A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Photo by Michael Hoefner (via Wikimedia Commons)

On any given night in New York, you could run into trumpeter Peter Evans just about anywhere. He could be playing downtown with the acclaimed “bebop terrorist band” Mostly Other People Do the Killing. He could be playing uptown at Lincoln Center with the International Contemporary Ensemble. Or, he could be playing at a Brooklyn club like Zebulon, with his own trio.

As a trumpeter with prodigious technique and catholic tastes, there’s no style or instrumentation that  Evans won’t try. On Thursday, Evans brings his Zebulon trio with bassist John Hébert and drummer Kassa Overall to The Jazz Gallery for two sets. Since trumpet-bass-drums trios aren’t particularly common in jazz, we caught up with Peter via email to talk about why he put this group together and the challenges of the format.

The Jazz Gallery: Why a trumpet trio? What possibilities does this instrumentation or particular group of musicians open up that you might not have with other groups?

Peter Evans: I had been thinking about this group for a year or so before actually putting it together. I took some time to write some music in 2010, the goal being to write music that was less complicated and shorter than the things I was writing for my quartet or quintet and encouraged more open playing. Keep in mind, this was before I had John and Kassa; it was very speculative.  Later that year the three of us did a short run of gigs at Zebulon, and hearing how we played together affirmed that this instrumentation and this particular team was a good fit for me. I have a thing for virtuosic bassists and John scratched my itch. I have known Kassa since our time at Oberlin and it’s been amazing to watch him develop a voice that was there already when he was 18: confident, groovy, very active, totally unacademic, and surprisingly weird. Rather than being a rhythm section platform that I solo “on top” of, the music is highly interactive with a lot of tension, counterpoint, and soloistic energy from all three of us. This was a pleasant surprise to me as the group played more and more.

TJG: Trumpet-bass-drums trios aren’t particularly common—certainly compared to their saxophone-based cousins. Why do you think this is? What unique challenges does this instrumentation present?

PE: You’re right—they aren’t common, especially in the jazz tradition of soloist plus rhythm section that seems to be dominated by sax trios. This has a lot to do with the physical limitations of the trumpet: there is a law of diminishing returns with the instrument that kicks in a lot sooner than with sax or piano. In my group I am very lucky to have a bass-drums team that is constantly oscillating between pushing me forward like a wave in the ocean and swallowing me whole with their own improvisations. Both John and Kassa have a lot of energy, technique, and a real joy in playing. And it really is playful with them. So, to pace myself from a physical level, I am always confident I could lay out for any length of time and the music will still have plenty of momentum. It is not uncommon for any of the three of us to play extended unaccompanied solos during the course of set.  For a trumpet player leading a trio, this is a gift.

TJG: Are there any trumpet trios that you really dig or that color the way Zebulon Trio plays? 

PE: To be totally honest, my favorite trios and the ones that have had the most influence on me are sax trios!

Various Joe Henderson live recordings with Al Foster and rotating cast of fantastic bass players—these records, particularly An Evening with Joe Henderson influence not really the music of our recent CD, but more the form or audiophile aspect of the recording.  I love the way An Evening… sprawls across four tunes of similar key and tempo, and the stream-of-consciousness saxophone solos over repeating forms. It’s not really musical in a traditional way. Again, I mean the record as a totality more than any specific moment of music. It doesn’t really “work” as a record; it’s more of a bootleg for hardcore listeners that want to hear Joe Henderson improvise forever. Which, of course, is great!

Other sax trios I love: the Sonny Rollins mid-60s stuff from Europe (some with NHØP and Alan Dawson) and the infamous Copenhagen concert where he played “Four” for 40 minutes. Kenny Drew lays out a lot, so it’s almost a trio.

The legendary Evan Parker-Barry Guy-Paul Lytton trio, which has been together for about 35 years and whom I have had the great pleasure and honor to play with a few times. They specialize in a dense and highly interactive group improvisational style. In a way it’s almost the opposite of the rhapsodic solo plus rhythm section approach in the Sonny and Joe music.

I guess my approach with this trio has to lie somewhere between these poles; however, the more Zebulon plays the more I find us wandering into areas that I have a hard time finding a reference for, which is great—partially the point of why I play at all: to find new and interesting things.  I’m not so interested in emulating the sound of any of my heroes—more the process and journey of discovery.

Peter Evans and his Zebulon trio perform at The Jazz Gallery this Thursday, September 26th, with John Hébert (bass) and Kassa Overall (drums). Sets at 9 and 10:30 p.m. The first set is $15 general admission and $10 for Members. The second set is $10 general admission and $5 for Members. Purchase tickets here.