A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Posts by Andrew Katzenstein

Photo by Mark Niskanen, courtesy of the artist

Photo by Mark Niskanen, courtesy of the artist

When bassist Alexis Cuadrado last played at The Jazz Gallery, about a year ago, he performed his song cycle A Lorca Soundscape, which set to music the work of the great Spanish poet Federico García Lorca. This Friday and Saturday, September 12th and 13th, 2014, Cuadrado brings another words-and-music project to the Gallery. Though “pre-premiered” at SEEDS::Brooklyn in the spring, the new project called POETICA will make its official premiere this weekend.

Whereas A Lorca Soundscape drew on jazz, Latin, and flamenco traditions, POETICA cultivates a grittier sound, distorted and dissonant and based more squarely in contemporary experimental jazz. Another key difference is that the songs in A Lorca Soundscape were musical settings of poems; this project concentrates on integrating spoken-word poetry and the work of poets Rowan Ricardo Phillips and Melcion Mateu.

Melcion, like Cuadrado, hails from Barcelona and lives in New York. Phillips, a native New Yorker, won the 2013 PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for his book of poems, The Ground. Both are also translators—Mateu from English into Catalan, Phillips from Catalan into English—and evince a deep love and understanding of music in their writings. The poets display comfort and authority in this multimedia, multilingual setting.

In one piece, “Balada de Matt Sweeney,” Mateu recites a poem in Catalan and is later joined by Phillips in a chant of lyrics from “I Got Life,” which comes from the musical Hair and was a mainstay of Nina Simone’s repertoire. In another piece, the poets simultaneously recite the same poem, Mateu in Catalan and Phillips in English, before chanting a chorus in unison: advertisements in Spanish and English that, perhaps, cap taxi cabs or fill subway cars.

Cuadrado’s compositions suit not only the moods of the poems, but also their subjects and themes: urban life, synesthetic revelation, artistic striving. This stellar band—Cuadrado on bass, Andy Milne on keyboard, Miles Okazaki on guitar and Tyshawn Sorey on drums—sets up loose vamps and ostinati behind the poets or improvises freely around them. When the music sounds more composed, the group remains alert to the rhythm and cadences of the speaker, and spoken sections give way to improvisations that feel like natural extensions of the poetry. The result is roiling, impassioned music that evokes the rhythms and interruptions of New York City. (more…)

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Pianist Aaron Parks is bringing two trios to The Jazz Gallery this week. On Thursday, August 21st, he will be joined by bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Tyshawn Sorey and on Friday the 22nd by bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer RJ Miller. Parks is perhaps best known for his much-lauded 2008 Blue Note release, Invisible Cinema, for his work with Kurt Rosenwinkel, and for his prodigious beginnings. At age 13, he entered the University of Washington as a triple major in math, computer science, and music before settling on music. 

However impressive these accomplishments are, they fail to cover his complexity as an artist. Parks is a pianist of boundless curiosity. His fondness for indie rock has been noted elsewhere, but less commented on is the breadth of his listening. In an interview given last year, Parks lists what he had been checking out recently: Lester Young, Bud Powell, Art Tatum, Grizzly Bear, Talk Talk, Scriabin, Prokofiev, A Tribe Called Quest, Busta Rhymes. One imagines the directions a more thorough examination of his music library might take.

Parks’s only available trio album, a “bootleg” recorded on his iPhone in Japan in 2012 and released for free on Bandcamp, is a testament to his wide-ranging interests. At times, Parks brings joy, openness, and humor to standard repertoire. Elsewhere, he displays his continued interest in the kind of mood-driven pieces that fill Invisible Cinema, beneath which lives a diverse ecosystem of influences. Throughout we hear an artist glad to share his knowledge with his audience, expanding himself at the edges while keeping his core dense and mysterious.

In the interview mentioned above, Parks also said:

I used to care so much about the art that I had convinced myself that style could be a prison, and that I didn’t want to learn the craft of different styles, because I didn’t want to be held captive. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized the value of playing something good, not playing something just because it’s supposedly “new.”  As long as you play those things with feeling…play something that’s authentic. Even if you know where something is going…there is such a sense of satisfaction as a listener when you hear someone play a phrase and you know exactly where they’re going to go, and then they go there. I used to be so concerned with always being new, it was so obfuscated for the sake of being “original.”

There is a quiet strength to his recent playing that reflects this musical ethos. He still pushes himself emotionally and intellectually, as all improvisors must. But his playing shows a new confidence, a surety in his ideas and a comfort in tradition. He is beginning to address his masters with his own voice—the sign of a mature artist. 

The two bands he will bring to the Gallery, made of such different—even opposing—personalities, promise to show a considerable spectrum of Parks’s abilities.

