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Category Archives: Musicians
Carta-branca para a trompete de Susana Santos Silva
Em poucos anos, Susana Santos Silva despontou e criou uma linguagem autónoma da Orquestra de Jazz de Matosinhos, tornando-se uma trompetista a que o mundo da música improvisada está atento. A sua colaboração com os belgas De Beren Gieren é apenas a ponta de uma criatividade e de uma actividade febris.
Susana Santos Silva não tem uma memória furiosamente enciclopédica.
Não pertence àquele grupo de músicos de jazz que sabe de cor fichas técnicas de centenas de discos e consegue seguir milagrosamente o rasto do mais secundário dos instrumentistas, citando sem dificuldade as suas maiores proezas num autêntico lodaçal de edições. Tem, por exemplo, uma vaga recordação de ter começado a tocar trompete, ela e todos os irmãos e primos, por influência do avô, e da sua estreia em concerto logo aos oito anos com a Banda Marcial da Foz do Douro. Mas já inquiriu a família para perceber se a trompete foi, de facto, escolha sua. Pela amostra das respostas recolhidas convenceu-se que ninguém a forçou ou a empurrou na direcção do instrumento. Seria até inverosímil que uma criatividade tão febril e livre pudesse brotar de uma imposição.
A memória menos longínqua diz-lhe com clareza, no entanto, que em 2011, no ano em que se estreou à frente do seu quinteto com o álbum Devil’s Dress, a sua irrelevância para o mundo do jazz era quase total. Dos muitos emails e contactos que tentou na altura estabelecer com festivais internacionais, esforçadamente promovendo a sua música, raras foram as respostas que obteve. Uma ou outra, mais simpática, dava-se ao trabalhar de agradecer dizendo que “não, obrigado, não pode ser”. Era o primeiro passo da sua afirmação – o ano de Devil’s Dress mas também do primeiro álbum do trio LAMA, partilhado com Gonçalo Almeida e Greg Smith, formado por alturas da ida de Susana Santos Silva para Roterdão atrás de um mestrado em Jazz Performance. O que encontrou foi, afinal, uma cena musical que desconhecia, uma liberdade de mexer no jazz e não ter medo de sujar as mãos, uma facilidade de circulação que não obrigava a adoptar o mainstream ou o vanguardismo sem ficar marcada com um carimbo que lhe limitasse os movimentos. “Abriu-me portas e horizontes e, de repente, comecei a perceber que havia espaço para mim, que não era tolinha de todo”, ri-se.
Tudo mudaria muito rapidamente. Em pouco tempo, a participação na European Movement Jazz Orchestra, ao lado de músicos alemães e eslovenos, daria frutos que ultrapassavam em muito a acção de uma orquestra que não demorou a ser desactivada – embora não extinta – devido aos elevados custos de cada concerto. Depois, a gravação do segundo álbum dos LAMA, com a participação do saxofonista Chris Speed, no Portalegre Jazz Fest de 2012, coincidiria ainda com o momento em que se cruzou com o contrabaixista sueco Torbjörn Zetterberg. Pedro Costa, da editora portuguesa Clean Feed, apadrinhou o encontro ao enfiar os dois dentro de um jipe e avançar pelo campo fora, evitando vacas e outros animais pelo caminho. A experiência acabaria por dar nome a um dos temas (Cow Safari) que gravaram num álbum em duo, Almost Tomorrow, um sumptuoso registo realizado durante a primeiríssima partilha musical entre os dois. São duas pessoas a conhecer-se, a tactear-se, a perceber como as suas linguagens se encaixam, complementam ou contradizem. Tudo a quente, com a intuição a ditar o rumo de cada desvio.
O primeiro tema de Almost Tomorrow funciona então também um documento da primeira vez que tocaram juntos, ignorando ainda se a empatia a dois saberia encontrar caminho para a relação negociada com os instrumentos. Puseram a gravar, entabularam as primeiras notas e saiu Knights of Storvålen. “Às vezes [um encontro destes] resulta musicalmente, mesmo que a nível pessoal a relação não seja brilhante”, testemunha a trompetista. “Mas a longo prazo, para ter um projecto a acontecer, com quem se viaja e toca concertos e passa montes de tempo na estrada, é muito importante haver essa empatia.”
As raízes na orquestra
Não é fantasia de Susana Santos Silva ou manifestação de um sonho remoto esta menção a passar muito tempo na estrada com outros músicos. Quando o ÍPSILON a apanha no skype, acaba de chegar a Berlim vinda de Estocolmo, onde esteve a gravar o novo álbum do sexteto de Zetterberg. Na capital alemã tem cinco concertos a bordo de diferentes formações com músicos locais, agendados para aproveitar uma semana entre o estúdio na Suécia e as apresentações na Bélgica com o trio local De Beren Gieren, com quem lançou recentemente The Deteour Fish, magnífico exercício de gestão de estilhaços estilísticos inspirado pelo Quinteto A Truta, Op. 114, de Franz Schubert. Em Bruxelas, aproveitará ainda para continuar a colocar mais uns tijolos na construção de um duo que se estreará em disco este ano, com uma das mais estimulantes pianistas da actualidade, a eslovena Kaja Draksler.
Las listas anuales son una especie de aduana por la que tienes que pasar sí o sí. Desconozco lo que sucede con detalle en otros géneros, pero si llegan a la mitad de lo que, en sólo cinco títulos, podemos resumir en el jazz, la música vive uno de sus mejores momentos…
No se engañen, la muerte de la música, del jazz, de la cultura, la crisis social, todo esto ha sucedido antes, desde el siglo XIV con el Ars Nova (luego lo retomamos) al XX con el dodecafonismo o el mismo free jazz, y ya con la Segunda Guerra Mundial ni hablamos… Otra cosa es ese pequeño e incómodo obstáculo (inaudito en los países avanzados) del 21% gravando la cultura…
Cierto, el (anti)Festival de Jazz de Madrid sirve de modelo de (indi)gestión e ilustra el tono gris marengo que va adquiriendo la capital, salvo por los museos… A evitar. Por contra, en Andalucía (ya saben, esa tierra de oportunidades “señaladas”) se reflota uno internacional y se pone en marcha otro. En otro sentido, se confirma una tendencia de mercado. Sin la cobertura del tejido público, los clubes españoles son los que promueven jazz en directo. Ellos ponen las condiciones (…) y es legítimo que no arriesguen dinero. Las propuestas más avanzadas son las más perjudicadas en esta coyuntura. Si esto sigue así, a finales de 2014 se hablará -ya mismo- de un nuevo renacimiento del flamenco-jazz…
La lista de discos, en qué estaría yo pensando… A ver, cinco, ¿no? Vale, pues, como el año pasado, pondré sencillamente los que más he escuchado, que se supone son los que más me han gustado. El orden no importa. Abro y cierro con dos publicaciones de Clean Feed, ya saben, música mu moerna.
(Sit in) The Throne of Friendship; Nate Wooley Sextet (Clean Feed)
The Transylvanian Concert; Lucian Ban & Mat Maneri (ECM)
Woman Child; Cécile McLorin Salvant (Mack Avenue)
A Mirror to Machaut; Samuel Blaser Consort in Motion- (Songlines)
Hammered;Ches Smith and These Arches (Clean Feed)
Nate Wooley – (Sit in) The Throne of Friendship
Nate Wooley, no se crean, entrega un disco que facilita un montón de ángulos de visión sobre la actualidad y algunos prismas para entender el pasado (años 60) con un septeto atípico, en línea con el Canada Day del aquí también protagonista a la batería Harris Eisenstadt. En realidad el grupo gira como quinteto, y esta primavera lo harán por Europa, pero no, no pasarán por aquí. Con Wooley han sido tres los trompetistas destacados este año. Ralph Alessi con Baida, cuenta con el apoyo mediático de ECM que no ha tenido Kirk Knuffke con Chorale en SteepleChase (Russ Lossing, Michael Formanek y Billy Hart), a mi gusto mejor disco, menos frío y programático que el debut de Alessi y su supergrupo en el sello de Eicher.
