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Ingrid Laubrock's UBATUBA (Firehouse 12 Records, 2015)

Ingrid Laubrock’s UBATUBA (Firehouse 12 Records, 2015)

We last spoke with saxophonist and composer Ingrid Laubrock on the occasion of her 2015 Residency Commission Series premiere concerts last summer. Laubrock, perennially in-demand on the international improvised music scene for her versatile and sonically daring musicianship as both a saxophonist and composer, first convened the band now-known as Ubatuba several years ago, and one of their first performances was at The Jazz Gallery in the summer of 2013.

We caught up with Laubrock again in the summer of 2014 when the band returned under the name “Nor’easter,” and we were pleased to once again have the pleasure of speaking with Laubrock, who released Ubatuba on Firehouse 12 Records in the fall. She is currently preparing to release a duo album with her husband, drummer Tom Rainey, titled Buoyancy (Intakt, 2016), as well as preparing to record a new project, a sextet featuring Craig Taborn on piano, Tyshawn Sorey on piano and trombone, Miya Masaoka on koto, Dan Peck on tuba, and Sam Pluta on electronics and live processing.

The Jazz Gallery: This band was called Nor’easter at one point, wasn’t it?

Ingrid Laubrock: At the time, I had struggled to find a name for it. I wanted something to do with wind, so Nor’easter, but then I thought “Ubatuba” had a better ring to it. Ubatuba has absolutely nothing to do with wind—it’s a city in Brazil—but it has the word “tuba” in it and I thought it had a ring, and it is identifiable!

TJG: How did you decide it was time to document the music of this band?

IL: The first concert we did at The Jazz Gallery, I was really into it and it was sort of a catapult for me to compose for the band. In 2014, we rehearsed and then did a States tour, and when you tour or play several nights in a row, the music takes on a completely different shape. At the end of that, we documented the music at Firehouse 12, so it had a nice curve to it because we were really able to learn the music.

We just toured last October, our first European tour, playing partly music from the album and partly a new set, which we’ll play at The Jazz Gallery.

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Photo by Lydia Polzer

Photo by Lydia Polzer

This weekend, saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock will cap off The Jazz Gallery’s 2015 Commission series with a new set of her trademark adventurous music. Like this year’s other commissionees, Laubrock will have the opportunity to present and explore this music over the course of two nights. However, in an unusual turn, Laubrock will present her compositions as performed by contrasting groups on each night—a fleet-footed, highly-reactive trio on Friday, and a hairier, bass-heavy quintet on Saturday.

While Laubrock is perhaps best known for her winding, long-form compositions with groups like Anti-House and Paradoxical Frog, the saxophonist took a different approach to her Gallery commission, trying to condense her ideas into more of a lead sheet form. We caught up with Ms. Laubrock by phone this week to talk about the conceptual underpinnings of her new piece, as well as her approach to balancing improvisational freedom and formal structure.

The Jazz Gallery: The first group you’re presenting on Friday includes pianist Kris Davis and guitarist Mary Halvorson, two people whom you have worked with a lot before. Is this the first time that you’re playing with them in this exact configuration though?

Ingrid Laubrock: We’ve done two improvised gigs over the past couple of years. One was a part of Kris Davis’s Stone residency and we did another one at the Cornelia Street Cafe. We enjoyed it a lot. We basically improvised the whole gig, but it felt like it had a really great flow. I think we called it “Death Rattle” then, but it wasn’t really a working group. They’re both part of my group Anti-House of course, and since the improvised sets worked so well, I thought it would be great to write for them.

TJG: What have you been exploring in the pieces for this group? Are you pitting the more percussive sounds of the piano and guitar against your saxophones? Or are you seeing what you and Kris and Mary will do to looser, more open material?

IL: It’s definitely a little bit of both. Usually I try to find a balance between writing preconceived things and giving improvisers space. I’m very conscious of giving people enough freedom to have fun with it, but I’m also trying to orchestrate, especially with the particular instrumental combinations of the two groups.

The music for this commission is a little bit different than what I usually write, because I usually think a lot about who exactly will be playing the music and trying to write specifically for them. My original idea for this project was to write something a little bit more gestural that can be interpreted in different ways by both groups.

