A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Photo by Marc Monaghan via Flickr

Photo by Marc Monaghan via Flickr

The New York Times characterizes Greg Ward‘s music as “a tight but expansive sort of post-bop, strutting and soulful.” Popmatters declares that the young saxophonist takes listeners to “a place where even something like a simple vamp is cursed with all of the catchiness of a pop melody.” One thing is for certain: he plays as though he means every note. Recently, when asked about his motivations as a musician, Greg responded: “I’m up here because I love this and I don’t want to be anywhere else. You have to play and work with that kind of intensity. No half-steppin’.”

Into his fourth year in New York, Greg shows no sign of slowing down. A Chicago native, Greg cut his teeth participating in (and eventually running) sessions at the late great tenorman Fred Anderson‘s fabled club, The Velvet Lounge, while performing with like-minded peers in groups such as Mike Reed’s People, Places, and ThingsOccidental Brothers Dance Band InternationalBlink., and others. During his time in Chicago, Greg performed with artists such as Von FreemanAl JarreauCarl AllenRufus ReidJeff ParkerHamid Drake, and many more. He has also penned works for the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), the Peoria Ballet Company, and the Brazos Valley Symphony Orchestra. More recently, Greg has recorded with the electronic music artist Prefuse 73, arranged and conducted an orchestra for the rapper Lupe Fiasco, and is slated to tour with the acclaimed post-rock band Tortoise.

In the past couple of years, we have watched Greg grow his ideas in collaboration with a trio, dubbed “Phonic Juggernaut.” In this setting, Greg entrenches himself in the heavy-hitting New York rhythm section of the bassist Joe Sanders and the drummer Damion Reid, both of whom are Jazz Gallery veterans. Speaking on WBGO’s The Checkout, Greg marveled at the flexibility and spontaneity of his collaborators: “They blow me away every time we play together…playing with musicians like this, I can always be surprised.” Listening to the group’s eponymous debut album, it is clear that the rhythm section feels the same way: Joe, who we commissioned last year as a part of the 2012 Jazz Gallery Residency Commissions, says of the band, “To call this trio a power trio is an understatement. [Through Greg’s] very intriguing compositions and arrangements, this trio pushes my thinking and approach to new heights.”

Join us this Friday for a look at what Greg might be cooking up next: a quartet featuring the guitarist (and longtime collaborator) Dave Miller, the bassist Zack Lober, and the drummer Tomas Fujiwara.