Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Greg Osby Solo Tribute to John Coltrane

Greg Osby Solo Saxophone Performance: Tribute to Coltrane

Recorded Live at the Church of the Advocate, Philadelphia, PA, on the occasion of John Coltrane's 90th birthday, September 23rd, 2016.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

An Interview with INCM Artist Jason Yeager:

Jason Discusses his New CD “United, his Formative Years, Inner Circle Music and More!

Lara Solnicki: Congratulations on the new album Jason. You and the album’s co-leader, violinist Jason Anick have been making music together since adolescence, and now you are teaching together at Berklee in Boston. That is quite a journey. Did you guys always have a sense that your paths would move somewhat in parallel? As teenagers did you share the same goals and interests? 

Jason Yeager: Thank you! Both Jason Anick and I are really proud of the project, and excited that it's now out on Inner Circle Music. I can't say I could have necessarily predicted that our paths would intertwine in quite this way, but it is true that from the start we've had a great rapport as musicians and friends. We first met in high school, at a jam session in Natick, MA, and were both pretty green musically, just starting to absorb jazz language and explore improvisation. We may have met at a couple more sessions after that and played together informally, but the first real gig I remember is a few years later, while we were each in college. Jason called me to play with his group in Framingham, MA, and I just remember being astounded at how much he had developed musically since we first met...he was doing things on violin I really hadn't heard before. Shortly after we'd each graduated, he called me to record on his album "Tipping Point," on several of his truly incredible compositions--they're accessible melodically, but they have these long, captivating forms and mysterious harmonic elements that really take the listener on a journey. Even if the initial theme comes back at the end, it always feels transformed, and as a listener/player I feel transported. 

Shortly after the "Tipping Point" sessions, I was hired to teach piano at Berklee. Getting the job was unrelated to my friendship with Jason, but it certainly facilitated our making more music together, since I live in New York and he was living in Boston. I think what unites us (hence, "United") is a desire to explore various melodic, harmonic, and textural patterns in the music without losing sight of telling a story, of being melodic. There's also a lot of mutual admiration for each other's composing--we enjoy playing each other's tunes! Most of all, perhaps, we share a love for the spontaneity and interaction that comes with improvisation--some of my favorite moments on our recording are on the duo tracks, "Stillness" and "All Blues," where we kept things very open and conversational.

Lara: You define the album as “jazz without borders”. You manage to sound really natural as you draw elements from different idioms, including straight- ahead and post-bop jazz, the Beatles and world music. Your chemistry is really apparent! What’s your explanation for this? 

Jason: I think Jason Anick coined that term, "jazz without borders." We're both interested in a lot of different kinds of music, and as improvisers feel that nothing is preventing us from engaging with other idioms creatively. For his part, just playing the violin and mandolin--two instruments not often associated with jazz, certainly not modern jazz--gives Jason a window into many other genres and musical traditions. 

I spent a semester of college living in Argentina, studying international relations at the time, but also taking some Argentine folk music classes as well. I got really into that music, and was particularly fond of the "chacarera," which is not just a rhythm but also a song form and dance. On my tune "La Segunda," I play with the chacarera groove in a darker and more complex harmonic context that you might associate with jazz or neo-classical music, but melodically the song retains a folk-like approachability. Jason Anick did a great arrangement of George Harrison's "Something," which we have been playing live for years. On the record we do it with Mike Connors and Greg Loughman, two stalwarts of the Boston scene who have been part of Jason's quartet for a long time.

Lara: Tell us some detailed info about the songs. 

Jason: There are six originals and four covers/arrangements. I wrote four tunes and Jason wrote two, while Jason selected the cover tunes/arrangements. We wrote our originals independently, but in the case of "Harlem Hoedown," I was writing specifically with Jason in mind. We had a duo concert in 2014 at the Berklee Performance Center and I wanted to write something for that, something with kind of a bluegrass/roots vibe, and "Harlem Hoedown" is what came out. The way we orchestrated it on the recording, with Jerry Leake's incredible percussion, it has a sort of West African feeling, but I think the melody still hints at its bluegrass roots. In any case, that duo concert in 2014 went well and prompted us to start thinking about doing an album together.

Jason Anick wrote "Well Red" in honor of Joshua Redman, and specifically for this recording, with these musicians in mind. It's actually now a finalist in the International Songwriting Competition! "Sweet Pea" is my tribute to Billy Strayhorn, and I wrote it just before the recording session. As soon as I wrote it I knew Jason's violin would sound beautiful stating the theme, so we had to include it on the record. The other originals we did--his "Bird's Eye View," my "La Segunda" and "Achi"--we had been playing together for years and felt that we already had a strong connection to those pieces.