That has changed over the course of writing the piece, though. I figured out that some things would not work with both groups, so I left out a couple of pieces. There are a one or two pieces that will be played by one of the groups and not the other. The bulk of material is the same for both groups, but rearranged and reconfigured.

TJG: Since the pieces have changed quite a bit over the writing process, has that been a result of collaborative efforts and rehearsing thus far?

IL: Well not really so far. All the rehearsing will take place over this week. I’ve sent some stuff back and forth for the musicians to look at and comment on, just to see if it will work, or if it’s all playable on the instruments. I haven’t actually heard it yet with everyone playing!

This was an interesting project for me because I was writing really intensely over the last few months. It made it sort of like a job—I would spend four, five hours a day writing. I wrote as much as I could without thinking of the instrumentation or who exactly would be playing. I didn’t try to limit my imagination in any way, and tried to stick with ideas and not throw them out right away. It was a really good and intense process.

TJG: By writing so regularly and intensely, did you find yourself taking a more systematic approach in your compositions than you do normally?

IL: Well I tried to balance things out between working systematically and working more intuitively. I thought of a narrative for the whole set of pieces, rather than just thinking, “Here’s a piece. Here’s a piece. Here’s a piece,” that sort of thing. And within those pieces there are some that are more like collages, and others that are more gestural where the players can take material and manipulate it with more freedom. And then there are other pieces that are more strictly notated and linear. I tried to juxtapose these different ideas so there’s a narrative scope over the course of the whole hour.

TJG: What made you want to explore this unified set of music in the context of two very different groups?

IL: I think it was when I was asked to do the commission, I was throwing ideas around and my husband Tom Rainey—he’s always laughing when I bring new music in. He always asks, “Why don’t you write any ditties?” So I took that and thought about writing things that could fit on a lead sheet. It ended up not really being that, but that was the original idea. I was going to call it “Ditties and Dittos.” It was a kind of joke.

So after I had that idea, I thought, “Why don’t I do these pieces with different groups?” Having played with Anthony Braxton over the past few years, he always brings in pieces, whether orchestra pieces, or opera, or a quartet piece, and we’ll play it with an absolutely different instrumentation. It always sounds completely fascinating, and the pieces never sound the same because of it.

In my case, I was thinking a lot about range and register—what would happen if we take this whole range out? Like something high up on the piano won’t be there in the other version of the piece. I was definitely playing around with the idea of when is a piece still a piece?

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Ingrid Laubrock (Wikimedia Commons)

Ingrid Laubrock (Wikimedia Commons)

Saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock has forged an unpredictable path to her place in the New York jazz scene. After growing up in a small town in Germany, Laubrock only picked up the saxophone at age 19 after moving to London. She supported herself by busking and playing in Cuban and Brazilian bands, and eventually completed a jazz performance degree at the Guildhall School. Laubrock became a prominent member of London’s forward-thinking musical community known as the F-IRE Collective, as her music began taking on new, abstract dimensions. Laubrock then met renowned drummer Tom Rainey as he passed through London, and the two began a musical and personal relationship that brought her to New York (they are both partners in bands and in marriage).

Laubrock plays with a host of groups throughout the city, from the collaborative trio “Paradoxical Frog” with pianist Kris Davis and drummer Tyshawn Sorey to guitarist Mary Halvorson’s septet to Anthony Braxton’s groups to her own quintet “Anti-House.” Recently, however, Laubrock has put together a new group called “Nor’easter,” her take on the classic brass band, which features Tim Berne on alto saxophone, Ben Gerstein on trombone, Dan Peck on tuba, and Tom Rainey on drums. This Friday, July 25th, 2014, Laubrock will bring this band to The Jazz Gallery for the second time with a host of fresh and wide-ranging original compositions. We caught up with Ingrid by phone this week to talk about her motivation for putting this group together, and how the group’s music works.

The Jazz Gallery: When you played at The Jazz Gallery last summer, this group was brand new and nameless. How did you come up with the name “Nor’easter?”

Ingrid Laubrock: I actually might get rid of the name again! I’m not completely happy with it. I kind of had to have a name for a grant application that I was writing—“quintet” sounded too lame. I wanted something that had to do with wind gusts and blowing air. But at this point, I think I’m going to scrap the name.

TJG: What drew you to putting together a group of almost all wind instruments?