Alemania… ECM acaparando mercado en tiempo de crisis, haciéndose con lo más interesante de la escena neoyorquina. Desembarcos recientes como los de Tim Berne (entregó segundo Snakeoil), Michael Formanek, luego Craig Taborn (podría estar en la lista su Chants a trío), ahora para este año, y quitándoselo a ACT, Vijay Iyer es la nueva estrella ECM. ¿Y qué me dicen del frustrado (quizá por su ambición) trabajo de Chris Potter o del estimulante cuarteto neoyorquino (pasa temporadas allí) de Tomasz Stanko? ¿Y del regreso del trío de Keith Jarrett? Somewhere… sometime… in another time… A mí el que me ha sorprendido, siendo mucho más modesto, es el Transylvanian Concert de Lucian Ban y Mat Maneri (venían del proyecto sobre George Enesco), una invitación a soñar con un encuentro entra la música de cámara europea y el protojazz, entre finales del XIX y principios del XX, con matices de folclore (blues o centroeuropeo) e improvisación contemporánea, Duke Ellington y Busoni, Ran Blake cuando el piano se pone sombrío.
Eso me recuerda, y lo pongo en el lector de cedés, los maravillosos duetos que hizo Blake con Anthony Braxton y Enrico Rava, recupérenlos. Ha sido un año de excelentes dúos… Ahora mismo sale el de Angélica Sánchez con Wadada Leo Smith. En diciembre lo hizo el de nuestro (in)combustible contemporáneo, Agustí Fernández, con Ken Vandermark; pero antes fueron los de Mark Feldman y Sylvie Courvoisier, Marilyn Crispell y Gary Peacock (escuchen ambos) o los más especiales de Matt Mitchell con Ches Smith y Myra Melford con Ben Goldberg. 2013, año de la pareja…
En la lista del 2012 destacaba un disco cuyo proyecto he tenido ocasión de ver en directo. El quinteto de cámara electroacústico Particula del portugués -de Oporto- Hugo Carvalhais. Es un concepto que se desarrolla con gran plasticidad y juego cromático a varios niveles descriptivos, basándose en la creación del Cosmos, en el espacio, el silencio y en sus partículas elementales o celestes. Mucho menos sutil, o si lo prefieren con otra “sutileza” más gruesa, es “la cosa” que The Thing XXL (ocho músicos haciendo barbaridades, entre ellos Peter Evans) puso en órbita -más bien arrasó- Lisboa el pasado agosto. ¿Ruido? No, punk marciano… Hablando de dos miembros de The Thing, renovado sonido el de ese engranaje orgánico y cerebral llamado Atomic en There Is a Hole in the Mountain, que pasaron por Madrid y Barcelona.
No soy un avezado lector de poesía, y menos la que tiene ver con el jazz, excepto por la obra de Langston Hughes y la “neoyorquina” de GarcíaPortada: Jazz. Nueva York en los locos años 20 Lorca. Con Fruta Extraña (Fundación José Manuel Lara, edición Vandalia), el profesor de literatura inglesa y norteamericana Juan Ignacio Guijarro selecciona 130 autores españoles y una creación inspirada en el jazz a lo largo de casi un siglo. Una antología que ha sido todo un regalo. Y pese a las críticas que ha recibido, sigo defendiendo Jazz, Nueva York en los locos años 20 (Taschen), pues no se trata de un sesudo ensayo, no es su pretensión; la suya es ilustrar una época y servir de precioso objeto divulgativo. Si quieren un trabajo comparado, mejor El Canon del Jazz (Turner) de Ted Gioa, y verán más abiertas la puertas del periodo neoclásico que se avecina.
A mí se me abrieron de par en par, y reconozco que lo he disfrutado, con el trabajo desenfadado y brillante, con regusto clásico y atrevido de Cécile McLorin Salvant. Con ese apellido y cierta refinación afrancesada, el sur del jazz, Nueva Orleans, está conquistado. A medio camino entre la voz de Sippie Wallace y Sarah Vaughan, la esencia y la refinación que ofrece Woman Child (atención al pianista Aron Diehl) es el mejor antídoto para dejar atrás el 2013. Desde Nueva York, donde fue nominado por la crítica entre los mejores de la temporada, despidió Samuel Blaser el año reformulando su cuarteto y fundando un nuevo proyecto J.A.S.S (John Hollenbeck, Alban Darche, Sebastian Boisseau y él). Con la segunda entrega de Consort in Motion, A Mirror to Machaut, y al margen de acercamientos retóricos que restan personalidad a una obra emancipada, el trombonista suizo descubre nuevos ámbitos de interpretación y composición sobre la música antigua de entre épocas, antes fue el prebarroco de madrigales y ahora la polifonía gótica.
Ches Smith and Thse Arches – Hammered
Ches SmithPara terminar con mi lista, Ches Smith & These Arches en Hammered, el segundo trabajo de un grupo que aumenta con un miembro más (Tim Berne) y que ya destaqué el año pasado. Se trata de un sonido nuevo y avanzado, de una vanguardia underground que conecta pop-rock, free jazz y composición contemporánea, fronteras de estilo que están mucho más cerca que la distancia que ponen ente ellos los aficionados más conservadores de estas corrientes. Una dimensión nueva (Berne, Malaby, Halvorson, Parkins, Smith) del trío de Ellery Eskelin con Jim Black y, claro, Andrea Parkins. Un disco que hace vudú con las fronteras de estilo, aunque baste mirar la escena en la que se mueve para entender qué músicos son los únicos capaces de hacer esto (que no lo intenten otros).
Ah, lo olvidaba, y John Zorn, el “enfant terrible”, cumplió 60 años… No sé si se dedicará a publicar discos de celebración como cuando cumplió 50… Creo que no. Lo que cambia todo en diez años…
Melhores de 2013 – Jazz.PT
Aqui estão as escolhas da equipa jazz.pt relativas a mais um ano de música, em disco e ao vivo. São estas as nossas votações finais, bem como as listas individuais dos colaboradores que participaram nesta selecção do melhor que foi acontecendo em 12 meses repletos de bom jazz e boa improvisação. Boas festas e continuem a passar por estas páginas.
Melhores discos internacionais
WAYNE SHORTER QUARTET: “WITHOUT A NET” (BLUE NOTE)
Charles Lloyd / Jason Moran: “Hagar´s Song” (ECM)
São Paulo Undergound: “Beija Flors Velho e Sujo” (Cuneiform)
Matana Roberts: “Coin Coin: Chapter Two: Missisippi Moonchile” (Constellation)
Pascal Niggenkemper Vision7: “Lucky Prime” (Clean Feed)
Wadada Leo Smith & TUMO: “Occupy the World” (TUM)
Joe McPhee: “Sonic Elements” (Clean Feed)
Tim Berne’s Snakeoil: “Shadow Man” (ECM)
Nate Wooley: “Seven Storey Mountain III and IV” (Text)
Trespass Trio & Joe McPhee: “Human Encore” (Clean Feed)
Lotte Anker / Rodrigo Pinheiro / Hernâni Faustino: “Birthmark” (Clean Feed)
Melhores discos nacionais
RED TRIO: “REBENTO” (NOBUSINESS)
Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio & Jeb Bishop: “The Flame Alphabet” (Not Two)
Susana Santos Silva / Torbjörn Zetterberg: “Almost Tomorrow” (Clean Feed)
Luís Lopes Humanization 4tet: “Live in Madison” (Ayler Records)
Lama & Chris Speed: “Lamaçal” (Clean Feed)
Timespine: “Timespine” (Shhpuma)
Big Bold Back Bone: “Clouds Clues” (Wide Ear)
Joana Sá: “Elogio da Desordem” (Shhpuma)
João Hasselberg: “Whatever It Is You’re Seeking, Won’t Come in the Form You’re Expecting” (Sintoma Records)
Nelson Cascais Decateto: “A Evolução da Forma” (Sintoma Records)
João Firmino: “A Casa da Árvore” (Sintoma Records)
Ernesto Rodrigues / Ricardo Guerreiro / Christian Wolfarth: “All About Mimi” (Creative Sources)
João Paulo Esteves da Silva & Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos: “Bela Senão Sem” (TOAP/OJM)
Eduardo Raon: “On the Drive for Impulsive Actions” (Shhpuma)
Eitr: “Trees Have Cancer Too” (Mazagran)
Joana Sá / Luís José Martins: “Almost a Song” (Shhpuma)
Le Syndicat & Sektor 304: “Geometry of Chromium Skin” (Rotorelief)
Luís Vicente / Jari Marjamaki: “Alternate Translations” (MiMi Records)
KEITH JARRETT: “CONCERTS: BREGENZ/MUNCHEN” (ECM)
EVAN PARKER (JAZZ AO CENTRO – ENCONTROS INTERNACIONAIS DE JAZZ DE COIMBRA)
Peter Evans Octet (Jazz em Agosto)
The Thing XXL (Jazz em Agosto)
John Zorn Electric Masada (Jazz em Agosto)
Anthony Braxton Falling River Music Quartet (Jazz em Agosto)
Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio & Peter Evans (Teatro Maria Matos)
Zanussi 5 (Jazz ao Centro – Encontros Internacionais de Jazz de Coimbra)
Hugo Antunes / Carlos “Zíngaro” / Miguel Mira (Espaço APAV & Cultura)
Elephant9 feat. Reine Fiske (Jazz em Agosto)
Melhores músicos ou grupos internacionais
Jason Moran, Okkyung Lee, John Zorn, Fire! Orchestra/Mats Gustafsson, Barry Guy New Orchestra, Burkhard Stangl, Wadada Leo Smith.
