This Saturday, August 17, trombonist Kalia Vandever returns to The Jazz Gallery to celebrate the release of her debut album, In Bloom. Upon the record’s release in May, Vandever and her bandmates received positive notice from WBGO’s Nate Chinen: “This is a cohort that has obviously metabolized many different approaches,” Chinen writes, “and chosen its own path.” You can check out the record yourself, below.
Before her show at the Gallery, Vandever sat down with us at Jazz Speaks to talk about developing a band sound, her observations on the current New York jazz community, and her recent forays into solo performance (which she’ll continue to explore at the Gallery on Saturday).
The Jazz Gallery: Your trombone playing captures the instrument’s capacity for being a vastly dynamic and emotionally resonant melodic voice. What initially drew you to the trombone and has your relationship with the instrument changed over time?
Kalia Vandever: I first heard the instrument on this record my dad used to play around the house. I told him that I wanted to play the trombone without realizing what it looked like. It’s funny because when I received my first horn, I couldn’t reach 7th position and I felt so limited on the instrument, but really loved the challenge. I honestly feel similar about the instrument today. There are certainly days that the instrument and its limitations really frustrate me, but the feeling motivates me to lean into the really beautiful qualities of the trombone.
TJG: You’ve said that the people in your band include some of your closest friends in New York City, both personally and professionally. How have these friendships influenced the way that these compositions have developed since their conception?
KV: I’m always pretty confident that a piece I bring into rehearsal will sound way better once I hear what they have to add to it. I try to leave room for the guys to take liberties with the music, so if they’re hearing something that I didn’t write, I trust that it’s going to be thoughtful and musical. The way we sound as a band is constantly evolving because we’re all changing as musicians and improvisers.
TJG: Perhaps it’s because of the pedal that runs throughout, but the track “Renee” invokes a rising sensation of ascension or elevation, almost as if something is being searched for while it floats higher and higher. What is the story behind this composition and what is the feeling of playing it with the group?
KV: Renee is my sister’s middle name and this piece was inspired by her perseverance and strength during a difficult period of her life. I’d say the forward moving element in the melody reflects her resilience. The piece sort of devolves and can often get a little chaotic in the middle, which I really love. It’s something I really try to employ in my writing and performances; striking a balance between beauty and chaos. It’s become one of my favorite songs to play.
TJG: How do you envision the kind of space that gets created between you, your bandmates and the audience when this music is performed? Is there a certain invisible narrative you want to bring forward through the music, like the experiences at the Whitney Plantation that inspired “Lost in The Oaks,” or is it more about creating a mood or valence shared between everyone?
KV: Not all of my compositions have a clear narrative and even if they were inspired by a specific experience, I generally err on the side of letting the audience experience the music in the way they want to experience it. There’s certainly a mood that we create on stage, but it might be different for those listening in the audience, so I try not to influence the way they hear things.