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Photo by Aljosa Videtic, courtesy of the artist.

This Thursday, January 10, The Jazz Gallery welcomes saxophonist Jure Pukl and his band Doubtless back to our stage for two sets. The quartet, featuring Pukl’s fellow acclaimed tenor saxophonist (and wife) Melissa Aldana, released their eponymous debut album last May. In an interview with Jazz Speaks, Pukl told of the band’s origins:

We were teaching and playing at the clinic in different settings. The band started as a friendship, a family thing. Joe [Sanders] was at my wedding to Melissa, for example. Our first gig was at Porgy And Bess in Vienna, and our second gig was in my hometown at our annual workshop. After the clinic week, we did a few more gigs, then went to a studio in Slovenia and tracked all the music. We made the record in three hours. We know each other so well, we were hungry for music, and it just poured out.

For this Gallery performance, Pukl and Aldana will be joined by some new faces—bassist Harish Raghavan, drummer Kush Abadey, and special guest pianist Kris Davis. Before hearing the group’s repertoire evolve in new ways, give the record a listen below.
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Photo courtesy of the artist.

In a recent interview with Jazz Speaks, saxophonist Jure Pukl spoke about his notion of risk in improvised music:

Riskiness can be an open form, or taking a certain structure then opening it up, or getting inspired from a structure and then opening it up into a newer, broader thing, maybe returning the structure. Or, having only structure, trying to be creative and risking only within that structure, so that the players move with the same mission. Fish don’t always move in the same direction, but they outline the bigger shape. Some turn left a little early, some turn left afterwards, it’s all this one moving shape.

Saxophonist Darius Jones is an equally-committed risk-taker, always experimenting with new forms, instrumental configurations, and even made-up languages. At The Jazz Gallery this Thursday, June 28, Jones and Pukl will convene their collaborative quintet Meat—featuring pianist John Escreet, bassist Carlo DeRosa, and drummer Eric McPherson—for two sets of musical surprises. Before checking out the distinctive interplay of Pukl and Jones live, take a listen to their kaleidoscopic version of Ornette Coleman’s “Intersong,” below:

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Photo by Aljosa Videtic, courtesy of the artist.

Saxophonist and composer Jure Pukl is no stranger to The Jazz Gallery, and has been a guest on this blog many times. As we spoke this week, our conversation began to focus on the concept of risk. Many young musicians aspire to take musical risks, and teachers often encourage it, but rarely is the concept dissected and explored. Over the course of our conversation, Pukl laid out his thoughts and ideas on the subject of risks on stage and in the studio. One of those risks is revisiting Pukl’s older material with a new attitude. In Pukl’s words, “Whether it’s making something new or changing something old, it’s the same thing we’re pushing for: To take something that’s been done already, and do it in a different way.”

Pukl’s upcoming show is titled “Abstract Sound Pictures” and will be a kind of re-exploration of material from two previous albums, Abstract Society and Life Sound Pictures. Jure Pukl will play tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute, and bass clarinet, alongside Joel Ross on vibes, Charles Altura on guitar, Matt Brewer on bass, and Damión Reid on drums. We discussed the choice of revisiting his older material, his band’s sound, and (of course) taking risks.

The Jazz Gallery: I hear you’ve basically been on tour through the winter and spring. Is it shaping up to be a long summer for you as well?

Jure Pukl: It’s always something, but things aren’t too crazy right now. I’m working on bass clarinet and flute, and I’m playing alto in Melissa Aldana’s Sextet for her commission at The Jazz Gallery.

TJG: You’ll be playing bass clarinet and flute on your upcoming show too, right?

JP: That’s my plan. I mean, with bass clarinet, it’s always technical problems, something is always broken, or you don’t feel good about your sound, and then it’s like “Okay, maybe not today” [laughs]. I’ll definitely be bringing them, plus soprano and tenor.

TJG: It’ll be great to hear you on these other instruments—I think of you primarily as a tenor player.

JP: I actually started with clarinet. I’m not a huge fan of Bb clarinet, but with bass clarinet, I’m a big fan of the sound and textures you can get out of that horn. I’ve been playing on and off for years but never felt great about it, so recently have really been working at it. I love so many bass clarinet players, obviously Eric Dolphy, and Henry Threadgill on flute, which I’ve been working on as well.

TJG: Tell me a bit about the upcoming show.

JP: I’m calling this show Abstract Sound Pictures. The music we’re going to perform is going to be a fusion of my music, between the Life Sound Pictures and Abstract Society albums. I’m recomposing and arranging the older tunes and slicing them into smaller sections, throwing out sections, adding new parts, making changes. It will be those two records combined, with additions of music I’ve been writing lately. It’s all my music, different periods of my life mixed up together. I’m arriving at a point where I can play my older tunes with a different attitude. I use different improvising tools.

You can change something a little rhythmically, and becomes a new tune. I see this a lot with Wayne Shorter. I love Wayne Shorter. If anybody, I would want to be Wayne Shorter [laughs]. With his quartet, they play some of his older music, but the way they approach it and play is so fresh and new. Composing always has different stages, but a strong composition can always be played and revisited. When I write, I rarely think “This is a trio tune” or “This is for quintet” or “This is for a certain person.” I try to just write, and leave space for musicians to add their own thing.

