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A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Cobalt

Clockwise from top left: Lesley Mok, Henry Fraser, David Leon, Steve Long. Photos courtesy of the artists.

This Friday, July 9, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to host the first live performance by the collective Cobalt. Featuring bassist Henry Fraser, saxophonist David Leon, pianist Steve Long, and percussionist Lesley Mok, Cobalt’s members are equally comfortable devising highly refined structures as they are jumping off the improvisational cliff. The group will perform compositions by all four members that explore an immense range of colors and textures.

While this performance will be the first for the quartet, the four members are already well-established collaborators. While Mok and Leon frequently play in each other’s bands (and sometimes as a duo in their Brooklyn apartment), Fraser joined Long for a wild site-specific piece written for the organ at Columbia University’s St. Paul’s Chapel.

Don’t miss this chance to see these four omnivorous composer-improvisers discover exciting new sound worlds in real time. (more…)

Gilad Hekselman

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, some people baked sourdough bread. Others learned to knit and crochet. And yet others sat down with their guitars and learned Gilad Hekselman solos. A quick search on YouTube nets dozens of videos featuring young jazz guitarists playing favorite Hekselman solos, showing that even during hard times, jazz happens.

Since the calendar turned to 2021, Hekselman himself has done a lot to keep the music flowing, playing streams and shows with a rotating cast of top-notch collaborators. In February, he played The Jazz Gallery with the likes of Aaron Parks and Marcus Gilmore, following that up a few days later with a Smalls show alongside Obed Calvaire and Joe Martin (which you can check out below).

This week at the Gallery, Hekselman switches up the band once again, gathering a quartet comprising Shai Maestro on piano, Rick Rosato on bass, and Eric Harland on drums. Join us in person, or check out the livestream! (more…)

Kris Davis

Photo by Caroline Mardok, courtesy of the artist.

If the New York improv scene is an ecosystem, then pianist Kris Davis can be well-described as a spider. First, there’s the spidery way she moves along the keyboard, with agile slides giving way to delicately-wound harmonies. Second, there’s the particular web of collaborators she has spun, connecting players across styles and practices like Terri Lynne Carrington, Craig Taborn, and Julian Lage.

This Friday and Saturday, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome Davis back to our stage with one of her many groups, Capricorn Climber. Featuring Ingrid Laubrock on saxophones, Mat Maneri on viola, Trevor Dunn on bass, and Tom Rainey on drums, the band released a self-titled album back in 2013.

To get a sense of the kind of improvisational mischief that can arise with this group, check out Davis and Laubrock performing live on the Gallery stage as part of the 2020 Skopje Jazz Festival, below.

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Peter Evans

Photo courtesy of the artist.

When COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic in March 2020, trumpeter Peter Evans was in Lisbon, Portugal. He was supposed to be heading back to the US for a tour in support of his new record featuring the band Being and Becoming. With those dates cancelled, Evans remained in Lisbon, and began an unscripted year of new projects and big life changes.

This Thursday, June 24, Evans will return to The Jazz Gallery with Being and Becoming, belatedly celebrating the release of the group’s self-title debut album.
Not resting on their laurels, Evans and company will present a whole new set of music, freshly-commissioned by the International Contemporary Ensemble. We caught up with Peter to talk about the year’s impact on his writing and playing—a story of improvisation on and off the bandstand.

The Jazz Gallery: I saw Wynton Marsalis’s first live gig since COVID a few weeks back. At one point, he joked about how he was talking more in between the songs because he needed to give his lips more rest! And then Jacob Garchik has joked that 2021 is going to be the “year of the clam.” So I was curious—how are your lips physically? Have you found yourself really needing to build back up into live performances?

Peter Evans: I know that everyone’s had different experiences during COVID—I don’t want to take anything away from that. My personal experience in terms of music and playing has been positive. Minus the financial problem of not being able to do what I normally do to make a living and having to fill those gaps in, I’ve enjoyed this. This isn’t my first gig in a year—I’ve been lucky that I’ve had almost symmetrically-placed opportunities to present my music in public since last July.

I was living in Lisbon, Portugal when this all started to go down. It was cool because I was touring a lot in Europe and I was able to use that as a base. When everything shut down in March, I was supposed to come to the States and that didn’t happen. It took me a couple of days to adjust, but then I was like, “Alright. I want to write a piccolo-flute piece that’s been on my mind for months now, so I’m going to sit down and do it.”

TJG: Did you find yourself practicing in a different way because there wasn’t a deadline for a specific show or piece?

PE: I was able to practice the way I really want to practice, which is more of an open-ended, investigative mining of material. It’s rare that I get like a prolonged amount of time to actually do that. 

When it comes to writing, I don’t mind having a deadline. In January, I did a show at Roulette with my other band with Mazz Swift, Levy Lorenzo, and Ron Stabinsky. All of that stuff is really elaborate. When I get asked to do something, I take it pretty seriously. I write a lot of music, like maybe 80, 90 minutes’ worth of stuff and we rehearse and we fine tune it as best as we can under the time constraints. 

In April, I had an opportunity through the International Contemporary Ensemble to do a thing with Being and Becoming, and so that was the same thing with writing new material. At first, I thought I’d write five, six little ditties and we’ll just blow through them and it’ll be really simple. That didn’t feel honest or responsible to myself (or the band) in the end; I ended up writing a whole bunch of new music, mainly two multi-movement suites. One is inspired by the Islamic prayer tradition of Salah, the 5-times a day prayer cycle, and the other is inspired by the European Medieval scholastic tradition of the Quadrivium, and that piece is dedicated to McCoy Tyner.  

