A look inside The Jazz Gallery

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

A 75-year-old Dr. Lonnie Smith cups his hands behind the B3 organ, while a young drummer from New Orleans readies his brushes for the count off. Between the two of them, drummer/composer Johnathan Blake revels in the intensity passing from one generation to the next.

Having appeared on more than 50 recordings, playing with a range of musical icons from Kenny Barron to Roy Hargrove, Blake lives for those moments when he can bring together jazz’s living legacy with its future.

This past week at The Jazz Standard proved momentous for Blake’s tenure with Smith and guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg, marking the release of All in My Mind (Blue Note, 2018)—the band’s first ever trio recording. “It was really nice to finally have an album with both of us on it,” says Blake.

“Even though the record prior to this one, Evolution, has us on it, it’s kind of a larger ensemble; it actually features horns and piano—it didn’t really showcase the trio. So this one is actually geared towards the trio, and there’s a couple special guests: a young New Orleans drummer named Joe Dyson and Alicia Olatuja. It was a lot of fun to get back to some of that music this past week.”

Working with an artist like Dyson, Blake finds himself assuming a role that appeals to his love for the music’s lineage: the mentor. During his time playing with Dyson on Smith’s record, and later for his mentoring series at The Jazz Gallery, Blake had the chance to observe a young talent move through some significant changes in a very short while. “I hadn’t had that much experience in doing two drums, so I was a little skeptical at first about how that was going to sound,” says Blake.

“But as soon as we played, it was beautiful because it was like—no ego. We were just really trying to make music together. After that experience, I was like, ‘Man, I really want more of that.’ So, when I was asked to put together this mentoring series, he was the first person I came to. I really wanted to see how he would approach playing some of my music. (more…)

Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Saturday, January 20, The Jazz Gallery is proud to welcome drummer Tom Rainey and his group Obbligato back to our stage. About a year ago, Rainey convened the group at the Gallery before heading into the studio to record their second album. The result—Float Upstream (Intakt)—came out in September, and the band will gather for a belated celebration at the Gallery.

In an interview with Jazz Speaks last January, Rainey described the origin of the band’s name and how it reflects their improvisational approach:

[Obbligato] can refer to when a horn player is playing behind a singer. It’s not really a solo, but it’s a soloistic line that accompanies the singer, or the main melody of a song. That’s sort of the approach of the band—it’s not centered on soloists, but more on group interaction. I never thought of the word decorate here, but everyone is decorating what the others are doing. The focus can shift from musician to musician, but it’s never really about anyone taking a solo, and then somebody else taking a solo turn. So the name is somewhat descriptive of what the music is like, but I also just liked the sound of the word.

Before coming to the Gallery to hear the group’s unique approach to the standard repertoire, check out their versions of “Stella By Starlight” and “Beatrice” from Float Upstream, below.


Photo by Tak Tokiwa, courtesy of the artist.

The first-time listener at a Lage Lund gig might wonder, “What’s he staring at?” Considering the snapshot of a guitar resting in his lap while his eyes lock in front of him, the question’s a fair one. But he isn’t in a trance; he’s merely focused on the music of the moment. And however the performance description might label that sound on paper, on the bandstand Lund’s approach remains focused.

“I really don’t care what people—or even what I would call certain kinds of music, because so much of what I love is kind of hard to say,” he says. “And any word is kind of meaningless, too.”

For a guitarist/composer who plays as many kinds of music as Lund does, transcription always has been a tool of the trade, particularly when he was a student at Berklee and later, Juilliard. The act of transcribing opened his ears, and allowed him to get inside the sounds that, at first, were unfamiliar to him.

“(Transcribing) is one of the more helpful things I’ve done for my playing, outside of just playing as much as I can with people who are much better than me. It’s one of the few ways you can kind of get a sense of what somebody’s doing, and try to unlock some of the mysteries and secrets and make them into something that you become sort of familiar with. I tried to not get stuck in a certain era or a certain instrument or a certain type of player, but would go for some type of player who was maybe playing in a way that’s really different from how I would play, or the types of harmonies that I would play. That (was helpful) to widen my perception of what music can be. It’s wide open.”

As many musicians are, Lund was struck by the vastness of the scene when he arrived in New York as a young player. Beyond the myriad styles and experiences artists from all over the world brought to the city, the lack of universal belief in what music “should” sound like excited the Norwegian-born artist. “There’s no consensus on that, really,” he says.

“The only thing is that it’s always at a very high level. It’s not the cheapest place to live or the easiest place to work. You’re there because of the other players, and those players come from all over, and they have all kinds of different backgrounds. So, you have to be open. And listening to a lot of different kinds of music enables that, and makes you want to seek out those experiences. And when you have those experiences, it makes you realize, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of music out there I really don’t know anything about—maybe I need to start filling in those gaps.’”

Born and raised in Norway, Lund moved to Boston after high school, citing the uniformity of sound indicative of a smaller scene as the reason he left his hometown.

“There’s a certain group of players that are the top players,” says Lund, “and they all play together all the time and they kind of develop this way of playing that’s like, ‘what we do here,’ in that town. It can be great, but it’s not going to have the same range and diversity as it does here. (In high school,) I was starting to get really interested in and fascinated by a lot of American stuff, whether it was going back and discovering Coltrane or even a Branford record—or Kenny Garrett or something. And I didn’t understand what was going on at all, but for some reason I really liked it.” (more…)

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Multi-instrumentalist Anna Webber has forged a distinctive voice as a composer and bandleader. In her work, precise, memorable musical ideas are placed in dialogue with wide-open, risk-taking improvisation. After releasing two records with her trio featuring pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer John Hollenbeck, Webber is expanding her instrumental palette with a new septet. At The Jazz Gallery this Thursday, January 18, the ensemble will make their debut playing Webber’s new original compositions inspired by 20th century percussion music (including works by Cage, Varese, and Stockhausen). We caught up with Webber by phone to talk about her translation of musical materials into new forms, as well as balancing precision and freedom in a band of improvisers.