Melhores músicos ou grupos nacionais
Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio, Sei Miguel, Gabriel Ferrandini, Susana Santos Silva, Hugo Antunes, Clocks and Clouds, Rodrigo Pinheiro.
Acontecimento do ano
A polémica entrevista concedida por Rui Neves, programador do Jazz em Agosto, à Rua de Baixo, conduzida por Pedro Tavares, também colaborador da jazz.pt.
SEXTA ENCUESTA ANUAL A PERIODISTAS INTERNACIONALES
(SIXTH ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL CRITICS POLL)
MusicoMÚSICO DEL AÑO / MUSICIAN OF THE YEAR
NATE WOOLEY (35 Votos)
Mary Halvorson (30 Votos)
Wayne Shorter (27 Votos)
Wadada Leo Smith (24 Votos)
Ivo Perelman (21 Votos)
Musico RevelacionMÚSICO REVELACIÓN / NEWCOMER MUSICIAN
MATT MITCHELL (44 Votos)
Kaja Draksler (26 Votos)
Jonathan Finlayson (26 Votos)
Cécile McLorin Salvant (18 Votos)
Melissa Aldana (15 Votos)
GrupoGRUPO DEL AÑO / GROUP OF THE YEAR
MOSTLY OTHER PEOPLE DO THE KILLING (31 Votos)
Fire! Orchestra (20 Votos)
Tim Berne’s Snakeoil (19 Votos)
The Thing (15 Votos)
The Claudia Quintet (13 Votos)
Grupo RevelacionGRUPO REVELACIÓN / NEWCOMER GROUP
BLACK HOST (26 Votos)
Rocket Science (18 Votos)
Jonathan Finlayson & Sicilian Defense (16 Votos)
Carate Urio Orchestra (9 Votos)
Wheelhouse (8 Votos)
AlbumÁLBUM DEL AÑO / ALBUM OF THE YEAR
MARY HALVORSON SEPTET – ILLUSIONARY SEA (Firehouse 12) (20 Votos)
Matana Roberts – Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile (Constellation) (13 Votos)
Nate Wooley – Seven Storey Mountain III and IV (Pleasure of the Text Records) (13 Votos)
Wadada Leo Smith & TUMO – Occupy the World (TUM Records) (13 Votos)
Fire! Orchestra – Exit! (Rune Grammofon Records) (12 Votos)
Tim Berne’s Snakeoil – Shadow Man (ECM Records) (12 Votos)
COMPOSITOR / COMPOSER
WADADA LEO SMITH (39 Votos)
John Hollenbeck (26 Votos)
Matana Roberts (21 Votos)
Darcy James Argue (20 Votos)
Anthony Braxton (17 Votos)
BAJO ELÉCTRICO / ELECTRIC BASS
STEVE SWALLOW (33 Votos)
Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten (22 Votos)
Devin Hoff (20 Votos)
Skuli Sverrisson (17 Votos)
Stomu Takeishi (13 Votos)
GUITARRA / GUITAR
MARY HALVORSON (109 Votos)
Brandon Seabrook (17 Votos)
Bill Frisell (16 Votos)
Marc Ribot (15 Votos)
Marc Ducret (14 Votos)
MATTHEW SHIPP (49 Votos)
Craig Taborn (38 Votos)
John Tilbury (25 Votos)
Kris Davis (25 Votos)
Matt Mitchell (24 Votos)
TECLADOS / KEYBOARDS
JAMIE SAFT (38 Votos)
Craig Taborn (21 Votos)
Dr. Lonnie Smith (19 Votos)
Landon Knoblock (16 Votos)
Cooper-Moore (15 Votos)
SAXO ALTO / ALTO SAXOPHONE
TIM BERNE (53 Votos)
Darius Jones (43 Votos)
Rudresh Mahanthappa (42 Votos)
Matana Roberts (28 Votos)
Steve Coleman (19 Votos)
SAXO BARÍTONO / BARITONE SAXOPHONE
MATS GUSTAFSSON (86 Votos)
Josh Sinton (36 Votos)
Gary Smulyan (30 Votos)
Charles Evans (20 Votos)
Brian Landrus (19 Votos)
SAXO SOPRANO / SOPRANO SAXOPHONE
EVAN PARKER (57 Votos)
Wayne Shorter (42 Votos)
John Butcher (40 Votas)
Jane Ira Bloom (32 Votos)
Sam Newsome (21 Votos)
CLARINETE – CLARINETE BAJO / CLARINET – BASS CLARINET
BEN GOLDBERG (60 Votos)
Joachim Badenhorst (29 Votos)
Oscar Noriega (27 Votos)
Ken Vandermark (26 Votos)
Waclaw Zimpel (26 Votos)
TROMBÓN / TROMBONE
SAMUEL BLASER (51 Votos)
Steve Swell (37 Votos)
Roswell Rudd (34 Votos)
Jeb Bishop (32 Votos)
Curtis Hasselbring (24 Votos)
VIOLÍN / VIOLA
MAT MANERI (35 Votos)
Mark Feldman (34 Votos)
Jason Kao Hwang (33 Votos)
Jenny Scheinman (27 Votos)
C.Spencer Yeh (14 Votos)
OKKYUNG LEE (55 Votos)
Erik Friedlander (54 Votos)
Fred Lonberg-Holm (54 Votos)
Hank Roberts (17 Votos)
Ernst Reijseger (11 Votos)
VIBRÁFONO / VIBRAPHONE
JASON ADASIEWICZ (104 Votos)
Matt Moran (57 Votos)
Mattias Ståhl (29 Votos)
Chris Dingman (22 Votos)
Warren Wolf (19 Votos)
ELECTRÓNICOS / ELECTRONICS
SAM PLUTA (48 Votos)
Ikue Mori (34 Votos)
Rob Mazurek (20 Votos)
Jan Bang (15 Votos)
Ben Vida / Lasse Marhaug (13 Votos)
OTROS INSTRUMENTOS / OTHER INSTRUMENTS
NICOLE MITCHELL: Flauta / Flute (72 Votos)
Rhodri Davies: Arpa, Arpa Electrónica / Arp, Electronic Arp (22 Votos)
Gordon Gridina: Oud (15 Votos)
Andrea Parkins: Acordeón / Accordion (12 Votos)
Susan Alcorn: Pedal Steel Guitar (11 Votos)
CANTANTE FEMENINA / FEMALE VOCALS
FAY VICTOR (39 Votos)
Cécile McLorin Salvant (38 Votos)
Gretchen Parlato (16 Votos)
Sofia Jernberg (16 Votos)
Sidsel Endresen (15 Votos)
CANTANTE MASCULINO / MALE VOCALS
THEO BLECKMANN (60 Votos)
Gregory Porter (33 Votos)
Andy Bey (29 Votos)
Phil Minton (19 Votos)
Dorian Wood (11 Votos)
MÚSICO – GRUPO EN CONCIERTO / BEST BAND LIVE
MOSTLY OTHER PEOPLE DO THE KILLING (25 votos)
John Zorn (The Dreamers, Electric Masada, Moonchild, etc.) (23 Votos)
The Thing / The Thing XXL (19 Votos)
Wadada Leo Smith Golden Quartet (13 Votos)
Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society (12 Votos)
Han participado de la votación los siguientes periodistas (por orden alfabético):
Alain Drouot, Alberto Gutierrez, Andrey Henkin, Antonio Branco, Carlos Iramain, Cayetano López, Cisco Bradley, Clifford Allen, Christopher Monsen, Craig Premo, Dan Bilawsky, Dan Sorrells, David R. Adler, Esteban Arizpe Castañeda, Eyal Hareuveni, Francis Davis, George Grella, Gordon Marshall, Guillaume Belhomme, Guy Peters, Hank Shteamer, Hrayr Attarian, James Hale, John Eyles, Karl Ackerman, Kevin Lynch, Laurence Donohue-Greene, Lyn Horton, Marcelo Morales, Marco Paolucci, Mark Corroto, Matt Marshall, Michael Nastos, Miguel Copon, Mike Borella, Nikola Markovic, Paul Acquaro, Pedro Tavares, Pete Butchers, Ralph Miriello, Raúl da Gama, Roberto Barahona, Sean Fitzell, Sergio Piccirilli, Stef Gijssels, Stuart Broomer, Tim Niland, Troy Collins
Harris Eisenstadt, Intellect and Emotion
Any encounter with drummer Harris Eisenstadt—whether in person or through his music—provides evidence that he is a “thinking man,” to borrow a phrase from trumpeter Nate Wooley.
