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From L to R: Sean Rickman, Miles Okazaki, Craig Taborn, and Anthony Tidd. Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Friday, May 24, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome guitarist Miles Okazaki and his band Trickster back to our stage. The band has a strong history at the Gallery, as it was where they first performed and workshopped the material, as well as celebrated their record release in April 2017. In an interview with Jazz Speaks before the record release concert, Okazaki described the album’s composition’s unique qualities:

Some of these songs are short little tunes, where I spent a really long time on them, but all that remains is what I think of as, you know, hieroglyphs on the cave walls, washed away over the years. You just see a little bit of what remains. There’s one tune on there called “The Calendar,” which pairs a three-note voicing concept and a rhythm concept I’ve been working on for at least ten years. The whole tune is really only four bars long, it just has certain rules about how the harmonies change. Nobody would know this from listening to the tune, it’s a pretty simple tune [laughs].

For this Friday’s performance at the Gallery, Okazaki will be joined by bassist Anthony Tidd and drummer Sean Rickman, with pianist Matt Mitchell filling in for Craig Taborn. Before coming out to hear the band at the Gallery, check out the aforementioned tune, “The Calendar,” in the video below.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

At Kassa Overall’s most recent performance from his TIME CAPSULE residency, he ventured into unknown territory with pianist Kris Davis, bassist Stephan Crump, and an assortment of electronics and vocal processing gear. Stepping even further into the void, Kassa will be joined for his next performance by the inimitable Craig Taborn on piano, rhodes, and electronics. While Taborn and Overall share an affinity for exploring electronic sounds and styles, the two have no prior history of playing together. In Overall’s words, “I don’t know what’s gonna happen… I’m excited to take the journey” Read more below, starting with how Overall starts his day.

The Jazz Gallery: Thanks again for making time to chat about your ongoing residency. Do your days tend get started pretty early?

Kassa Overall: It depends. I try to sleep in as long as possible, and usually try to keep all my plans to the afternoon, keeping mornings open for my most strenuous mental work and my own creative endeavors. If I’ve done my morning routine and done something important to me, like working on new music, then whatever I have to do for the rest of the day, at least I got a little bit of the heavy lifting out of the way.

TJG: So what did you have on the creative table this morning?

KO: Well, that whole previous explanation is a theory [laughs]. Today, I actually woke up really early, and I went to the practice space and practiced drums at around 7:30 A.M., so the whole thing is a little different. I just finished my morning routine, and now I’m trying to finish one of these TIME CAPSULE joints. I’m taking these recordings and making original pieces out of them. There’s a part where Sullivan Fortner goes to the organ during our first duo set, and we play a kind of improvised ballad. I chopped it up, sped it up, and made a whole piece out of it. It’s almost really good, but it still has some rough edges in terms of the arrangement and direction. It has the ingredients of something special, but it’s not done yet. I have to make some decisions.

TJG: What form is it in right now? Lead sheet? Demo?

KO: I’m making a recorded piece of art in Ableton. It’s not so much a demo, but a piece of recorded work, a new sound recording, which I’ll probably release as an official song, then find a way to play it live.

TJG: Speaking of live, how was your Blue Note show with Paul Wilson and BIGYUKI?

KO: You know? It was another step in the right direction. That was my first attempt at playing the album material live in a “correct” way. It’s a lot harder than other performances because you’re trying to recreate something that lives on the album. It’s always an internal debate as to how similar it should be to the album, and how creative we should get. This time, we went extreme with recreating the album. I automated vocal delay stuff, we had all sorts of stuff being triggered from laptops. In order for that performance to work, it had to ping pong between precision and open creativity. The Blue Note show lacked some of that open creativity. From playing these TIME CAPSULE shows at The Jazz Gallery, I’ve tapped into a new kind of spontaneous composition, and have to rely on a new type of performance approach. For the live album set, it still has to have that oceanic-waves-crashing-spontaneity, and then fall into something precise. We’re working on it.

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Photo by Jessica Carlton, courtesy of the artist.

This Tuesday, May 21, saxophonist Kevin Sun returns to The Jazz Gallery to present a new, hour-long work called The Middle of Tensions. Written for his working trio of bassist Walter Stinson and drummer Matt Honor alongside pianist Dana Saul, the work explores the links between musical and emotional tension, working with dense, dissonant chords and unsettling polyrhythms.

We caught up with Kevin by phone to talk about the work and his writing process, just after he returned from 10 days of performances with his trio in Beijing, China.

The Jazz Gallery: How was Beijing?

Kevin Sun: It was fun! It was also tiring. For me, it’s not such a big deal because I go back every few months or so. Obviously for Walter and Matt it was different—it was their first time in Asia—but I think they took to it very well. We got lucky in that the weather was beautiful: It was in the 80s during the daytime, and clear skies in the 60s in the evening, with no rain. It’s sort of like being in California.

Traveling around was really comfortable. We took the subway a lot, which I think it was good for them to see more of the city and just understand how the public transit works. The rest of the time we took cabs, which are much cheaper than here. The gigs were great—we played a lot, maybe 10 sets of music, which is more than we’ve played in the past year-and-a-half. It was really interesting just to play the same songs night after night and see where we went with them. New ideas came to the surface gradually through the process. Some were obvious things like transitioning between songs without a break, naturally figuring out how to pace a set, getting the music in a certain flow. We had a really great time and I thought the audiences were into the music. Hopefully, we’ll go back again.