We filmed and recorded all that and it’s going to be a video stream. It’s weird because we’re in this period right now where there’s COVID-type gigs happening and then live gigs happening all at once, which I think is interesting. After this Jazz Gallery gig, five days later there’s the broadcast of this other Being and Becoming project we did for ICEensemble.

TJG: I was curious whether you’d have a new book for the band, or if you’d go back to the material on the record, since that came out last April and you didn’t have the opportunity to do the supporting tour.

With the kind of exploratory practicing you were able to do last year, did that inform the material you’ve written more recently? In a previous interview you talked about how your writing for solo and ensemble performance were converging. Did that continue with your focus on individual practice this year?

PE: Yeah, I think things have changed since that interview in the last few years or so. Now what I do is write away from the trumpet—I try to write away from instruments entirely. The kinds of materials and methods of manipulation that I practice are the things that I’m trying to ingest and hardwire into my system as a trumpet player, as an improviser. However, they are all essentially compositional devices. You don’t really need to have a trumpet in hand to access those.

I still feel like things are still converging in a nice way, but it’s not forced anymore. I think it’s happening in a way that when you’re doing any kind of creative work, you let the stuff come out of you without judging it without analyzing it, and see the ideas through, and trust that all the practice and the hard work that you’ve done to prepare yourself for that moment will aid you in coming up with something decent. I’m trying to sit in that space. It’s not easy but I don’t think it necessarily should be. 

The other day, I finished a piece for a chamber music and composition workshop in New Hampshire where I’m going to play and teach. I’m presenting some pieces and I was sitting there the other night, looking at this stuff, thinking, “What the hell is this?”  I think it works—all I can do is go into the rehearsal and feel that at least the nuts and bolts work. The musicians are close friends of mine and they’re all great musicians. So while I feel like we can make it happen, there’s still a lot of nail biting. It’s just letting things happen more than making them happen. It’s a continuous process of trying to shed the layers of the onion and get to something that feels true.

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Fujiwara-Halvorson-Bynum

L to R: Tomas Fujiwara, Taylor Ho Bynum, and Mary Halvorson. Photo courtesy of the artists.

Throughout his career, drummer Tomas Fujiwara has not shied away from taking risks. This adventurousness has made him an ideal collaborator with the likes of Anthony Braxton, Meshell Ndegeocello, and John Zorn. He has also found a strong circle of colleagues, always ready for trips into soundscapes unknown. Among them are guitarist Mary Halvorson and cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, both of whom have appeared with Fujiwara in several projects over the past two decades. The three are now touring as a trio, and will take the stage at The Jazz Gallery this Saturday, June 19. We caught up with Fujiwara to discuss how the pandemic has shaped his art, this new trio, and the importance of playing before live audiences again.

The Jazz Gallery: How do you feel the pandemic has impacted you creatively? 

Tomas Fujiwara: Well, it certainly gave me many more opportunities to think, observe, and reflect. It has also provided me a lot of time to practice and compose. Most other musicians I’ve spoken to have used the year to focus on new compositional projects, to study the music of another composer, or to add another instrument to their repertoire. I’ve done those things as well. In particular, the pandemic allowed me to practice the vibraphone more than I ever have before, which has been nice. I’ve played on the instrument before, but this year has given me the opportunity to dive deeper.

TJG:  What are your plans with the vibraphone? Are you just experimenting or do you have a specific project in mind? 

TF: Both.

I’ve been studying the instrument more and getting more comfortable with expressing myself creatively on it. But I’ve also been working towards a specific project. Mary [Halvorson], Michael [Formanek], and I will be recording a new Thumbscrew album later this summer. On it, I will be playing a significant amount of vibraphone.  So the three of us have been composing a lot of music for the instrument as part of that project.

I have also found that playing the vibraphone has been a great compositional tool for me. Playing the instrument has opened up my composing in new ways.

TJG: How so?  

TF: I think in some ways the vibraphone is an ideal instrument for me to use for composition because it allows me to use a lot of the techniques that I use on the drum set. I can readily draw upon my background in stick and mallet techniques, which gives a certain comfort during the process.

But there’s also something about the instrument’s resonance that speaks to me in terms of hearing harmonies. I feel like it gives me an incredibly clear expression of my harmonic ideas. It helps me more directly take my thoughts and then translate them to written music. It also helps that visually the vibraphone is like a keyboard. It allows you to literally see all of the notes, from high to low, and give ideas for melodic shapes.

So, I feel like the vibraphone is the best of all of those worlds, and composing on it feels incredibly comfortable.

TJG: Speaking of your compositions, how do you feel working with Anthony Braxton has influenced your approach to writing music? 

TF: I would say the biggest thing I have taken from him is to just go for things and take risks. Don’t question your creativity or ideas before you’ve gone forward and put them out there. If you have an idea, just run with it. Maybe you edit or condense it later but don’t stop yourself before you’ve even started. Go for big ideas; for those that you might initially think too ambitious or crazy or that don’t think will fit within a certain category or box. Questioning how you will pull something off can keep you from expressing your full creativity.

I feel like Anthony is a perfect model of someone that just constantly goes forward with full conviction and force. That’s the biggest thing that I’ve learned from my times around him. Of course, all of his compositions are part of this incredibly creative mind. They’re great to listen to, play, study and analyze. But, to me, the big takeaway is to consistently go forward and take chances. Put yourself out there and not question or second guess yourself. I always say he’s one of the most inspiring people to be around, even if you’re not playing music. Even just being in the same room with him, he has this incredible energy that I find amazingly inspiring.

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