The prolific Eisenstadt leads multiple bands, with Wooley a member of his most longstanding group, the quintet Canada Day. Wooley traded horn for pen to write liner notes for the eponymous first album by another of Eisenstadt’s groups, the September Trio, which features saxophonist Ellery Eskelin and pianist Angelica Sanchez. Wooley wrote: “He doesn’t produce unneeded complexity in his compositions or his playing to give us mental gymnastics to follow; he instead puts his incredible natural energy and intelligence into creating music that is thoughtful, unique, well-constructed, meaningful
and somehow simple sounding.”
There is indeed a balance of thought and feeling in Eisenstadt’s music, particularly with the September Trio. That first album features wonderfully
atmospheric, poetic ballads. Eskelin’s tenor has a husky lyricism, while Sanchez’s harmonic choices eschew cliché. Eisenstadt’s playing reveals a drummer
with a composer’s ear, for whom color is as vital as propulsion. The group’s second release, The Destructive Element (Clean Feed), ups the ante; the album is melody-rich and blue-hued but more volatile that its predecessor.
Seated outdoors at a bar in Ditmas Park, the charming Brooklyn neighborhood he calls home with his family, the 38-year-old Eisenstadt talked about his open style of composing for the September Trio: “Ellery plays the notes, but his distinctive sound and sense of time shape the music. For the new record, I encouraged Ellery to be as bluesy as he wanted to be and for Angie to be as gospel-y as she wanted. Both of them can deal with lyrical material but naturally subvert it, too, through timbre and by expanding forms. The idea is to meld lyricism with abstraction—it doesn’t have to be either/or.”
Eskelin, a veteran bandleader in his own right, was drawn to the ballad-like aspect of Eisenstadt’s writing for the trio, as well as the sense of space and freedom. “As a saxophonist, that setting is really conducive to going for a fuller tone—there is a lot of air around each instrument, and this becomes part of the fabric of the band’s sound,” Eskelin said. “Harris also plays with close attention to dynamics, which I appreciate greatly in a drummer.”
Canada Day—which these days includes Wooley, tenor saxophonist Matt Bauder, vibraphonist Chris Dingman and bassist Garth Stevenson—has released three albums as a quintet, plus one as a textured octet with alto sax, trombone and tuba. Canada Day Octet (482 Music) begins with a drum solo, although it’s a characteristically singing, sculptural one. Eisenstadt’s music for Canada Day is compositionally oriented, yet has room for personal inflections in the playing.
Regarding Canada Day, Wooley said, “What Harris has done brilliantly is to keep the same band together over some years, which isn’t as easy as it seems. And he combines a growing knowledge of each player’s preferences for how they like to improvise with a talent for finding good ways to push us into new areas, to force us to think in new ways. He knows how to hear someone’s voice in a new context.
That has a lot to do with why his music always sounds fresh and vibrant.”
Eisenstadt’s newest band is the chamber-jazz outfit Golden State, with bassist Mark Dresser, flutist Nicole Mitchell and bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck. The group’s debut, Golden State (Songlines), is Eisenstadt’s 15th album as a leader since 2001. He has various connections with each member, most closely
with Schoenbeck, who is his wife. Reflecting on the genesis of the band, Eisenstadt said, “The unusual instrumentation of flute, bassoon, bass and drums was intriguing—like, ‘What’s this going to sound like?’ I wanted to hear it. There is that post-Ellington thing to what I do in that I write for specific players,
striving to take advantage of what the musicians can do.”
Continually expanding his palette, Eisenstadt has studied West African drumming, recorded an album with saxophonist Sam Rivers and percussionist
Adam Rudolph (as the Vista trio) and composed a concerto for multiple drummers that will be performed with the Brooklyn Conservatory Community Orchestra for its premiere in November. As he pondered the challenges of making music as a career, Eisenstadt mentioned composer Arnold Schoenberg, the modernist icon who provided germinal inspiration for a couple of September Trio pieces. Schoenberg was a famous intellectual, but Eisenstadt cited another of the composer’s traits—tenacity—which is certainly a necessity for any questing artist.
Eric Revis: The Specter of Posterity
Bassist Eric Revis first came to prominence supporting Betty Carter in the mid-1990s, shortly after completing formative studies with Ellis Marsalis at the University of New Orleans. Since then, Revis has become a key figure in the creative mainstream: as a stalwart member of Branford Marsalis’ Quartet; part of the collective trio Tarbaby (with pianist Orrin Evans and drummer Nasheet Waits); and a sideman to neo-traditional artists like JD Allen, Russell Gunn and Winard Harper.
Released on Portugal’s Clean Feed Records, Parallax is his third effort as a bandleader, following the eclectic Laughter’s Necklace of Tears (11:11 Records, 2009) and Tales of The Stuttering Mime (11:11 Records, 2004), which offered colorful demonstrations of the bassist’s expansive compositional palette, featuring such unique instrumental sonorities as melodica, string quartet and washboard. Equally diverse, yet far more adventurous, Parallax is the debut of his 11:11 quartet – a virtual summit meeting of contemporary talent – featuring Revis, Waits and the drummer’s primary employer, pianist Jason Moran, performing alongside Chicago scene leader Ken Vandermark.
Revis is no stranger to such vanguard company; although often found supporting straight-ahead players like Lionel Hampton, Billy Harper and McCoy Tyner, Revis toured with Peter Brötzmann in 2009, serving with Waits as the renowned German firebrand’s dedicated rhythm section. Bolstered by longstanding relationships, Revis’ studied rapport with Waits in Tarbaby and Waits decade-plus membership in Moran’s Bandwagon trio provides this particular lineup with a deep sense of camaraderie far greater than the average super-group.
