A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Posts by Harrison Wood

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Originally from Berkeley, CA, Charles Altura is a guitarist and composer. He now lives in Brooklyn and is fond of cats, keeping two of his own. Noted for his “quicksilver technique” by the New York Times, he is a consistent face among many groups and has collaborated with Chick CoreaAmbrose AkinmusireJustin BrownTerence BlanchardStanley ClarkeTigran Hamasyan and Linda Oh among others.

With an album in the works, Altura returns to the Gallery this Saturday to further explore his compositions with long time bay area friends Akinmusire and Brown who he’s known since high school, in addition to friends and collaborators Fabian Almazan and Matt Brewer who he plays with regularly.

We sat down with him this week in Brooklyn to learn a bit more about his musical journey thus far:

The Jazz Gallery: You’re looking to put out your first record as a leader soon?

Charles Altura: Yeah we recorded a little while ago. Then I did another session with Justin and Harish Raghavan as a trio. The record includes Ambrose, Justin, Harish and Taylor Eigsti. This performance will feature material from the album and a few new ideas.

TJG: The timbral roles in your group mirror E-Collective. Is the confluence of piano, guitar and trumpet important to you?

CA: Yes. For some reason, that instrumentation seems to have clicked. I’ve listened to a lot of trumpet players. Ambrose and I played together quite a bit growing up too, so the combination of trumpet and guitar is very natural to me.

TJG: Can you discuss your musical upbringing?

CA: I started on piano, I was about nine. Then I worked on classical piano and started playing guitar. I taught myself guitar from piano when I was about 13 and got into jazz soon after that. My older brother is a guitarist. He introduced me to a lot of music, a lot of jazz music. I always heard him walking around playing these solos. I liked the idea that you could walk around and practice anywhere. I like how it crosses genres easily. You can go wherever you want with guitar. It’s a chordal instrument but you can also be lyrical like a singer. When I got into jazz, the guitar provided a way to be like a horn player or a piano player.

I kept the piano going and at certain points I even quit guitar for a while and just played piano. Two or three times in high school. I would always end up back on guitar because I felt like I could somehow do more. Most of my composition happens at the piano, and I still play classical piano.

TJG: Were your parents musical? What was playing in the house?

CA: Yeah, my mom is musical, she plays piano and accordion. My dad was a big music fan. He got me into classical music and my mom has a very good ear. She taught me how to learn things by ear. There was a lot of classical music in the house—Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin. I was also into rock music, like Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix, so I always had that going too.


Photo by Harrison Wood

Photo by Harrison Wood

For 2016, The Jazz Gallery has commissioned new music from three guitarists of distinctly different musical temperaments—Gilad Hekselman, Mary Halvorson, and Rafiq Bhatia. While Hekselman is known for his warm, slightly distorted sound and fluid technique, Halvorson has a pricklier approach that prizes space and a wide range of articulations. Bhatia, on the other hand, is a real soundscaper, using an array of analog and digital effects to make the guitar sing or snarl.

This weekend, the Gallery presents the first of these residency commission projects—Rafiq Bhatia’s “Walk Right Up To The Sun.” We caught up with Bhatia at his home to talk about his underlying motivations for the project and get a sample of the enveloping sound-world Bhatia has constructed.


Photo by Ethen Aardvark, from wikimedia commons

Photo by Ethen Aardvark, from wikimedia commons

As you’re posthumously nerding out this week in internet reconnaissance, looking for the shreddiest of Prince, a good place to start might be the “Small Club” bootleg—a legendary artifact among fans for documenting his live chops in high quality soundboard audio. While Prince was noted for his mastery as a multi-instrumentalist, he definitely shines through as a guitarist on this tape.

You might also take a moment to consider some stellar collaborations between other notable contemporary guitarists and the saxophonist-composer Dayna Stephens who, in preparation for his performance this Saturday with trumpeter Philip Dizack, was kind enough to sit down and share his thoughts on the recently fallen pop idol among other things.

Here is Dayna laying down some EWI thoughts on “Cosmic Patience” in 360 Virtual Reality with Gilad Hekselman on a roof in Brooklyn.

Here he is with Julian Lage, on “On The Trail” – Live at Berklee:

 The Jazz Gallery: Can you tell me more about this project with Philip—is it a continuation of the music you presented on your last date at the Gallery?

Dayna Stephens: Philip and I have been writing music together for the past year and we’ve accumulated quite a bit of tunes. This will be a bit different from our last performance at the Gallery—there will be a couple of tunes we wrote together but this is a unique project for trumpet, trombone and tenor as a front line—basically the Messengers’ normal instrumentation. The music is very different than the Messengers, [laughs] but I’ve always liked that instrumentation. It’s also the instrumentation on John Coltrane’s Blue Train which is one of my favorite records of all time. All together, we’ll be playing selections from the last 15 years of my music.