TJG: In some ways, it feels like that’s a lot of effort to get over there, but that ability to play night in, night out is such a rarity over here that it feels worth the travel.

KS: I’ve mentioned it to other people, but I remember complaining to Mark Turner at the Vanguard about how it’s so hard to book gigs in New York, but when booking in China, I can just text the club owner and they’ll give me a date immediately. But he said that’s just the case for everyone in New York, which was obvious, and that’s also why a lot of people go overseas. Sometimes it really is to make money, like with big festivals, but other times it’s just a way to get experience on the bandstand, to set up a string of gigs in different places. Putting together that many shows in China was so smooth that I can imagine myself going back more often with other bands.

TJG: You got this good place with the trio and now they’re part of this Middle of Tensions project. How do you think the continuity that you’ve developed with the trio is going to come out on this new music, and how do you think about incorporating Dana into the mix now?

KS: This was my master plan all along—to get the trio really warmed up, getting ready to tackle this even more challenging piece. We’ve played the piece with Dana before and the guys all have really deep long-standing connections. Matt and Dana live together, and so they hear each other and see each other all the time. They grew up in the same town and were the first people they knew who were into playing improvised music and jazz. They’ve been playing longer than I’ve been playing with Walter and Matt combined!

In terms of writing this piece, I really focused on the trio these past few years to really strip down to the essentials: bass voice, percussive voice, treble voice. Composing with a piano or another chordal instrument, I feel like there are so many possibilities. In the trio, I originally felt really constricted. I couldn’t really write chord symbols; I just had to write a bass voice and a treble voice. Those constraints were interesting in terms of learning to express more extended harmonies, or certain textural effects. One of the things about a piano or guitar trio is that’s all you need to have a full orchestra. I can only play one note at a time, or at the most a couple and it’s not quite the same, so having someone who can really unleash tons of pitch information and create lots of color is beautiful. Dana is one of the people I know who’s the best at that. He just generates this kaleidoscope of color and texture. That’s his magic power. I don’t know how to describe it—he really has his own thing at the piano which I love, and I feel like it complements the different aspects that Walter and Matt also brings the table.

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Album art courtesy of the artist.

The Jazz Gallery welcomes saxophonist and composer Godwin Louis in celebration of his debut double-album, Global (Blue Room Music). As a saxophonist, Louis reaches startling depths through his intricately-woven lines and phrases, and his compositions are emotionally charged yet always danceable. Louis attended the Berklee College of Music and went on to study at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, and has played and toured with Herbie Hancock, Clark Terry, Ron Carter, Madonna, Mulatu Astatke, Wynton Marsalis, and more.

Louis has lived in Haiti, Harlem, Connecticut, and New Orleans, and through Global, Louis explores all of these places and beyond, to the music and culture of people from West and Central Africa, Brazil, and islands in the Pacific and Caribbean. Global is about looking at the sounds of the African diaspora, beyond the slave trade ands its horrors, to its influences on pop culture. Discussing the new album, Louis notes that “Global focuses on and explores the history of music in the American continent. It traces the roots via West Africa, and its journey through the four hubs of music in the Americas: Congo Square/New Orleans, Santiago de Cuba, L’Artibonite/Haiti, and Bahia/Brazil.”

For Louis, everything was on the table, and no tradition, people, or way of music-making was left unconsidered. “This is about my traveling experiences all over the world. I’ve been to 100 countries as of now. I have so many stories, some sad, some triumphant. So did our ancestors. Global is the history of music and culture in the Americas. Cultures that came from Africa, met with indigenous aestheticism, and were refined or rarefied via colonialism, as a result changing the course of music history and culture worldwide.”

At the upcoming show, Louis will present music from the new album with his band featuring Etienne Charles on trumpet, Aaron Goldberg on piano, Joel Ross on vibraphone, Jonathan Michel on bass, and Charles Haynes on drums. (more…)

Photo by Jonathan Chimene (courtesy of the artist)

This Friday, May 17, The Jazz Gallery welcomes pianist Ethan Iverson and his quartet back to our stage for two sets. This spring, Iverson has been busy performing Pepperland, choreographer Mark Morris’s acclaimed Beatles tribute, for which Iverson wrote and arranged the music. You can check out a podcast with Iverson talking about the music, below:

For this performance at the Gallery, Iverson will convene his current New York-based working quartet, featuring saxophonist Dayna Stephens, bassist Ben Street (filling in for Thomas Morgan), and drummer Eric McPherson. Iverson played the Gallery with this band back in September, and told Jazz Speaks about what it was like to work with these particular players:

Eric McPherson is a real jazz drummer. It’s sort of corny to talk about this, but he’s one of those guys that lives his life and plays the drums with the same texture. That’s what they used to do, actually. Now most of us are quite divided—we’re very Western in our roles. But when I hang out with the old school jazz greats, there’s less division between who you are as a person and the way you play. Of someone remotely in my age group, E-Mac is just about as close as anybody to having that feeling.

What’s hip about Dayna is that he’s got a real sense of fun play in his abstraction. I think Wayne Shorter is a real reference for him; I never played with Wayne, but when I’m comping for Dayna I’m like, “Oh, man, maybe this is like I’m comping for Wayne.” He’s sort of got this elliptical thing, but Dayna’s also really fun. That aspect reminds me of my old friend Bill McHenry, who can be a goofball sometimes. I love that.

The group plays a mix of Iverson originals and standards, and for this performance, Iverson has brought in a few new tunes, including the drolly-titled “It Was the 70’s” and “Technically Acceptable.” (more…)