually at jam sessions. I’ll put on my voice recorder before I get on to play. At jam sessions, it’s hard to tell what things sound like, but I want to hear what I’m doing and how I’m interacting. I started doing that a couple of years ago, when I lived with pianist Isaac Wilson in Boston. He got that habit from Jason Moran, who told his students at NEC to constantly record themselves, especially since it’s so easy and costs nothing. That’s probably the most consistent thing I do to notice how I want to improve. Maybe not even ‘improving,’ per se, but just becoming more aware of my playing. When you play in a public setting, or with people I don’t know that well, that’s when you tend to fall back into your habits.


Photo courtesy of the artist.

This weekend, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome bassist Harish Raghavan and his quintet back to our stage for two nights of shows. It’s hard to find a more versatile and sought-after bassist working in today’s scene, as Raghavan has held the bass chair in groups led by Kurt Elling, Ambrose Akinmusire, Walter Smith III, and Eric Harland just to name a few. He’s comfortable making even the knottiest grooves feel light on their feet, like in Taylor Eigsti’s blistering version of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan,” below.


Photo via Story Cooking/Flickr

Salim Washington is less a person of many hats than a person whose singular work takes on many forms. Washington’s work cuts across many fields—jazz performance, scholarship, education, activism—yet are animated by a pursuit of home and community. In 2012, Washington embarked on the latest leg of his multifaceted journey, relocating permanently to Durban, South Africa to teach at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and become a leader in the burgeoning jazz scene there. Before leaving New York, Washington played a final show with his quintet featuring saxophonist Darius Jones at The Jazz Gallery, which you can check out below.

This Thursday, January 25, Washington makes his long-awaited return to New York and the Gallery, once again performing with Jones and his quintet, featuring pianist Yayoi Ikawa, bassist Dezron Douglas, and drummer Eric McPherson. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to hear Washington’s vital and searching music in New York. (more…)

Photo by Steven Schreiber, courtesy of the artist.

This week, The Jazz Gallery is proud to welcome Jen Shyu back to our stage to present two of her ritual music dramas, Nine Doors and Song of Silver Geese. Both works reflect Shyu’s extensive field research into music from across East and Southeast Asia. We spoke with Shyu about the myths and storytelling traditions that undergird these pieces, her process for synthesizing her diverse sources, and the relationship with her Biwa, a Japanese lute.

The Jazz Gallery: In addition to the true story of the “Phone of the Wind,” a phone booth in the backyard of a Japanese gardener, which Japanese citizens have been using to communicate with their departed family and friends, the two main threads of Nine Doors are the Timorese Wehali Kingdom myth of Ati Batik and the Korean legend Baridegi. What is the resulting work about and what insights do traditional mythology offer us in our turbulent times?”

Nine Doors was inspired by the death of my friend Sri Joko Raharjo “Cilik,” who was a young master of the Javanese shadow puppet theater tradition called Wayang Kulit, killed in a car crash along with his wife and 11-month old son. The main story follows Nala—his surviving 6-year old daughter—who is given guidance by the powerful woman warriors Ati Batik and Baridegi and their respective myths. Within the piece, Nala draws wisdom and insight from them about how to carry on and be strong as a woman shouldering an enormous burden. She’s just a 6-year-old girl, so how is she going to go forward having lost her family? Though it is Nala receiving this guidance, the audience is receiving it too. Of course, it’s all abstract and I’m not telling the audience—I don’t do that. But the intent is there. I prefer abstract myth anyway, and letting the audience receive what they receive.

TJG: What is the difference between this work and the material from your last album, Song of Silver Geese?

JS: To this solo version, I folded in the “Phone of the Wind” story from Japan and a lot more material in English. I ended up translating a lot of the stories of Ati Batik and Baridegi in my own way. But of course, I couched them in Korean and Timorese rhythms. I was just looking for what was the best way I could tell the story in English and still keep the essence of the materials that I was dealing with. The larger structures, however, are the same between this iteration and the original Song of Silver Geese.

TJG: How did you come to know about the myth of Ati Batik?

JS: I was attracted to the story of Ati Batik because it was so ancient and not that well-known. Even in Betun where it came from, now in West Timor, the people who can tell the story are few and far between. This past September and October, I was there for 5 weeks, just living in the heart of that area, what used to be the huge Wehali Kingdom but is now focused in a little town. They say, yes, this used to be the heart of Wehali. The customs are still very strong and the general summary of the story is known. However, the number of people who can tell these types of stories, called “Ai Knanoik”—we really found only one person who really, as you say, spiritually received and channeled the story, whereas other storytellers we recorded knew the story, but it was clear that they had just memorized it. It’s a different thing.

What’s amazing about the research of these traditions is that you can only find out these things by going to the place. The original source where I found the story was in a book by Tom Therik, and the story was transcribed in the original Timorese language, Tetum Wehali, and then translated to English. So of course, when I went back there, my guide and assistant Desri Yulita Taek- a local and a friend of another researcher colleague of mine—and I went looking trying to find the speaker, the orator of the story that we found in the book. But of course, the orator had died already. His family members didn’t know the story. So we just had to go out and search [laughs]. And what we learned just from talking to people was that, oh yes, this tradition is not memorized. If you really can speak this type of storytelling, it’s something you can only receive.