The quartet’s efforts encompass a wealth of inside-outside dynamics, seamlessly bridging the tenuous divide between traditions. The members’ shared enthusiasms for the stylistic nuances of prewar jazz draw a striking parallel to the genre-defying innovations of the AACM, most notably on stirring covers of Fats Waller’s “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter” and Jelly Roll Morton’s “Winin’ Boy Blues” – riotous interpretations that find aesthetic concordance in the equally raw, albeit cohesive collective improvisations “Hyperthral” and “IV.” Though spontaneously conceived, the intense focus of the latter pieces confirms the ensemble’s adroit interplay; Vandermark’s husky tenor refrains, Moran’s bustling two-handed runs and Waits’ careening downbeats effortlessly interlock with the leader’s pneumatic fretwork, lending the rhapsodic proceedings a wholly unified sensibility.
The diverse cast also enables Revis an opportunity to showcase his burgeoning compositional style, as exemplified by sophisticated ensemble numbers like the contrapuntal march “MXR” and opulent tango “Edgar.” His refined writing also informs his virtuosic solo technique, readily demonstrated by the ruminative bass soliloquies “Prelusion” and “Percival” – the former regaling with dervish-like arco, the latter blistering pizzicato.
Rounded out by stellar pieces written by his peers, including the rhythmically daunting “Dark Net,” penned by saxophonist Michaël Attias, and Vandermark’s sole contribution, the scorching free bop swinger “Split,” Parallax embodies a truly diverse microcosm of contemporary jazz styles. Intrigued by the album’s expansive continuum, I interviewed Revis in the winter of 2012.
Troy Collins: When comparing your sideman discography to the lineup featured on Parallax, the personnel seems a little surprising. Jason Moran and Ken Vandermark are widely revered for their creative virtuosity, but also for their leadership abilities in their respective metropolitan scenes; Moran in New York and Vandermark in Chicago, respectively. Can you explain how you managed to get these two leaders together as sidemen in a quartet setting?
Eric Revis: It was actually a pretty easy process. I called Nasheet, Ken, and Jason and asked them if they wanted to do a gig I had in NYC. Luckily everyone was available and the gig was great.
TC: Where was the gig held and did the set feature any of the tunes included on Parallax? If so, how have those pieces changed since their initial conception?
ER: The gig was at The Jazz Gallery in NYC. I believe we did the Fats Waller and Jelly Roll tunes on the gig and we played them pretty conventionally. As we did more gigs, I realized that when given the opportunity to document the band, this was a group I could take advantage of exploring the possibilities of the tunes I had been composing. All of the tunes other than the aforementioned songs on Parallax were brought in at the date.
TC: One detail that makes 11:11’s personnel a little less startling is your time spent touring with Peter Brötzmann. Can you describe how that gig came about and how it may have influenced 11:11, if at all?
ER: I have been a huge fan of Mr. Brötzmann for a long time. In ‘04-‘05 Nasheet and Peter were doing a series of dates as a duo. Around that time Nasheet and I were on the phone just catching up with each other and he mentioned that he and Peter were doing these shows and would be performing at the now defunct Tonic. I told him about me being a big fan of Peter and that I would definitely be down to see them. He told Peter about this and they actually invited me to do the gig. A year or two later I saw Peter in Austin, TX and he mentioned that he enjoyed the trio gig and that he’d been thinking about doing something with it. That resulted in a tour of that trio a year later and it was on that tour that I met Ken.
TC: Vandermark is well known for paying homage to a wide variety of artists, many of them musicians, but not all of them associated with jazz. As an artist with an equally eclectic background based in funk and rock music, how does that analogous aspect influence your writing and/or performing?
ER: I think anyone aspiring to a true artistic aesthetic is aware of and checks out a vast array of material. The more this is done, one starts to adhere to a certain universality of music and art devoid of the hierarchy that artists often attribute to one music over another. I think if one stays true to this ideal, those influences make themselves apparent and permeate (in a very organic way) any art one is involved in.
TC: There are a number of interesting intersecting relationships in 11:11; Waits is a member of Moran’s Bandwagon with bassist Tarus Mateen, while you and Waits play in TarBaby with pianist Orrin Evans. What differences or similarities do you notice in how these three ensembles function?
ER: I suppose the obvious similarity is that we are all committed to keeping Nasheet Waits working as much as possible (laughs).
I think that each of these groups represent a certain philosophical convergence of individuals who approach music and art in a similar fashion; with reverence for tradition as well as the commitment to an intelligent, artistic, forward-thinking trajectory.
Beyond that, Bandwagon and 11:11 are platforms for Jason and I to exact our particular voices in those settings/configurations. Tarbaby is a total collective effort.
TC: How do personal and stylistic dynamics shape the inner workings of the group?
ER: My criteria for putting any group together (or being in a group), is pretty straight forward. Cool, intelligent, forward-thinking individuals. That and they are all phenomenal musicians … with very distinct personalities.
TC: Were any of the tunes composed specifically for these particular players, or were they more skeletal in conception?
ER: There is an inherent danger and limitation to composing for specific individuals. One of my goals over the past few years has been to distance myself from my “likes” and compositional proclivities in order to allow my compositions to dictate their own path. When one writes for a specific individual you are limited by your interpretation of that person’s sound. That being said, my implicit trust in the musicians to interpret the music in whatever way they deem fit insures that the outcome will be optimal. For this recording (and mind you, there are 10 additional songs in the can) … a lot of it was composed. There were a few sketches as well.
TC: Does that mean there will be a follow-up album of unreleased material? Regardless, do you plan on continuing to record with this particular line-up?
ER: I think that some of those songs will be released at some point however I am more interested in documenting the group in its present-tense.
TC: While the album’s over-arching orientation is fiercely modern, two classic covers – Fats Waller’s “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter” and Jelly Roll Morton’s “Winin’ Boy Blues” – are both given fascinating treatments; the former unfolds like a fever dream, the latter a rhapsodic revival. Can you describe your intention behind these bold interpretations of such venerated standards?
ER: One of the initial concepts I had for the band when we first got together was a “back-to-the-future” paradigm. Freely improvised sets peppered with songs from the “pre-standard” songbook. When you have a group of musicians that have reverence for the tradition as well as for the extemporaneous, you can do things like that in a very viable way.
The other thing is that so many of the songs from the “pre-standard” cannon are great songs that can be interpreted in a variety of ways and maintain their vitality. That was the impetus for “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter.” The arrangement of “Winin Boy” is an homage to Jelly Roll and the prison work song.
TC: The “back-to-the-future” paradigm finds obvious concordance in the AACM’s credo, “Great Black Music, Ancient to the Future.” I assume you’ve drawn inspiration from the Association’s advancements, but considering your current role as Branford Marsalis’ primary bass player and knowing his brother’s outspoken ideology, how you manage to balance the two worlds? Do you find any aesthetic disparities between playing with Peter Brötzmann and Branford Marsalis, for example?
ER: I think a few things should be addressed in order to properly answer this question. First off, yes the AACM has been a tremendous influence for me both musically and philosophically. I feel that the thoroughness of concept and fearlessness they exhibited in exacting their art and principles is something that every musician – particularly ones involved in the Jazz/Creative music diaspora – should really investigate. In terms of the “Marsalis factor,” I find it interesting and somewhat disturbing that both Branford and Wynton are held accountable and taken to task for things they said over 20 years ago. It seems as if no leeway is given to these men for possibly expanding their particular views from that of the 20-something-year-olds they were who were accorded a platform that deservedly (or not) was placed upon them.
As this relates to the question … Are there not aesthetic disparities in speaking, I mean truly communicating with people from different regions of a given area? I believe if one’s intent is honest and coming from a well-rounded perspective, the “universality” I spoke of before, shines through. The elements I hold musically dear … my musical criteria … (intelligence, fearlessness, selflessness, reverence for tradition, virtuosity of sound) are elements that I find to be indelible components on all music(s) of quality. At that point it just becomes a matter of context.
TC: I’m curious about context and how it relates to your actual approach towards performing with artists as different as Brötzmann and Marsalis. Do you rely on a different skill set or instrumental palette, depending on who you’re performing with? I assume there are techniques that are more appropriate in one context than another, and if so, how does that affect your decision making?
ER: There are definitely techniques I employ for different contexts. I am a firm believer in letting the punishment fit the crime. Yes, appropriateness is definitely key. Although, I must say that as I have explored and developed more “language” in the realm of extended techniques on the double bass, I do think I have organically incorporated those elements into other contexts more and more.