IL: It was always interesting for me to hear brass bands. I grew up in a small town in Germany, and that was always a big tradition, but it didn’t necessarily interest me at the time. I have been to Brazil and heard brass bands—maracatu bands—and I played a bit in maracatu bands when I lived in England. And being in New York I hear a lot of Mexican brass bands and New Orleans brass bands. I’m fascinated by the sound of these groups, but I didn’t want to write music for a brass group in a traditional way. I wanted to explore all the textures that you can get out of these instruments.

This is a major reason why I chose the musicians I chose for the group. All of them are really great improvisors and interested in figuring out everything you can do with their instruments that isn’t traditional. I can write extended techniques, I can write interesting rhythmic things, I can write with microtones and other weird things; the musicians can play everything that I can think of. I also consciously didn’t want a harmony instrument, so the writing is very linear, very contrapuntal. I’d always composed at the piano because you have everything at your fingertips, but for this group I wanted to try and write just in my head and on my instrument. It was good to have a different approach for this music. (more…)

Courtesy of Ingrid Laubrock

Courtesy of Ingrid Laubrock

Ingrid Laubrock, who can be heard playing in groups led by herself and in collaborative projects with musicians like Kris Davis, Mary Halvorson, Ralph Alessi, Tyshawn Sorey, and Tom Rainey, among others, has assembled a quintet for this Saturday that features a distinctive configuration of four horns with drums. We caught up with her by phone to talk about the music that she’ll be performing this weekend.

The Jazz Gallery: You’ve played with all of these musicians before—could you say a few words about why you’ve assembled them in this particular configuration? 

Ingrid Laubrock: I’ve always wanted a band without piano, guitar, or a harmony instrument. I wanted to blend winds and brass, and although I’ve done similar projects in the past, I never quite did it like this. For this ensemble, I was really interested in the “breath factor”—you know, the fact that you have to use your breath to create a certain sustain and blend. (more…)

Photo by Lydia Polzer

In a New York Times review of a concert by Ingrid Laubrock‘s Anti-House, Ben Ratliff notes:

Some young jazz musicians find their style and move in lock, stock and barrel, making little refinements over the years but basically keeping their place. Ingrid Laubrock, a German saxophonist who started her career in London and has spent the last 15 years playing there, sounds happily unsettled. On tenor and soprano, she’s omnivorous and pointed, slouching and precise, humorous and austere…You didn’t walk away thinking, well, that sounded like a certain person, place or time. Ms. Laubrock encouraged its constant sense of renewal.

Originally from Germany, Ingrid moved to London at age 19 and joined the F-IRE (Fellowship for Integrated Rhythmic Expression) Collective. During her tenure with F-RE, she won the BBC Jazz Award for Innovation in 2004, was among the nominees for the BBC Jazz Award for ‘Rising Star’ in 2005 and won a Fellowship in Jazz Composition from the Arts Foundation in 2006. After spending nineteen years in London, the reedist relocated to Brooklyn. Currently, Ingrid is splitting her time between her base in Brooklyn and Moers, Germany, where she has been appointed the “Improviser in Residence.”

Ingrid has performed and recorded with a host of creative musicians including Anthony Braxton, Dave Douglas, Kenny Wheeler, Tim Berne, Evan Parker, and many others. Her own groups include Anti-House, which features the guitarist Mary Halvorson, the pianist Kris Davis, the bassist John Hébert, and the drummer Tom Rainey; Paradoxical Frog, a collaboratively-led trio with Kris and the drummer Tyshawn Sorey; Sleepthief, featuring Tom and the pianist Liam Noble; and a new octet featuring Mary, Liam, and Tom, as well as the bassist Drew Gress, the accordionist Ted Reichman, flugelhornist Tom Arthurs, and cellist Ben Davis – several other exciting ensembles, a few of which feature different combinations of the same personnel, are listed here.

Anti-House is heading into studio on Sunday to record a new album for Intakt Records. On Thursday night, you can get a taste of the groups’ “knotty, kinetic avant-jazz” (TONY) at The Jazz Gallery. Time Out New York agrees that you shouldn’t miss it; they’ve selected this performance as a Critics’ Pick.

Watch a video of the group performing live at Jazzfestival Saalfelden in 2010.