A look inside The Jazz Gallery

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This week, The Charlie Parker Jazz Festival kicks off, with performances and special events all over Manhattan. On Sunday, the stage at Tompkins Square park will host a number of jazz luminaries, including Gary Bartz, Amina Claudine Myers, and The Bad Plus. Kicking off the afternoon, however will be a new project co-led by trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, vibraphonist Joel Ross, and saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins called UNHEARD. Commissioned by the Joyce and George Wein Foundation with supervision by The Jazz Gallery, this project features the three young improvisers exploring the music of Charlie Parker and dealing with his continued legacy.

Before heading over to Tompkins Square Park at 3:00 P.M. on Sunday to see the show, check out O’Farrill performing in another Parker tribute at the festival—Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Bird Calls, performed live in 2015.

Photo by Emra Islek, courtesy of the artist.

Charles Altura asks the big questions without saying a word. Coveted for his receptivity and strong presence by Chick Corea, Terence Blanchard, Tom Harrell and Ambrose Akinmusire—artists with whom he has enjoyed long, formative associations—the guitar player and composer evolves his own perceptions of music and context through dialogue.

When The Jazz Gallery awarded Altura the 2017-2018 Residency Commission, he relied on his tendency toward allowing music to emerge organically. What evolved was an idea for soundscaping with very specific voices in mind: Adam O’Farrill on trumpet, Aaron Parks on piano, Joe Martin on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums. The resulting project, Portraits of Resonance, may be Altura’s first of many explorations tracing the influence harmony and texture have on the human experience of listening—and playing.

The Jazz Gallery: I recently had the chance to speak with Vijay Iyer about resonance as it relates to harmony and how he perceives harmony, regardless of instrumentation. Can you talk a little bit about your understanding of resonance and how it enters into your conception for this project?

Charles Altura: As I’ve been writing, I have realized that resonance was a kind of theme, hearing the music’s resonant qualities—thinking of it in that way, instead of standard harmony and melody combinations. So [Portraits of Resonance] relates to the process that has evolved while I’ve been working on the music, focusing more on the harmonic texture.

TJG: Had you chosen to follow the idea of resonance wherever the writing seemed to take you, or did you have in mind a specific kind of resonance?

CA: It is more of a specific resonance because I’ve had these musicians in mind the whole time as I’ve been writing the music. I think I’m familiar with some of the ways that we share viewing harmony, so that’s a major focus. It’s based more on texture and harmony and how that translates to emotional quality.

TJG: Evocative texture?

CA: Right.

TJG: You’ve been asked many times about your playing, so I thought I’d ask you about your space-leaving. And speaking of textures, you’ve played in so many different ensembles, often with piano. When did you begin to intuit how to fit into those contexts, and how would you describe your relationship with leaving space?

CA: It comes from [the fact] that I started on piano. I’ve always been fascinated by the combination of guitar and piano together—and actually trumpet, too. So a lot of the texture is just dealing with that combination. I tend to think of the guitar and the piano as extensions of each other when you have both in the same band. It’s always an interesting thing, the way people deal with guitar and piano together because they cover the same register.

TJG: I would imagine many listeners hearing you together with a piano player would hear this sort of effortless navigation. Is that intuiton something you’ve always had, or is it something you’ve developed?

CA: Yeah, I think it’s because my first instrument was piano and I still see the guitar from the perspective of being a piano player. I’ve written all of the music for [the commission] on piano. So then when I get to the guitar, I’m kind of seeing it as one instrument. Having that perspective helps me to have an idea of what space needs to be filled—or not filled.


Clockwise from top left: Keyon Harrold, Immanuel Wilkins, Gilad Hekselman, Sullivan Fortner, Burniss Earl Travis, and Eric Harland. Photos courtesy of the artists.

This Sunday, August 19, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to present the debut of the brand new ReWORKS Project. The brainchild of award-winning producer Matt Pierson (who’s produced records Brad Mehldau, Joshua Redman, and Jane Monheit to name a few), the ReWORKS project features a cadre of long-time Gallery players putting their distinctive spin on contemporary pop music, from Drake to Kendrick Lamar to The Weeknd.

The ReWORKS project is no superficial crossover album. All of the players—trumpeter Keyon Harrold, saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, guitarist Gilad Hekselman, pianist Sullivan Fortner, bassist Burniss Earl Travis, and drummer Eric Harland—are deeply engaged in contemporary pop and hip-hop practices and are ideal improvisers to explore the points of contact between these songs and the jazz tradition. After the one-night-only performance at the Gallery, the sextet will head to the studio to cut a record for Sony Masterworks. Don’t miss your chance to see this jazz supergroup explore new repertoire in real time. (more…)

Photo by Paula Court, courtesy of the artist.

Visual composer. Mixed media composer. Saxophone player and composer. Critics might have a tricky time clarifying and defining Matana Roberts’ title and contributions because her artistry defiantly evolves. Mingling worlds and visions has been the thrust of her aesthetic since before she can remember.

The Chicago-raised artist’s acclaimed Coin Coin album series—of which chapters One, Two and Three have been released by Constellation in 2011, 2013 and 2015, respectively—explores nuances of memory, history, lineage, expressive instrumentation and “sound quilting.” But this week at The Jazz Gallery, Roberts promises an unscripted performance of saxophone expression both in solo context and in collaboration with drummer Gerald Cleaver. She asks only that Gallery listeners bring with them to each set an “openness and a willingness to journey.”