TC: Parallax seems to encompass all aspects of the tradition equally, and I’m curious if the 11:11 quartet is more liberating for you as a performer – i.e.; not being constrained stylistically in almost any conceivable way?
ER: 11:11 is very liberating in that I am able to exact the whole of my voice and artistic trajectory up to this point.
TC: What are your thoughts on studio recording versus live performance and how does that affect your playing in each situation.
ER: There is always the specter of posterity in the studio. That, and the fact that the musicians alone are responsible for the energy. The studio lends itself to being more meticulous.
TC: What are your thoughts on the state of the recording industry at large, especially in regards to archival hard copies versus ephemeral downloads?
ER: Although the convenience of the download is undeniable, I think that the overall artistic package that LP’s encompassed is sorely missed. A great deal of my music history was garnered from album covers. The fact that so much music has yet to be archived in download form and the sound quality of downloads is so poor, are but other disappointments in this age of the download.
TC: In light of the recording industry’s current complexities, do you find musical inspiration in any technological advances, stylistic movements or particular artists?
ER: I tend to be a little behind the curve when it comes to technological advances. This is something I plan to remedy sometime in the future. Even though I realize that some of these advances … music programs/apps and such … can be valuable tools, I at this point am really concerned with just getting better as a musician/composer and that is where I devote my time.
There are no particular “current” movements in music that I am into per se. My current listening involves: Alban Berg, Meshuggah, Odd Future, Grizzly Bear, Leron Thomas, Prokofiev, Darando, Julius Hemphill.
Sara Serpa: A Musical Journey
Vocalist and composer Sara Serpa is one of the most original and innovative musicians to emerge since the turn of the century. She has already made an indelible mark on the modern music scene in the span of a mere four years. Her unique style of vocalese allows her to utilize the full range of her exquisite and clear voice with the agility of an instrumentalist and stand out of the crowd as a sublime interpreter and a bold improviser. Her original pieces, meanwhile, reflect an imaginative approach to composition that matches her spontaneous creativity. Her critically acclaimed debut, Praia (Inner Circle, 2008), showcased her band-leading abilities as she headed a sextet of superlatively talented players, including the inimitable saxophonist Greg Osby.
A native of Lisbon, Portugal, Serpa studied classical piano and voice as a teenager. While in college, pursuing a degree in social work, she was drawn to jazz and augmented her musical education at the school affiliated with Lisbon’s Hot Club Jazz. After graduation, she moved to Boston and enrolled first at Boston’s Berklee College of Music and then the New England Conservatory, earning a Master’s degree in jazz performance in 2008. Almost immediately Afterwards, she moved to New York and fast established herself as one of the freshest and most versatile performers in jazz.
Her adventurous yet disciplined approach to music brought about her career’s meteoric rise. Her second album, Camera Obscura (Inner Circle, 2010), a collaborative effort with her mentor and friend, pianist Ran Blake is a haunting and sparse expression of complex musical ideas with often a cinematic flair. An avid bibliophile Serpa drew inspiration from her favorite literary works for her third release as a leader, Mobile (Inner Circle, 2011). The dynamic, sophisticated and memorable record lead to her gracing the cover of the Spring 2012 issue of Jazziz magazine.
Her latest, Aurora (Clean Feed, 2012), is her second session with Blake, a set of live duets recorded in Lisbon.
All About Jazz: Aurora is a sparse and hauntingly beautiful work and your second collaboration with Ran Blake; can you tell us about this live date in Lisbon?
Sara Serpa: Thank you, it makes me happy that you like it and enjoyed listening to it. This was the second time Ran came to Lisbon to perform, and it was a great experience, since we had an amazing hall and piano to record the album. We decided to do it in two sessions; one was the day before the concert, and then the concert itself. The day of the concert was an extremely sad day, as it was the day we heard of Bernardo Sassetti’s tragic death. Bernardo was an incredible Portuguese pianist and he wrote the liner notes for our first album, Camera Obscura. We were very emotional on that day.
AAJ: Ran Blake, of course is well known for his work with adventurous vocalists, what was it like having him as a mentor?
SS: The mentorship evolved into a great friendship. Ran is one of my best friends, and one of the most generous musicians I have ever met. Also, he is a musician that loves singers. It’s always unpredictable to sing with him, and I do enjoy those moments of not knowing what will happen and going with the flow. I feel it’s very important to learn with our elders. The way they perceive, listen and learned music is really different and deep. Ran Blake has incredible ears and that’s the most important thing he tries to pass on to his students—teach your ear, learn music by ear, listen above all.
AAJ: On both your studio recording with Blake, Camera Obscura and the live Aurora you cover an elegantly broad variety of standards and originals. How did you choose those particular songs?
SS: The choice of standards has been a bit accidental, but always follows our taste. Either these are songs that Ran loves and suggests we play, songs that I love or songs that we both love.
AAJ: What was the difference for you between the two recordings? How did each setting affect your spontaneous creativity?
SS: The first album was a big adventure for me. I had been singing with Ran in his private studio for a year, and we had built a repertoire, but going into a recording session studio was kind of crystallizing that moment. There wasn’t much pressure, it was more like let’s see what comes out. We did in two days, rarely did more than a take on each song, and it was recorded with very minimal equipment. Still, it sounds great, due to the work of Pete Rende, who mixed it and really understood the sound we were looking for. Aurora was more planned, as we were preparing a concert as well. We also played along with three movies scenes, and that was completely improvised (Dr. Mabuse is one example of it). We decided also that each one should prepare a solo piece. But having an audience definitely changes the moment, is gives you more adrenaline. I felt like I was sharing our duo bareness with a very big hall, full of people.
AAJ: You come from a country with rich musical and particularly song heritage. How did that influence your own development as a vocalist?
SS: Curiously, Fado didn’t influence me at all until I moved to the United States. I only started listening to Fado around 2006 or so. My musical education started with classical music, and although there were other genres played at my house, like Brazilian music, rock, and later on in my teens, more punk and electronic music, Fado wasn’t that much present. I recently understood that Fado was associated with the dictatorship in Portugal that ended in 1974 and my parents were part of the generation who fought against this regime, so naturally they did not listen to Fado.
AAJ: Having had western classical training ,what attracted you to improvised music and particularly jazz?
SS: I studied piano for 10 years and studied classical singing as well. And during all those years, I was always afraid of failing in any musical context. Going to a jazz school and entering this new world opened many doors for me, as I could use all my musical skills and impulses and still create something, interacting with other musicians. To learn harmony and improvisation was something that unfortunately I never explored while at the Lisbon Conservatory, and once I started understanding more about it, it allowed me to find my own style and voice within it. And jazz, it’s such a sophisticated music. It is so complex and advanced, from [trumpeter/singer] Louis Armstrong to [singer] Abbey Lincoln.Its social context and message was also something that attracted me, as there was such a vital energy about the way the old school musicians played.
AAJ: What musicians and records influenced your growth as an artist?
SS: Some musicians that influenced my growth as an artist were my teachers: Ran Blake, [pianist] Danilo Pérez, Greg Osby, and [singer] Dominique Eade. Not only they are amazing musicians, but also they are amazing musicians who have their own voice in the jazz world. Ran Blake and Danilo Perez really gave me wings to fly, encouraging me and giving me so many opportunities to be a better musician. They also taught me the social importance of the music we are making, and through their brightness and talent, showed me a very human side of jazz. . Greg Osby listened to my music and gave me a lot of opportunities to perform and record with his band, and basically he introduced me to the NY scene, when I joined him at the Vanguard—that was a great school as well. Dominique Eade welcomed me in Boston and opened the NEC doors to me, accepting me as her student, while I was searching for a creative environment. Generosity, competence, trust and solidarity is something very important in music and all of them in their own way, taught me that.
