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Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Friday, July 19, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome singer-songwriter Nerissa Campbell back to our stage. Campbell’s songs are both intimate and expansive, evoking “deserted and poorly lit” city streets (Little Village Magazine) while featuring lush, layered accompaniments. Her most recent album—2016’s After The Magic (Crooked Mouth Music)—features a top-flight New York rhythm section alongside Gamelan Dharma Swara.

For this week’s show at the Gallery, Campbell will be joined by pianist Fabian Almazan. With an array of effects pedals, this duo is an effective conduit of the intimacy and expansiveness of Campbell’s music. They’re as likely to leave tantalizing bits of space as they are to open up with orchestral sweeps. Before coming out to see Campbell and Almazan at the Gallery this Friday, take a listen to a live recording of Campbell’s “Little Little Just” below, featuring Almazan on piano.

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Photo by Gaya Feldheim Schorr, courtesy of the artist.

An alumnus of the Berklee College of Music, drummer & composer Lesley Mok has built a conspicuous presence in New York’s community of young experimental improvisers. She’s a regular performer on Bushwick Public House’s Improvised Music Series, playing with peers like saxophonist Noah Becker and her collaborative trio Thworp.

Though Mok has appeared at The Jazz Gallery in bands led by Jasper Dutz and Nick Dunston, this Thursday, July 18, Mok makes her Gallery debut as a leader. For this performance, Mok convenes her working band The Living Collection, a sextet featuring saxophonists David Leon and Yuma Uesaka, trombonist Kalun Leung, pianist Sonya Belaya, and bassist Steve Williams. Jazz Speaks caught up with Mok by phone to talk about her music for the band, which explores both dense polyphony and stark contrast.

The Jazz Gallery: When did The Living Collection get started?

Lesley Mok: I started writing music for the band in August of last year, but we didn’t really get together as a group until December. I was curious about a lot of different compositional techniques, and I was listening to a lot of new music, so I had a particular sextet sound and a particular aesthetic in mind. When a gig opportunity came up in December, things took off.

Since then, we’ve done three gigs and each gig has been all new music, so it’s felt like three first gigs. The show at The Jazz Gallery will be a chance for us to revisit most of the things that I’ve written in the past six months, and a few new things. I’m excited to have the chance to play things a second time, let them sit and develop.

TJG: What are the some of the compositional methods and techniques that you’ve explored in your work for the band? Are there any particular composers whose work you’re responding to?

LM: There are a few composers who’ve influenced my writing. One is Henry Threadgill, particularly his band Zooid. It’s highly polyphonic music—each voice is its own independent melody but it’s still democratic and balanced. Another is Anthony Braxton. It’s not so much about his graphic scores or systems of notation, but more about the breadth of his music and how diverse it can be. His scores range from really broad to really specific, but I feel that they always bring out the strengths of each band member.

So the writing started as a response to these specific composers, but the more I experiment with the group, the more it’s becoming about the personalities in the band. Everyone has such a unique musical background, so part of the development is hearing what works with everyone’s natural tendencies, and writing in a way that enhances those tendencies. Sometimes, I can get to more clarity by writing less, which challenges my tendency to write a lot. I’ll have a specific idea or sound in mind, but what ends up becoming the composition is something entirely different. Learning to write for strong improvisers is a constant negotiation between what I envision for the band and how they might interpret my ideas. This newest batch of compositions is much more open. Some of the pieces are based on a single idea, like a set of intervals, or a rhythmic cell, or a gestural direction. The music is still really diverse, but it’s definitely becoming more open overall. 

TJG: How much is this openness about letting the band members do their individual thing versus finding simpler ways to get the band to sound the way you want?

LM: I’ve learned with a lot of pieces that the sound I’m hearing can manifest itself within multiple aesthetics. When I listen to the Art Ensemble of Chicago or Sun Ra, it seems that its cacophony comes its band members simultaneously improvising in their own worlds, or playing in unison, but not directly responding to each other. I can’t really notate that, and for that kind of multiplicity, western notation isn’t that valuable. 

For me, the compositional process also continues during the rehearsal process. Communicating certain things, or not communicating them, can really shape the composition. In my first pieces for the group, I would notate the start of an improvisation, like suggest a rhythm to begin with and allow them to take off from there. Now, I tend to give those directions through text, which helps me to communicate an idea more clearly while allowing the players to be themselves.

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Saturday, July 13, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome guitarist Nir Felder and his trio back to our stage. Over the past several months, Felder has been living a bit of a double life. By day, Felder has been a steady sideman, touring with the likes of trumpeter Keyon Harrold and Tony-winning actor/singer Ben Platt. By night, Felder has been developing a new book of material for trio, playing late sets at 55 Bar and the Blue Note. Here’s a quick sample of the fireworks Felder has been setting off at these gigs—some ferocious interplay with drummer Louis Cole on the David Binney tune “Aliso.”

For his performance at the Gallery this week, Felder will be joined by two longtime collaborators in bassist Orlando LeFleming and drummer Jimmy MacBride. (more…)

Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Friday, July 12, The Jazz Gallery is proud to kick off its summer season with a performance by the Jihye Lee Orchestra. An alumnus of the Berklee College of Music and the Gallery’s Jazz Composers’ Showcase, Lee released her debut large ensemble record April in 2017. The richly-voiced and cinematically-paced music reflects on the 2014 sinking of the ferry Sewol of the coast of Korea, which claimed over 300 lives. Lee’s elegiac composition “You Are Here (Every Time I Think of You),” featuring fluegelhorn soloist Sean Jones, rounds out the deeply-affect album.

Since the release of April, Lee has continued to add new compositions to her band’s book. In an interview with Jazz Speaks, Lee commented how her move to New York from Boston impacted these new compositions:

Our living environment is very important, I think. Music is the reflection of your life right? Since I’ve moved to New York, I think the energy of the city has changed my music in a good way. There’s more crunchiness, more anger, but in a positive way. The crunchiness is in the harmonic material. I’m using a lot of minor 2nds and 9ths. We learn in school, “Don’t use minor 9ths,” but in order to make personal, emotional statements, you need to use those forbidden harmonic moves.

Before coming out to hear Lee’s compositions at the Gallery on July 12, check out The Jazz Gallery’s SummerPass, which offers general admission to every Gallery show in July and August for one low price. (more…)