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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Posts by Kevin Laskey

Photo courtesy of the artist.

This Thursday, March 12, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome guitarist Fabrizio Sotti back to our stage for two sets. Since moving to New York in 1991, Sotti has been one of the scene’s true musical omnivores, as comfortable producing standout hip-hop tracks as unleashing flurries of post-bop lines with a fleet-footed trio. Check out Sotti’s recent performance of the Miles Davis standard “Solar,” which combines those different elements of his musical practice, below.

For this performance at the Gallery, Sotti has written a book of new music for a new band, featuring longtime collaborators Rachel Z on piano, Peter Slavov on bass, and Clarence Penn on drums. In addition, keep your ear out for a special upcoming EP of Sotti with Gallery co-founders Lezlie Harrison and Roy Hargrove, recorded in Sotti’s apartment back in the year 2000. (more…)

Andy Milne, Ralph Alessi, Drew Gress, Ravi Coltrane, and Mark Ferber. Photo courtesy of the artists.

Trumpeter Ralph Alessi possesses an oblique lyricism, offering melodies that don’t travel quite where you expect them to. A first call collaborator with the likes of Fred Hersch, Steve Coleman, and Don Byron, Alessi is a decorated bandleader as well with ten albums to his name. His most recent one—Imaginary Friends (ECM)—features his long-running ensemble This Against That, currently a quintet featuring saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, pianist Andy Milne, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer Mark Ferber.

This Friday, February 28, Alessi convenes This Against That on The Jazz Gallery stage for two sets. We spoke with Alessi on the phone about the group, catching up with him as he walked back to his hotel after a long day of teaching at the conservatory in Siena, Italy.

Ralph Alessi: Sorry, I’m just a little out of breath!

The Jazz Gallery: That’s ok—thanks for letting us drop in! I’d like to start with your teaching here in Siena. Do you find that your students here are hip to the same music as young jazz musicians in the states?

Ralph Alessi: I’d say that they’re aware of the same things that typical students in the states are into. Pretty similar in that for both groups I am pointing them in the direction of older players and recordings, often times focusing on conceptual things that are not as common with the younger players of today.  I find that the Siena students are very open, very respectful, so it’s quite a  nice experience for me here.

TJG: Sounds great. Next week, you’re bringing your quintet This Against That to the Gallery, so I’ve been checking out your latest record, Imaginary Friends (ECM). One thing that’s struck me is your interest in linear or narrative-driven structures with different spaces for improvisation. What draws you to that line of thinking?

RA: When I start conceptualizing a piece, one of the important decisions is whether I want differing episodes of improvisation. Sometimes that’s built into the composition, but sometimes it’s the players making choices to offer contrasts in how to shape different moments. I like leaving things up to the players and not doing too much directing, and so I like working with players who bring a kind of compositional sensibility to the improvisations.

TJG: What are the elements of that compositional sensibility?

RA: I love how players can hear the music as it’s happening, have an awareness of where it came from and have a sense for where to take it.

TJG: How does surprise or unpredictability factor into that quality of being able to decide what happens next?

RA: For sure—I want that feeling of mystery to exist throughout the music-making. We all want to be surprised, whether we say it or not. It’s what fuels the music. The last thing I want to do is play music where people are just going through the motions. We’re all trying to provoke each other and keep the music flowing and alive.

TJG: I like that idea of provocation, and it’s something I hear in your dynamic with Ravi Coltrane. What do you feel are the contrasts in your and Ravi’s playing that lead to that sense of provocation?

RA: I find that in reviews and what not, a lot of people mention how Ravi and I play together. I love playing with Ravi, but when I listen back to things we’ve done, I don’t hear that dynamic in the way that others do. But I trust it, because it’s mentioned so often.

In terms of trying to provoke each other, I don’t know if there’s any real thought behind it. I think we’re just playing, and we know each other’s sound so well. Maybe that’s it, in terms of that sense of contrast—we know each other’s sounds so well, that we can blend them in a certain way. I think it’s akin to having a conversation with someone and having that be a dance. We’re blending together, and also juxtaposing each other. But I think that’s just the dance of playing music with other people.

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Brandon Ross and Stomu Takeishi, photo courtesy of the artists.

Since joining Henry Threadgill’s Make a Move Band in 1996, guitarist Brandon Ross and bassist Stomu Takeishi have become a truly simpatico musical pair. Whether playing as a duo, in a quartet, or a large ensemble, the pair can seemingly play with one mind, has an uncanny knack for improvising fully complementary ideas. In an interview with Jazz Speaks, Ross spoke about how their time with Threadgill still undergirds their interplay today:

Stomu and I have [Threadgill] as a reference point in terms of musical dynamics, musical language. What we have been able to distill from that experience at that time, and evolve and mature in the duo relationship that we have. And I guess the longevity of the language that we share and that we developed is something that is has a lot to do with the instruments that we’re playing—Steve Klein-designed instruments. They have such a particular character of sound production and the way they interact with one another – we just want to hear them! In the writing that we do, I just want to hear the instruments [laughs].

This Friday, February 21, Ross and Takeishi return to The Jazz Gallery for two sets. They will be introducing new music for the duo that both clarifies their lineage and points to what’s next. (more…)

Sam Blakeslee, Elijah Shiffer, and Inés Velasco. Photos courtesy of the artists.

This week marks the return of The Jazz Gallery’s Jazz Composers’ Showcase featuring new music for large ensemble. For this fourteenth edition of the series, the Gallery is pleased to welcome three new composers to the stage—Sam Blakeslee, Elijah Shiffer, and Inés Velasco.

A trombonist originally from Columbus, Ohio, Blakeslee has been based in New York since 2017. You can frequently find him playing in a number of New York’s acclaimed large jazz ensembles, including Manuel Valera’s New Cuban Express Big Band, Brian Krock’s Big Heart Machine, and the Terraza Big Band. Before moving to New York, Blakeslee led his own big band in Northeast Ohio, holding a monthly residency at Blu Jazz in Akron. Check out his pungent and forceful tribute to fellow trombonist/composer Bob Brookmeyer, below.

While Blakeslee is a relatively recent arrival in New York City, saxophonist Elijah Shiffer is a native of the New York area and graduate of the Manhattan School of Music. With his working band The Robber Crabs, Shiffer has devised a quirky book of music where hot swing nestles in alongside skronky timbres. Take a listen to Shiffer and company’s distinctive brew on their debut album, Unhinged (OneTrickDog), below.
Drummer Inés Velasco hails from Guadalajara, Mexico and is a recent graduate of the Berklee College of Music. Fluent in many musical styles, Velasco has composed and arranged music for flamenco performers Javier Limón and José Mercé, as well as the National Jazz Orchestra of Mexico. Take a listen to her evocative take on the standard “Be My Love,” performed by the Metropole Orkest.
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Photos courtesy of the artists.

This weekend at The Jazz Gallery, pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Matt Brewer, and drummer Craig Weinrib convene for a special trio performance. All three are distinct stylists in the contemporary common practice, balancing textural richness with heart-on-sleeve lyricism and slippery rhythm. Check out this balance and the interplay between Parks and Brewer in their performance with saxophonist Ben Wendel’s Seasons Band, below.

For shows like this, Parks is known to call favorite tunes by peers, so be prepared for two evenings of song made new. (more…)