It’s hard to name some records. I can name musicians who influenced me as student, at school: Miles Davis (with his second quintet), John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughan, Hermeto Pascoal, Theo Bleckmann, Paul Motian, Tom Jobim, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Brad Mehldau, Bill Evans, Louis Armstrong. Chico Buarque, Björk, Wayne Shorter, Abbey Lincoln, Ella Fitzgerald, Mark Turner, Vardan Ovsepian, André Matos, Maria João … but the list keeps changing, and coming back and forth, each month, each year, as the growth never stops….
AAJ: What are your “desert island” discs and why?
SS: Oh, this is a tough question. To explain why I love certain music… here are a few. Bu these days, with the iPod, do I really need just to pick a few?
Carmen McRae—Bittersweet (Koch, 1964)
Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong—Ella & Louis (Verve, 1956)
Silke-Thora Matthies and Christian Kohn—Brahms Four Hand Piano Music Vol. 4 Ein Deustches Requiem (Naxos, 1999)
Tom Jobim—Matita Perê (Polygram, 1973)
Sarah Vaughan—Live at Mr. Kelly’s (Emarcy, 1957)
Pixies—Come On Pilgrim (4AD, 1987)
Farafina—Fasco Denou (Real World, 1993)
Miles Davis—Nefertiti (Columbia, 1968)
Charlie Haden—The Golden Number (A&M, 1977)
Ran Blake—Wende (Owl, 1976)
Deerhoof—Deerhoof vs. Evil (Polyvinyl, 2011)
Paul Motian, Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell—Sound of Love (Winter & Winter, 1995)
Béla Bartók}}— Bartók Plays Bartók (Pearl, 1995}
Milton Nascimento—Milton (EMI, 1970)
Abbey Lincoln—Straight Ahead (Candid, 1961)
Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane—Live at the Five Spot (Blue Note, 1958)
Meredith Monk—Impermanence (ECM, 2008)
Duke Ellington—Piano Reflections (Capitol, 1953)
Johann Sebastian Bach—The Art of the Fugue
AAJ: What were your experiences coming from Lisbon to Boston and then to New York? If so how did those experiences impact your artistic development?
SS: It’s very hard to describe my experiences coming from Portugal to the USA. Just try to imagine coming from a small school in Lisbon, that doesn’t have more than 200 students, to Berklee, where you have 4,000 students from all over the world. And to be alone for the first time in a foreign country, with the ideal of studying music. With tough winters in Boston…and then going to NEC where I met wonderful teachers who really encouraged me and supported my music, like Danilo Pérez, Dominique Eade and Ran Blake. This all meant an opening of my mind, beyond what I could imagine. I was able to explore and work hard on my music, in a really focused way. And learn even more about jazz, from direct sources.
And then New York, where there are so many musicians, so many people, and where the scene is so competitive. And then you have to pay your bills, you have to keep working on your music, it’s like a positive struggle. It taught me that nothing is for granted, and if you really want something to happen, it has to come from you and not from others. And there are so many incredible musicians in this city that inspire me and teach me every day. To be in New York helped me to see things in a different perspective. The goal is just to keep doing the music I love, be a better musician and person.
AAJ: Your debut album, Praia, contains intriguing original compositions, presumably inspired by Cape Verdean themes, what is your connection to Cape Verde?
SS: I wonder why you ask me about Cape Verde, as there’s nothing related to it on that record. Praia means “beach” in Portuguese, and it was what I missed the most during my first years in Boston, and that feeling gave some impulse composing that music. Those songs were my first attempts of writing music, and they had a stamp on it, which was “I miss my home, I miss my friends, but I also love my new life here.”
AAJ: It is quite interesting and unique that your compositions on Mobile reflected the spirit of literary works yet your singing was primarily wordless vocalese. What inspired you in those particular eclectic mix of books?
SS: It was very random. A few months after moving to New York I realized I was only reading books from travelers and adventurous people, about travelers’ struggles, about discovering the unknown. And maybe that was related with what I was experiencing, being in NY and finding my way of living in this city. Each book was a revelation for me, and I loved reading all of them. And I thought that maybe I could try to recreate a scene or a memory from each book into music. I was fortunate to be able to explore this music with [guitarist] André Matos, [pianist] Kris Davis, [bassist] Ben Street and [drummer] Ted Poor, as I think they really understood each song and played it beautifully.
AAJ: Currently you perform leading your own group as well as in duos either with Ran Blake or André Matos. What are the different challenges inherent in each setting?
SS: For the duo setting, there are similar aspects that need to be present: communication, good time, listening, and empathy. We have to be a team.
Singing with Ran Blake is a time travel for me, as there is so much tradition and knowledge in his playing. It always has the surprise element—we might play the same song several times, and although I feel we are following a plot (just like a movie plot), sometimes we do a shorter version, some other times longer, sometimes we modulate to another key, sometimes he stops playing or throws a chord that completely blows me away. At the beginning it was very hard for me, and I realized I had to be really strong when singing the melody of a song, so that he could play whatever he felt like behind me without losing my direction.
Today, I love that feeling of not knowing what is going to happen. I love Ran’s touch, his use of pedals creates another dimension of sound, and besides all this, there’s a lots of experience, life and love in his playing. And although I am singing the melody, I feel I am following him all the time, or almost like a game, sometimes I lead and some other times he leads. His ears are incredible, and that allows to a lot of creativity in his comping, even when playing the simplest melody. Songs and words are the key with this duo, and singing with Ran woke me to this world of the words and to its power. To convey the story, and to follow Ran’s plot for each song is the most important. Also, Ran and I have many years of difference and come from different continents—I always feel I am learning something new.
With André Matos, feel we are both coming from the same place, meaning we have the same background; history and we play a lot together. We live together, we travel together—so much of that communication and shared moments comes out through our music. We also play a lot of original material, and finding my own space in that material is challenging, because I never do the same thing on every song. Sometimes I accompany him, sometimes I don’t sing, sometimes I improvise—to find that balance of when to sing and when to be silent is challenging in some way. Also, there’s a lot of nakedness in a duo setting, we can’t hide behind any other instrument, and we have to accept what comes out without being very judgmental.
AAJ: Do you also engage in other art forms? If so which ones?
SS: I love photography. I went to an Art College for two years, so I draw, I paint and I take photographs. And I love writing as well. But I’ve never exposed it the way I do with the music.
AAJ: Lastly can you tell us a little bit about your Crossing Oceans project?
SS: Crossing Oceans is still a work in progress. It features voice, trombone, tenor sax, guitar, bass (and possibly some percussion). I sing mostly in Portuguese. It is like a story about my perception of Fado, and its origins, that are deeply embedded with the history of Portugal. It started out of my curiosity about Fado music, as I wanted to know more about this song form (I never listened to it before I moved to US) .
My research made me travel in time and think about things that are key to my country’s history, but that no one talks about: the slave trade from Africa to Brazil, the music that came from Brazil to Portugal in the 18th century, (which is when Fado appeared in Lisbon)…so many things. So it’s a Fado project but it’s also my project, it’s a creative approach to it. It is a story told through music.
Sara Serpa & Ran Blake, Aurora (Clean Feed, 2012)
Sara Serpa Mobile (Inner Circle, 2011)
Sara Serpa & Ran Blake, Camera Obscura (Inner Circle, 2010)
Sara Serpa, Praia (Inner Circle, 2008)
In just over a decade, the Canadian pianist Kris Davis has become an important player on the NYC alternative jazz scene. Early this month, she’ll be marking the release of a quintet album on the Portuguese CleanFeed label. This Cornelia Street Café gig will reunite the makers of Capricorn Climber, promising to harness its refined, bitter sweet aura. Davis has sculpted an exquisite construction of chamber ice, which is frequently populated by ripping molten outbursts, alternating with marshaled themes: an ambulatory Monkishness can (and indeed does) evolve into a sparse séance ‘scape.
Davis is joined by Mat Maneri (viola), Ingrid Laubrock (saxophones), Trevor Dunn (bass) and Tom Rainey (drums). This quintet played their first gig at Barbès in Brooklyn two years ago. At that genesis point, they were solely concerned with improvisation. Then Davis decided that she wanted to write for this lineup, the five subsequently playing at Cornelia Street Café and The Jazz Gallery.