Aaron Parks Trios will perform at The Jazz Gallery on Thursday & Friday, August 21st & 22nd, 2014. Both nights feature Parks on piano, with Matt Brewer on bass and Tyshawn Sorey on drums on Thursday and Larry Grenadier and RJ Miller on drums on Friday. Sets are at 9 and 11 pm. $22 general admission, $10 for Members, and free for SummerPass HoldersPurchase tickets here.

Photo by Rafiq for Jazz Speaks

Photo by Rafiq for Jazz Speaks

Bassist Matt Brewer is a frequent presence on The Jazz Gallery stage, both as a bandleader and a sideman. In 2012 he was one of four bassists selected for the Gallery’s “Leading from the Bass” Residency Commission series, where he premiered pieces written for sextet. (You can read our posts about Brewer’s 2012 residency, and his unique approach to composition, here.) He last appeared at the Gallery as recently as July 18th, playing with Roman Filiu, one of this year’s resident composers/saxophonists, and on Thursday, August 21st, he will be featured in the first of two trios that pianist Aaron Parks is bringing to the Gallery. But first, Brewer will lead his own quintet this Friday, August 1st.

Brewer is one of the most in-demand modern jazz bassists in New York City. Since moving to New York in 2001, he’s built an impressive and enviable body of work. His recording credits include critically acclaimed albums by Shane Endsley, John Escreet, Steve Lehman, Greg Osby, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, and Antonio Sanchez, and he has performed with Ambrose Akinmusire, Steve Coleman, Ravi Coltrane, Vijay Iyer, and David Sánchez, among many others. He serves as a faculty member at The New School and at the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music. In a respectable addition to an already packed resume, he placed third in the Thelonious Monk International Bass Competition in 2009.

Though he does not have a recording credit as a bandleader, Brewer can frequently be heard headlining his own quintet (he’s downsized his group since 2012), and we’re hoping that he’s planning on cutting an album soon. On Friday, he will be joined by Greg Osby on alto saxophone, Dayna Stephens on tenor saxophone, Lage Lund on guitar, and Craig Weinrib on drums. Though he often changes his supporting cast, Brewer always chooses musicians with whom he has deep roots. As well as being veterans of his quintet, Stephens and Weinrib played last month alongside Brewer in Filiu’s band. Lund and Brewer are regular presences in each other’s groups. And the much-lauded Osby was one of Brewer’s first employers after the young bassist left Julliard, having completed only two years there. This last connection should make for an especially exciting rapport.

It’s possible that on Friday we’ll hear some of the sextet pieces written during Brewer’s 2012 residency, adapted for this ensemble. Regardless of the provenance of the compositions, the music will undoubtedly be fresh, as Brewer’s driving intellect and keen judgment are among his most valued assets.

The Matt Brewer Quintet performs this Friday, August 1st, 2014, at The Jazz Gallery. The band features Brewer on bass, Greg Osby on alto saxophone, Dayna Stephens on tenor saxophone, Lage Lund on guitar, and Craig Weinrib on drums. Sets are at 9 and 11 pm. $22 general admission, $10 for Members, and free for SummerPass HoldersPurchase tickets here.

Photo via

Photo via

Drummer Ted Poor demonstrates a rare and desired combination: both sensitive and strong, he can follow or lead from the kit. His keen musicianship has greatly serviced groups led by Ben Monder, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Dan Tepfer, Cuong Vu, and Shane Endsley. Poor also contributes compositions to the collaborative bands Respect Sextet and Gallery stalwart Bad Touch, and he leads his own Mt. Varnum, whose sound is inspired by classic and indie rock. For the first time, on Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014, he will bring a group under his own name to the Gallery.

Gathering some of the most distinctive personalities on the New York jazz scene, Poor will play sets loosely inspired by Sonny Rollins’s under-appreciated albums Our Man in Jazz and The Paris Concert, recorded in 1962 and ’63, respectively. Don’t get the wrong idea: the band is not a tribute project per se. The Rollins albums provide a stylistic entry point for Poor and his band to address the bebop tradition they were trained in. Featuring Bill McHenry on tenor saxophone, Josh Roseman on trombone, and Ben Street on bass, the Ted Poor Quartet offers inventive and exciting takes on standards and lesser-known repertory from the mid-20th century. We talked with Ted last week about what we can expect from the performance:

The Jazz Gallery: You just came off tour in Mexico with Kurt Rosenwinkel’s Standards band. How was that? 

Ted Poor: Oh, it was great. Wonderful audiences and nice venues. We felt very connected with the people there. We had a great time.

TJG: For how long have you been playing with him? 

TP: That was the first time in over two years. I was with the band regularly in 2011 and 2012. Probably even before then. Then he changed up the band, and we reconnected recently.

I really, really enjoy the Standards Trio with Kurt. No one really in my career in New York has asked me to go back to the bebop language and tradition and to be free in that world. I’ve come to really be thankful for that. Kurt is a master of that language, and it’s so joyous to be in that language with him. It’s partly the reason I’ve put this quartet together at The Jazz Gallery. It’s a band that I wanted to get together after having reconnected with this tradition.