The covers were selected by Jason--two by the late Polish violinist Zbigniew Seifert, one by Miles Davis, and one by George Harrison. Jason picked Seifert's "Turbulent Plover" because he thought it'd make a nice vehicle for special guest saxophonist George Garzone, and the results bear that out! George is just amazing on that tune.

Lara: How did you get interested in music?  Who are some important mentors?

Jason: I grew up in Framingham, MA, about 20 miles west of Boston. My uncle sent me a keyboard when I was about three or four--I had to sit in my high chair to reach it--and I would mess around picking out little movie themes (with Dad's help!), or just improvising. My family background is Jewish and Irish primarily, and my parents love telling this embarrassing story where I said to them, maybe around age seven or so, "Mom and Dad, check out my Irish music! Check out my Jewish music!" And I would play these little made-up songs that to me, and to them I guess, sounded like music from those traditions. 

I formally started piano lessons at age 7, and quickly began coming up with my own music. When I grew restless with strictly classical piano lessons, my parents found Dan Loschen, an incredible teacher and jazz/classical pianist. For the first time I was "allowed" to improvise (although I had been doing it on my own for a long time), and was introduced to recordings of Monk, Miles, Coltrane, Bill Evans, and many others. My next two important mentors were pianist Kyle Aho and bassist/educator Bob Sinicrope, the founder/director of the jazz program at Milton Academy, where I went to high school. Then it was off to a double degree program at Tufts University and New England Conservatory (NEC), which allowed me to simultaneously pursue my academic interests (international relations) and musical passion (jazz performance). That was a hectic and challenging yet profoundly inspiring time! I studied primarily with Danilo Perez and Fred Hersch, also working with Frank Carlberg, Jerry Bergonzi, Ran Blake, Jerry Leake and others.

Lara: Who are the other musicians on the album?

Jason: Mike Connors (drums) and Greg Loughman (bass) are both very creative musical interlocutors as well as rock-solid accompanists. They have great time and groove and are also able to master complex music quickly. They've been part of Jason Anick's Quartet for years, and I've played with them in that band and in other settings. There was no question that they would be integral parts of the record.  We also really wanted to feature some of our Berklee colleagues, who are all musicians we really admire. John Lockwood (bass) is one of the top-call musicians in the Boston area, and his work with Jerry Leake (percussion) --a master of West African and Indian classical rhythmic systems--on my compositions "La Segunda" and "Harlem Hoedown" is exemplary. Jerry Leake was also my professor at NEC, so we have known each other about ten years or more. He's one of the most vibrant and creative improvisers and teachers I know. 

Trumpeter Jason Palmer, who appears on “Well Red” and “Harlem Hoedown,” is lynchpin of the Boston jazz scene and one of the most original and compelling improvisers playing anywhere today. He's played in bands led by Greg Osby, Mark Turner, and many others, and is also a fellow NEC alum and colleague at Berklee. He's got several outstanding records under his own name as well. He astounded us in the studio; take after take, he would produce a completely new, exuberant, emotionally compelling solo on the trumpet, really mining each tune for everything it could offer musically.

We also had two virtuosic powerhouse saxophone players join us on one piece each: George Garzone, a legendary tenor saxophonist and longtime Berklee professor who needs no introduction, and Clay Lyons, a young alto saxophonist and Berklee alum. George was a teacher of mine at NEC too, and Clay has been a friend ever since we collaborated on Jason Anick's prior record, "Tipping Point."

Lara: You mentioned that the album was recorded at Berklee with a grant. How did this come about?

Jason: Thanks! We're really happy with how it came out sounding. The grant came about through Berklee's Office of Faculty Development, which offers a recording grant to faculty. If you're awarded the grant, you get a certain amount of time in the college's recording studios. The college also just recently built a new building with some incredible studios. So Jason and I applied and were lucky enough to be provided with about two days of studio time, which was enough for us to track the entire record. Mark Wessel, an incredible engineer and also a Music Production & Engineering professor at Berklee, recorded the music. We later had it mixed and mastered by Dave Darlington at Bass Hit Studios.

Lara: How and when did you meet Greg Osby and join Inner Circle Music? How many albums have you released on our label?

Jason: After graduating college I recorded my first album, "Ruminations" and moved to New York, almost simultaneously, and got connected to Greg Osby through our label-mate and incredible vocalist/composer Aubrey Johnson. I actually recall Aubrey introducing me to Greg on the street in Boston briefly in 2009 or 2010, but the real introduction came later, towards the end of 2010, after I had just finished recording Ruminations. Aubrey thought Greg would dig my music, and agreed to pass along a track or two to him. We then spoke on the phone and he invited me to join the label and release my first record. I’ve now released three albums on Inner Circle Music: “Ruminations” (2011), “Affirmation” (2014), and now “United.” I'm proud to be associated with this incredibly talented roster of creative musicians that Greg’s put together! It’s inspiring and humbling to be included in such a forward-thinking, diverse group of creative artists.