“It’s a mix,” says Davis, just before a meeting at the latter venue, where she was set to finalize the details of an artist residency. “A lot of composed things that are manipulated by the artists. I wanted to allow them to have the space to be free, to do whatever they feel is right for the music. But I still want there to be a written component, so they interpret whatever I have there.”
Clean Feed has been the main home for the pianist’s work in recent years, whether as a bandleader, bandmember or even as a completely solo performer (Aeriol Piano, 2009). “There are solo sections,” she continues, explaining the Capricorn Climber method. “Some of it is collective, some is completely written, trying to sound completely improvised. I wrote for those specific players, but sometimes the situation is that you’re writing for a project and you don’t know who’s going to be playing, so you go with what your concept is at the time. There isn’t a set way that I write, I’m usually exploring an idea for an individual piece.”
A pivotal out fit is Paradoxical Frog, where Davis is joined by Laubrock and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. This is one of the most mystically ritualistic combos on the scene, specializing in composed music that sounds improvised (is some kind of pattern developing here?), with all three members contributing pieces. “We take a lot of liberties with it,” Davis admits. “But we have pages and pages of material! For the first record we had pieces separately and we just brought them in, but for the last record we wrote them specially for the group.”
Davis’ journey went from Calgary to Toronto and then down to New York. “I always wanted to live here and I had met a lot of New York people at the Banff Centre For The Arts, so when I came down I already knew a few people. I didn’t know if I’d be able to make it work, but I wanted to try. Right after I finished school, I came down and dove in, tried to find my way. There were a couple of times when I thought I wasn’t going to be able to stay, being a Canadian, for immigration reasons. But I found someone to sponsor me and I was able to work here legally. Once that happened, I knew I was going to stay. The scene here is flourishing and things are changing all the time. It’s an exciting place to be!”
Davis studied and practiced in the classical mode, but became attuned to jazz at a very early stage, drinking in Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett. She studied with Jim McNeely in New York and Benoît Delbecq in Paris, then met the saxophonist Tony Malaby at Banff. “He was a big influence for me,” says Davis. “When I moved to New York I hadn’t really composed that much and he encouraged me. After I did Lifespan (Fresh Sound-New Talent, 2003) I wanted to explore blurring the lines between improvisation and composition.”
For the first half of her career Fresh Sound was a prime supporter and then the emphasis switched to Clean Feed for the second stage, at least so far. Davis penned all of the arrangements for Malaby’s 2011 large ensemble Novela album. “It was the first time I’d written for a group like that and heard a whole large-scale project come together. I’ve just been awarded a grant to write for a large ensemble, so I’ll be doing that this year. I want it to focus on bass clarinets, three or four of them, plus piano, accordion, organ, guitar and trumpets.”
I quiz Davis on whether she’s ever felt drawn to electronic keyboards. “I don’t know if I will end up doing that. I haven’t really experimented with that. I feel like that’s such a large world, you can really fall into it.”
Even though most of her output is composed, Davis still has a firm commitment to improvisation. The 2005 Fiction Avalanche Clean Feed album found her working as part of the RIDD Quartet with saxophonist Jon Irabagon, bassist Reuben Radding and drummer Jeff Davis. “That record was completely improvised, ”she confirms. “We worked a lot on improvising concepts together, for a year before we recorded.”
Another fully improvising project is soon coming: a continuation of a quartet with Laubrock, Rainey and trumpeter Ralph Alessi. An album was recorded last year and will be released later in 2013.
That above-mentioned residency at The Jazz Gallery was indeed finalized and will take place in May, revolving around new works written for Davis’ trio with Rainey and bassist John Hébert. “There’s so much history and so many people doing it and, as hard as it is, that’s also attractive, to find your own way of doing it. ”
Deep contrasts are the Davis way, with composition that sounds like improvisation, improvisation that sounds composed, cerebral constructions delivered with glacial calm and heat-of-the moment inventions negotiated with a vigorous emotional attack. All of these will doubtless transpire at that enticing Cornelia record release party.
• RIDD Quartet – Fiction Avalanche(Clean Feed, 2005)
• Kris Davis – Rye Eclipse(Fresh Sound-New Talent, 2007)
• Kris Davis – Aeriol Piano (Clean Feed, 2009)
• Paradoxical Frog – Eponymous (Clean Feed, 2009)
• Tony Malaby Novela – Eponymous (Clean Feed, 2011)
• Kris Davis – Capricorn Climber (Clean Feed, 2012)
Cinquante ans après un premier album de légende avec la chanteuse Jeanne Lee, le pianiste jazz Ran Blake remet ça avec Sara Serpa. Beauté. Critique et écoute.
La vieille légende en personne ouvre la porte de l’appartement parisien où il reçoit les journalistes. Le pianiste américain Ran Blake a 77 ans, il est physiquement usé, et se déplace avec un déambulateur. Passée la surprise, on peut y voir une certaine logique : déambuler est un mot qui va bien à Ran Blake. Un demi-siècle qu’il pratique, laissant ses doigts divaguer sur le clavier d’un piano – une oreille distraite dirait qu’il manque des touches, ou que le pianiste en a remplacé certaines par du silence.
Son premier album, sorti en 1962, est légendaire : The Newest Sound Around, avec la chanteuse Jeanne Lee, sommet inaugural de jazz blanc, minimal, funambule, inspiré par les chansons, la musique classique et le cinéma, plus cérébral que sanguin. Depuis, le grand styliste a sorti une trentaine d’albums en formations diverses et distillé son savoir au conservatoire de musique de Boston pendant près de trente ans. Pas un acharné de la production, ni une tête de gondole du jazz. De temps en temps, un album vient nous rappeler l’importance gracieuse de Ran Blake.
Il y a trois ans, c’était le méditatif Driftwoods. Aujourd’hui, c’est l’évanescent Aurora, en duo avec la chanteuse portugaise Sara Serpa. Une jeunette, une ancienne élève. Sara Serpa vient d’arriver et s’installe dans le canapé près de son mentor. “La première fois que j’ai entendu la musique de Ran, c’était au conservatoire de Boston, c’était la chanson Laura de son album avec Jeanne Lee. Je me suis dit “Mais qui est ce pianiste qui invente des mondes derrière les mélodies ?” J’ai demandé à être son élève au semestre suivant. Je suis allée dans son studio, plein de livres et de DVD, on a regardé des extraits de Deux mains, la nuit, de Robert Siodmak.” Le film noir de Siodmak est fondateur pour Ran Blake : à l’âge de 12 ans, il l’a vu dix-huit fois en vingt jours, et en a tiré la quintessence de sa musique.
Sara poursuit : “Puis il m’a demandé de chanter a cappella. J’avais peur, je n’étais pas habituée à chanter sans accompagnement. C’était la première leçon de Ran : connaître une mélodie à fond, pouvoir la chanter seule.” Ran Blake ajoute : “On a fait une merveilleuse version de Strange Fruit !” Elle est sur l’album et Sara la chante a cappella.
C’est tout le charme de ce duo (Aurora est leur deuxième album ensemble, deux ans après le plus sombre Camera Obscura) : la voix joueuse de Sara Serpa et le piano cinéphile de Ran Blake, qui s’écoutent, conversent, improvisent et rêvent en toute confiance. Sur l’album, il y a donc quelques classiques du jazz vocal, mais aussi un fado, un hommage à Malher, un autre au Dr Mabuse de Fritz Lang et encore un autre à Hitchcock. Ran Blake : “La musique autour des films, c’est ma passion. Mais j’adore aussi Stevie Wonder, Al Green, la musique orientale que j’aurais aimé étudier si j’étais plus jeune et que j’avais le temps… Je ne me souviens pas de tous les disques que j’ai enregistrés, mais j’ai encore des projets. C’est la variété de tout ça qui me garde en vie.”
Plus de quarante-cinq ans séparent Ran Blake et Sara Serpa. Mais ils semblent se retrouver comme deux enfants émerveillés par leur première séance de cinéma. “J’adore jouer dans la pénombre. Et je regarde très peu le clavier, je préfère regarder Sara”, conclut le vieux gentleman dans un sourire, du bon côté de la vie.