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From L to R: Joe Sanders, Jure Pukl, Melissa Aldana, Greg Hutchinson. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Tenor saxophonist Jure Pukl returns to The Jazz Gallery this week to celebrate the release of Doubtless. The new record, released on Inner Circle, highlights the remarkable musical synergy between Pukl and his wife, saxophonist Melissa Aldana. The record also features Greg Hutchinson (drums) and Joe Sanders (bass), and was recorded in Pukl’s home country of Slovenia. We spoke with Pukl for the second time this year to discuss the inspiration, development, and message behind the new release.

TJG: Between our previous interview and now, I was actually on tour with an orchestra in Slovenia, and was amazed by both the magnificence of the country and the generosity of everyone I met. We played in a festival at a huge castle called Grad Snežnik.

JP: Man! I know the place. I probably was there twenty years ago, for a school trip or something. Slovenia is so small, but there are still these places hidden away [laughs]. I’ve heard of that festival at Snežnik. Right now, I’m trying to establish a festival too. It’s currently a one-week clinic at the end of February, using the clubs and music school in my hometown of Velenje. But we have lakes, a camping area, restaurants, lots of space, so it would be a perfect festival site in the future.

TJG: You recorded the new album in Slovenia. Do you return often to perform?

JP: I go back every time I go to Europe, usually twice a year. I love playing in Slovenia, especially now that I’m doing this workshop in my hometown. We have around eighty students from all around Europe, from age 12 to 25, even some older musicians who want to learn new things. I bring Joe Sanders, Greg Hutchinson, Melissa of course. This year we have Shai Maestro. Last year we had Kurt Rosenwinkel in residence. And there are always European cats too. We perform for the students, make spontaneous groups, and end with a three-night festival, so the students get the real thing. It gets bigger every year, and it’s amazing that I get to play in my own hometown with such great musicians.

TJG: That’s what happens when you create your own festival: You attract students and fans to learn and socialize, and then when you want to perform and try new things, there’s an audience.

JP: Exactly. That’s how this band on Doubtless got started. We were teaching and playing at the clinic in different settings. The band started as a friendship, a family thing. Joe was at my wedding to Melissa, for example. Our first gig was at Porgy And Bess in Vienna, and our second gig was in my hometown at the workshop. After the clinic week, we did a few more gigs, then went to a studio in Slovenia and tracked all the music. We made the record in three hours. We know each other so well, we were hungry for music, and it just poured out.

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Photo by Ziga Koritnik

What do Esperanza Spalding, Maceo Parker, Branford Marsalis, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Vijay Iyer, and countless others have in common? They’ve all played with Jure Pukl. Hailing from Slovenia, with degrees from Berklee, the Vienna Academy, the Haag Conservatory, and the University of Performing Arts in Graz, Pukl is a saxophone virtuoso and an adventurous composer. He’s recorded seven CDs as a bandleader, two of which were recorded in New York, and is featured on over forty as a sideman. According to pianist Vijay Iyer, “[Pukl] is one of those rare beings whose music reflects a higher understanding at a young age. With his album he has created a listening experience with something to teach us all. He knows.”

Pukl will be bringing his Abstract Society project to The Jazz Gallery this week, featuring Darius Jones (alto), John Escreet (piano/prophet synth), Harish Raghavan (bass), and Jason Nazary (drums). On the phone this week, Pukl spoke passionately about the concepts of originality, adventure, and the willingness to dare. Our conversation quickly left the realm of composition and technique, and ventured into the philosophy of artistry and creation. In addition, we touched on his formative studies with George Garzone, his current challenges, and his journey towards “a zone where improvisation and composition become one.”

TJG: Will you mostly be playing music from your 2012 album Abstract Society (Storyville Records)?

Jure Pukl: There will be some music from the album, but not all. I’m writing new music, Darius is going to bring a couple of tunes, so it’ll be a little mixture of my music and his music.

TJG: Tell me about your new compositions.

JP: I was thinking you were gonna ask me that. Hm. With the last Abstract Society, I was getting into more odd rhythms, and fewer chord changes, in favor of specific sounds and voicings. Not stuff from the jazz book. The harmony is predominantly inspired by contemporary classical music. The charts they look a little different already, they’re not jazz sheets with chord symbols. I write out what I expect from the piano player, same with the bass player. For the drummer, I keep things open, so the drummer can pick up their own vision on a certain tune, can keep it loose and open.

TJG: It sounds like the biggest feature is the notation, in terms of what you’re giving the musicians beforehand.

JP: It’s a continuation of some stuff I was doing on Abstract Society. For a while, I was trying to get better at the jazz language in specific ways. I left that on standby for a while, continuing where I left off: clarinet in music school, conservative path of European music school, classical saxophone, contemporary classical stuff and extended techniques. Then, I stayed away from that for a while, because I was digging more into traditional jazz, polyrhythms, modern playing. It’s a never-ending process. Sometimes you have to study for a while, and then you dig back into your originality again.

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