The "United" EPK 
Jason Yeager's website
Jason Anick's website 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Lara Solnicki Interviews Sara Serpa

June 2, 2016

Lara: Hi Sara, Welcome to spring summer 2016! How’s it going for you so far− the heat?

Sara: The heat.. it’s been warm in New York. It’s also the end of the season. In July we leave for Portugal and have a series of concerts there. André and I are playing duo every week in different towns... small towns, and in Lisbon at the Hot Club for 3 nights with Devin Gray, a drummer from New York. We will be exploring new and old material− songs from [the 2014 album] “Primavera” and our new album, “All the Dreams”. It’s going to be a good opportunity to start working the duo because in the past we’ve always had a band playing with us, not really embracing the duo format.

Lara: Easier to travel that way, more compact! Will you be performing with Greg Osby?

Sara: No but we will see him in Poland in October. Greg is curating a festival there, the 
Sopot Jazz Festival. Some other people from Inner Circle Music will be there- Emilie Weibel, João Barradas, I think Logan Richardson among others. It’s going to be exciting.

Lara: Looks like you’ve been up to a lot of variety in 2016! You had your debut with the Albany Symphony Orchestra. Let’s hear about that!

Sara: I did- I was invited to sing a piece by Derek Bermel “Mar de Setembro" set to poems by Portuguese poet Eugenio de Andrade. It was written for Luciana Souza, but for some reason she couldn’t make this gig, so I was very glad to do it. It was very different—

Lara: Very different than jazz! The formality...  

Sara: Yes, and just to accept that you are the soloist, and everyone will follow you... At first I was trying to be a musician, to know what every part was doing.. and then I finally accepted: I’m the soloist. I should embrace my role as the soloist.

Lara: With respect to your new project City Fragments, how long has it been in the works? What is the goal of the ensemble?

Sara: Initially I created it in Portugal, in 2013. Singing with other singers has always been one of my biggest aspirations. Basically, I invited some singers and experimented, it was very ambitious, 8 singers and a band. I learned about the challenges of working with such large ensemble.... I decided to recreate the group in New York and now I have just 3 singers- me, Sofia Rei and Aubrey Johnson, voice, André Matos, guitar, Erik Friedlander, cello and Tyshawn Sorey, drums. It’s still a work in progress. 

Lara: What are the latest developments between you and your duo with iconic pianist/composer Ran Blake?

Sara: We released “Kitano Noir” in 2015 and we will start rehearsing in September and then have a few more gigs in December. At some point you realize that it’s really difficult to have so many projects at the same time where you are the leader...Ran has been really busy with his teaching at the New England Conservatory and is performing a lot, so we just perform once/ twice a year.

Lara: How do you keep everything together on top of being the mother of a 2 year old?

Sara: You become much more efficient with the time that you have..

Lara: I do find that things often run smoother when you work with musicians that you know. It seems like you work with a lot of the same people. I’ve certainly met a lot of musicians on stage! 

Sara: Yes,  I think that it’s really important to build your musical family. For now, I’ve been lucky to keep things steady, to keep developing all of these projects over the years. 

Lara: What's on the horizon with your quintet?

Sara: André and I decided to work on this duo and make it happen, so we wrote a specific repertoire and made it a priority. Besides this, I sing  Ran Blake, City Fragments and I also sing with Mycale, John Zorn’s quartet... so these are the things that have been keeping me busy.
Lara: Your new album “All the Dreams” will be released later in 2016. What is the theme behind the album essentially?

Sara: “All the Dreams” is a continuation of “Primavera”. Andre and I have found a way that works for us, to create music and develop it together. After that first step of “Primavera” we kept working/ writing. This time there are more lyrics− there is more Portuguese. We embraced our language and also invited just two guests, Pete Rende and Billy Mintz. There are songs that are older and songs that are really new which we haven’t performed live. Things always take a different shape when you perform them in concert and start experimenting. We rehearse at home, but it’s different. There are songs that we recorded in the studio, then rearranged them and recorded a new version ..At some point we had a completely different song, using the studio also as a tool for creation.

Lara: What is the theme of the album?

Sara: A line from a poem by the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa “I have inside me all of the Dreams of the world”, that became  “All the Dreams". 

Lara: Do you have set repertoire for all of your projects? Or is there much variety between performances?

Sara: You can say that. And then there’s a gig or a tour with new music. You work as much as possible. There’s something about New York.. you are always working on something...