The Jazz Gallery: What is your compositional process like?

Anna Webber: That’s a big question! All of the music that I’m going to be playing at The Jazz Gallery is music that I wrote this summer, at a residency in New Hampshire. All of it is very loosely derived from 20th century classical percussion music. That in itself is a bit of a hint at my compositional process—a lot of the stuff I write is taking a seed from some outside source. In this case I looked at these percussion scores and spent a lot of time analyzing them and reading both the composers’ notes on the pieces and other peoples’ papers or dissertations on them, and from there, found something that I thought was interesting, that I wanted to explore more. All of the pieces, if you heard my piece and then you heard the original, you wouldn’t be able to guess it. I tried to make the link very obscure, and to find something pretty non-obvious to go from.

In general, what I do compositionally is start from a small seed, so it could be a little rhythmic idea, a melodic idea, or an extramusical idea or a formal idea, and then spend my precompositional time developing everything from that seed that I possibly can, without thinking about how it’s going to fit in or what it might be. I just explore the idea in as much detail as I can. From there, it usually starts to take some sort of shape by itself.

TJG: What were the percussion pieces you started with?

AW: The pieces that I looked at were Xenakis, Persephassa, which is for six percussionists, John Cage’s Third Construction, Varese’s Ionization. They all used to have titles that were the same titles, but now I can’t remember what the original titles were. Zyklus, by Stockhausen. King of Denmark, by Morton Feldman. Yeah! And others [laughs].

TJG: How did you arrive at that as a starting point?

AW: It’s a little convoluted—basically, I used to have a band that had two drummers in it. I was planning on writing a bunch of music for that band, which is based in Germany, and the record label folded—a lot of things came in the way of me recording that band again. But I had this idea already that I wanted to look at percussion music, because that band had two percussionists and a vibraphone, or I guess three percussionists [laughs]. I wanted to explore different things that I could do with all of those drummers. I was getting kind of stuck when I was writing for the band, so I wanted to open that up. I started analyzing all these percussion pieces, and because all these other circumstances came in the way of that band actually recording and I ended up forming this new band, I still kept the basic idea, because I thought it was interesting and I was getting a lot out of it. I thought it was actually more interesting to use in a band that only has one drummer, because it sort of obscured the original idea even further.


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Trumpeter Wayne Tucker is all over the New York scene, from his own projects as a bandleader to his regular tours with Cyrille Aimée and Eyal Vilner, even supporting artists like Taylor Swift and Elvis Costello. “I think that being a musician is some percentage artistry and some percentage vocation,” Tucker says, and he’s engaged with both on a daily basis. 

This Wednesday, Tucker will bring his band, Wayne Tucker and The Bad Motha’s, to The Jazz Gallery. The band features a unique blend of musicians, including Jason Marshall on baritone sax, Hila Kulik on piano, Todd Caldwell on organ, Tamir Shmerling on bass, and Jonathan Pinson on drums. Expect lush arrangements, earnest exploration, and plenty of groove. We caught up with Tucker to speak about his singing and songwriting process, his trumpet practice, and the best advice he’s ever been given. 

TJG: My introduction to your music was through your new videos from the LIC Beer Project. “Humans Groove Harder Than Robots” has a very Fela Kuti afrobeat feel to it—What’s your background with afrobeat?

Wayne Tucker: From the time I was a kid, I’ve been exposed to all sorts of different genres. My favorite music is always music where anything can happen in any moment. When I wrote this one, it didn’t start as an afrobeat tune. The rhythm came after the melody. It was inspired by an artist I play with named Mr. Reed. He first started playing music in church, and his mom is a minister. While he considers himself a hip hop artist, there’s definitely a gospel-oriented thing to the music. He sings and freestyle raps. He has a song with a similar groove, and that’s what spurred me as I was writing. He’s on my first album, singing on the title track “When I Was A Child.” We’ve been playing together in the city for something like eight years now. 

TJG: I love the conversational, intimate style of the lyrics on your song “Little Buddy.” How did this song come about?

WT: Generally speaking, the songs I write come from stream of consciousness. I want to write and create without a filter. The song came maybe a year after a breakup, and I was finally feeling peace with it, you know?

TJG: Was writing the song an important process in figuring things out? Or did it arrive when you’d finally come to peace with certain things? 

WT: I would say the latter. In terms of lyrics, my songs often have to do with a reflection of lived experience. I have a couple of tunes where I was really writing in the moment of the song’s origin, but most often it comes from me reflecting. 

TJG: On your Indiegogo page for the last album, you do a more stripped down version of “Little Buddy,” and on WGBO’s The Checkout, it’s a faster, almost afro-cuban feel. Is the song a kind of vehicle for experimentation?

WT: I suppose I look at every song like that. On “When I Was A Child,” the original chorus became a horn part. The form changed. We added a verse. “Little Buddy” has changed a lot just because I have played it constantly over the last few years. Everything is constantly evolving. The more time I can dedicate to it, the more it can change in the moment.