The Jazz Gallery: A lot of artists are directly (and indirectly) challenging peers and listeners to suspend their perception of genre, categories and labels. Do you think this trend is poised to change the way people perceive sound and music?

Matana Roberts: I think we are living in a time where strict classification is no longer possible as we become better global citizens and constantly sample other cultural values. As an African American artist, I am often having to grapple with the box of just my birthright, and fight to remind people that what they see is not all there is. So for me, in creativity I feel similarly. Art life is not linear; it’s hills, valleys, deadends and odd openings in some of the strangest places. Life can’t be boiled down to just being a “thing.” It’s many things, as is the creative life, in my humble opinion.

TJG: What prompted you to begin creating graphic or visual scores, and how would you describe your relationship with that practice?

MR: Lots of different things, partly because I’ve never been able to understand sound in the kind of tied up, bow-on-the-box way that musicians are taught to inhabit in order to be “professional.” I have a learning disorder and, for a long time, did not understand that the ability to “see sound” as well as “hear sound” was a gift. I always thought it showcased that something was wrong with me. I now know better. Also I have good friends who are great musicians, incredible improvisers—but in the old way of being “ear players.” They couldn’t read music but they could interpret everything else with an incredible accuracy. I wanted to know what my music might sound like if I mixed the traditional aspects of Western music with the old traditional aspects of just music on a global scale that, in some corners of the world, are still practiced—the idea of inhabiting sound, sitting [within] sound. And there’s a really interesting tradition with graphic score making, and I have been lucky to be exposed to musicians who explore visual language. I’m thinking about Anthony Braxton, Pauline Oilveros, John Cage—just to name a few.

TJG: Can you discuss some of your recent mixed media projects, and why it’s important for you to bring sound into other artistic mediums?

MR: My last mixed media performance was at the Park Avenue Armory Veterans room, for snare sextet: saxophone, samplers, mini synths, auxiliary percussion, voices and moving image. I often use historical data to build a lot of my work, and so I used the history of that room to create the piece. I also went to West Africa—Ghana—for research on another project, but also to learn a few different craft techniques with local artisans, and I used those methods to create the scores—a combination base of glass, cotton, wax. The history of that room leans a lot on “craft” taken from many different cultures, and so I decided I wanted to reflect that in the piece.

I also had an exhibition at the Fridman Gallery called “Jump at The Sun,” recently, that was an installation that showcased segments of a single mixed media score while a long-form sound composition/“quilt” ran in the background, and there were mini speakers behind each score that would trigger upon a person stepping in front of it playing a different segment of the sound quilt. Before that I wrote a piece for a 30-person mixed chorus in Berlin, which I used a visual digital score to build. I’m currently creating a mixed media piece for string quartet. I’m getting more and more commissions to create mixed media pieces for other people, so I am exploring that also now.


Album art courtesy of the artist.

This Thursday, multi-reedist and composer Brian Krock will convene his large ensemble Big Heart Machine at The Jazz Gallery to celebrate the release of their eponymous debut album. The centerpiece of the album is a five-part suite, “Tamalpais.” In a post on his website, reprinted below, Krock details the genesis of the piece and gives a blow-by-blow account of his compositional process.

The centerpiece of the soon-to-be-released Big Heart Machine record is a suite in five movements called Tamalpais. On a cloudy day in 2014, my sister, Becca, took me on a hike at one of her favorite spots—Mt. Tam in Marin County. We’ve always been a hiking family—and Mt. Tamalpais isn’t really that exceptional as far as hiking trails go—but for whatever reason I was so musically inspired by the topography of that mountain on this particular day. I’m sure Becca will remember me telling her about my sudden inspiration: to write a piece in which every musical consideration would be based on the specific elements inherent in the trail we followed that day. Over the next three years, I worked on this idea pretty much constantly.

I was also thirsty for a project when the inspiration hit; I needed a daily endeavor to structure my lifestyle on the road. I had been touring with musical theater productions for a couple years, and while that was a rewarding professional experience, it was anything but creatively satisfying. I loved being on the road- and making a living wage for the first time in my adult life- but I had also never been so uninspired. Playing the same show eight times every week is mentally fatiguing to say the least, and traveling around North America non-stop was physically exhausting. So, I adopted this large-scale project to give myself some structure and a goal to set my mind towards. No one commissioned me. I didn’t even have hopes of hearing the piece performed at that point in my life. But I decided to work on this idea every day, and see how far I could take it.

There is a deep but relatively short history of programmatic suites written for jazz big band. Duke Ellington made a series of well-loved suites for his band. Black, Brown, and Beige; The Far East Suite; The New Orleans Suite; The Queen’s Suite; The Togo Brava Suite; Such Sweet Thunder—these are some of my favorite recordings. However, they are nothing more than collections of unrelated pieces of music. There isn’t anything wrong with finding a pleasant order for a collection of random songs and presenting them as a continuous suite of music. Composers have done this for centuries (think of The Nutcracker Suite—Duke’s reimagination of Tchaikovsky’s immortal work is another great album). (more…)