TJG: How did that relationship with Philip come about? How has it unfolded since?

DS: We had the idea of just talking about music and hanging out. Then in the moment, we decided we should try to write a tune together. That tune was called “Repeating History,” the first of six or seven tunes we’ve done. Since that first meeting the process has been easy but it took some effort to find an effective approach to writing efficiently as neither of us had cowritten music with other folks that much. We experimented with a few different ways of writing. On the last three songs, we kind of settled on one person taking the melody, which is usually Phil, writing the bass motion together, and then usually I’ll take it and add the harmony to what those two different notes are implying. The results are some very unique sounding songs that I think neither of us would have come up with on our own. So I really enjoy it.

TJG: Tell me more about the Messengers’ influence on you. What did you listen to?

DS: It’s been a minute since I’ve checked that out. I’m actually not listening to it right now because I don’t want to mimic anything but Caravan comes to mind.

I think the function of that band, in the history of jazz music is really important because it showcased a lot of the younger players that maybe weren’t as established, players that weren’t household names when they were in that band. Blakey was usually the oldest guy in the band and in our configuration, although Nick Vayenas is actually a year older than me, its a similar case for me because I’ve put together some younger players. Maybe folks that know my music haven’t heard these guys yet.

TJG: Is there any sort of etiquette in the community around showcasing younger players?

DS: Not necessarily, in general people tend to play with people they click with on a personal level also, not just a musical level. I tend not to care as much about the personal side of it. I mean if I have a strong conflict with someone I would care, but my main focus is: what is it going to sound like, what is it going to feel like when we count off the tunes.


Design courtesy of the artist.

Design courtesy of the artist.

Back on a break from busy fall touring schedules with California brethren Thundercat (Stephen Bruner) and Ambrose Akinmusire, Bay Area composer and drummer Justin Brown will offer city residents and visitors a soundtrack to their Halloween weekend with back-to-back nights of his own band: NYEUSI.

While 2015 has seen Brown continue as the rhythmic cornerstone for Akinmusire, Bruner and pianist Gerald Clayton among others, it has also seen the drummer workshopping his own band NYEUSI on select Gallery dates and recording an album with the same group this past summer in Brooklyn. You can check out a short piece about the group from their past January performance here:

“NYEUSI” which is Swahili for “black,” coalesces the dual keyboard faculties of Fabian Almazan and Jason Lindner, with Mark Shim on EWI and Burniss Earl Travis on bass, offering Brown a dynamic and personal palette from which to build his compositions. The NYEUSI album release date is still to be determined.

With Almazan out this weekend and Travis limited to the Saturday performance, Brown will explore his compositions further with the help of Akinmusire bandmates Sam Harris and Harish Raghavan.

Check out Justin’s set with Thundercat from KCRW studios this past fall and have spooky weekend!


IDEOGRAMAS from David Virelles on Vimeo.

Coming off of recent dates with frequent collaborators Henry Threadgill and Ravi Coltrane this fall, pianist-composer David Virelles will return to The Jazz Gallery this Friday and Saturday with a different offering than the one he presented this past August with Brandon Ross .

Growing from the seeds of the Continuum project with Cuban artist Alberto Lescay, Virelles will be presenting a multi-media musical exploration that expands on the short film IDEOGRAMAS that he made with animator Romulo Sans and producer Alexander Overington. Virelles’ drawings are inspired by a Cubanfolkloric graphic system “Nsibidi” and drummer Damion Reid will be joining on drums. You can watch the short at the top of the page. David had offered the following words himself about the project:

IDEOGRAMAS is a live music multimedia experience that unfolds in an imaginary parallel world with its own idiosyncrasies and laws, envisioned and realized through the music and visual art of pianist and composer David Virelles.

This music is performed live alongside real-time visual projections of original animated symbols and drawings, conveying ideas that originate from different sources, including the rich traditions of Cuban “folklore.” The drums are central to this work, which will pursue the sonic possibilities of a revealing setting: a duo of keyboards and drumset augmented by live electronics.

Virelles sought to expand his musical creative practice through visual art, drawing upon aspects of Afro-Cuban folkloric mysticism to generate a somewhat mystical system of his own. These ideogramas contain patterns that suggest flora and fauna, fertility, polarity, landscapes, satellites, planets, musical instruments, and the unseen; the designs operate by the rules of a parallel, imagined world where most things can be perceived and felt as one single experience, including past, present and future; the complete cycle of life and afterlife; and music and silence.