Tag Archives: jazz

Artist Feature: Danny Lubin-Laden

Danny Lubin-Laden

I have always been fascinated by the power of having a [brass] band that is able to play on the street with no amplification and have such a moving effect on the audience.

– Danny Lubin-Laden

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

DLL: I grew up in Berkeley California, and I’m currently living in the Fruitvale neighborhood in Oakland, California. I spent about 6 years living in New York, where I was studying music and working. In July I moved back to the Bay Area.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

DLL: I think Reflection and Response are very interrelated in the field of arts. Reflection as a musician and composer is super important to artistic growth. I look back frequently at songs and sketches of songs during my time with Brass Magic and really try to dissect the song, identifying my original voice and separating it from my attempt to recreate a sound that I had heard elsewhere. Both are super important to tap into. I’m always reflecting and analyzing and using those perspectives as a basis from which to respond by pushing forward. I’m always looking to hone my craft and achieve a more original sound. Luckily with Brass Magic, we function more as a collective, so we are able to bounce ideas off each other.

How does your piece Continuous Movements fit in with that definition?

DLL: Continuous Movements was one of the first songs I wrote for Brass Magic. I’ve revised it many, many times but I think it is a super solid example of the sound the band was developing. It is a prime example of how reflection and response has been important to what we do. When I first wrote the song it had somewhat of a New Orleans brass band feel. Over time I have tweaked it so much that it no longer sounds anything like that. It’s still definitely danceable, but the horn writing is completely different from something you would hear in New Orleans. I feel as though the most important thing in music for me is to try and build off the music I love and not to repeat or recreate it. This has been why Brass Magic continues to evolve.

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

DLL: Brass Magic is currently working on putting out another EP. This will most likely be something we just put out online. We printed our first CD in September 2013 and since then we have really focused on writing a whole new songbook for the band. I feel as though the sound of the band is the strongest it’s ever been. We have really dissected what we are doing and what we want to be doing more of.

In addition to playing with Brass Magic I have also been working on music with Kaila McIntyre-Bader, the awesome singer in the band Big Tree. She is such a talented songwriter with such a terrific voice, that I’m having a great time writing songs with her. Hopefully we will be putting out songs this year. We are still trying to come up with a band name that fits the music we make.

Who or what inspires you?

DLL: I am inspired by a wide variety of things. I grew up studying jazz and that became my whole world. I was blown away by the power of improvisation and its ability to transform a song and take it to the next, highly idiosyncratic level. We are still trying to integrate the aspects of jazz that we value into Brass Magic. Although jazz was once dance music, some of its danceability has been lost over the years. We are trying to capture some of those powerful rhythms in our music.

I also love brass band music, whether it be all of my favorite New Orleans bands or the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. I have always been fascinated by the power of having a band that is able to play on the street with no amplification and have such a moving effect on the audience.

Is there anything else you would like the Collective to know?

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Artist Feature: Alex Ruger

Alex Ruger

You can only change where you are by truly knowing where you are, questioning your motivations and why you’re doing what you’re doing, being brutally honest with yourself. There’s no room for self-deception or ego in an artist’s life.

– Alex Ruger

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

AR: I grew up in central Indiana, studying piano and guitar and a bit of viola. I played in some bands–progressive rock, funk, jazz, lots of stuff. There wasn’t really a point where I “decided” that I’d be doing music for a living–it was just the obvious choice and always has been, so I went straight to Boston’s Berklee College of Music after graduating high school. My first two years at Berklee were mostly spent studying jazz guitar and working towards being a sort of jack-of-all-trades guitarist, but after a horrendous bout with tendinitis nearly ended my career before it had even began, I changed my focus to what, in retrospect, was my passion and goal all along: composition (and more specifically, writing music for movies, TV, and video games). After a couple years adjusting to my new trajectory, I graduated Berklee and moved to Los Angeles back in September 2013. Since then, I’ve been working for a few composers–including Bear McCreary and Penka Kouneva–and as a freelance composer, as well as balancing the odd producing, arranging, or mixing gig. I’m falling in love with the cultural and artistic melting pot that is LA–and the fact that I can go surfing pretty much any day is a nice plus.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

AR: Refinement. Self-awareness and mindfully whittling away the unnecessary is an important and ongoing process for me–not just in my music, but throughout my life.

With regards to writing music, John Mayer said it better than I can. I’m paraphrasing, but he once said something to the effect of, “When you write, it’s like when you were a kid, throwing glitter on to a plate covered with glue. But it’s only when you shake off the glitter that doesn’t stick are you able to see the pattern it’s making.” That’s the fun part–shaking off the stuff that doesn’t stick.

When making music, that process is fun, but when you’re whittling away at yourself, it’s hard, and only recently have I begun to the see the patterns–thought processes, motivations, etc. You can only change where you are by truly knowing where you are, questioning your motivations and why you’re doing what you’re doing, being brutally honest with yourself. There’s no room for self-deception or ego in an artist’s life. And none of that introspection matters if you don’t have the courage to change and put what you’ve learned to work. It’s all about working towards a more refined version of you, and hopefully your art will reflect that.

How does your piece “Christmas 1914 in No Man’s Land” fit in with that definition?

AR: A great example of this is actually one of my non-film pieces, entitled “Christmas 1914 in No Man’s Land” (inspired by the Christmas Truce of World War I). It was a beautiful near-miracle that occurred right in the middle of what is quite possibly the nastiest war in human history–the two sides stopped fighting and enjoyed Christmas together. But it’s also a sad story–they began fighting again the next day. So the crux of the piece is an emotion that’s hard to describe–bittersweet comes closer than anything else, but it’s still not quite right. I guess that the saying, “Where words fail, music speaks” isn’t just some dumb phrase to put on refrigerator magnets!

To achieve this weird intersection of emotions, I really had to reel myself in and make sure that I wasn’t stepping on my own toes. Certain phrases needed room to speak, while others needed to be interrupted by the next one. Every note really mattered–it took a lot of “shaking off the glitter” to come to the end result. Even though I recorded it nearly a year ago, I’m still very happy with it. The number of things I want to go back and change is unusually low.

Alex Ruger - Conducting What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next? Continue reading

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Artist Feature: Kinan Azmeh

Kinan Azmeh is a clarinetist and composer we recently connected with through musician Timo Vollbrecht. Kinan grew up and studied music in Damascus, Syria, and has continued with his craft in New York City over the past 13 years. Throughout his interview, he discusses various strands of Reflection and Response, whereby artists sometimes reflect on their surroundings and on other occasions work to idealistically recreate realities. However, in Kinan’s opinion, art allows him to access another world of emotion not readily available in everyday life. Along with his words, this multifaceted artist showcases some incredible compositions that display his range and creative vision. He’s released three albums with his ensemble HEWAR, a duo album with pianist Dinuk Wijeratne, and an album with his New York-based Arabic/Jazz quartet, and the future is filled with some ill upcoming projects including a commissioned flute concerto, film scores, and tours in Europe, USA, and the Middle East. Peep the dialogue below along with some dope sonic landscapes from this dedicated craftsperson!

Kinan Azmeh | Photo by Jill Steinberg

Kinan Azmeh | Photo by Jill Steinberg

Making music is an act of freedom by default.

– Kinan Azmeh

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

KA: I was born in Damascus, Syria, and have been living in New York for the last 13 years.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

KA: If we think about it on the most general level then we do realize that this is how nature works, cause and effect, action and reaction. In the arts, reflection and response are a little bit more complex. There are several schools of thought when it comes to the arts, one that says that the artist’s role is to reflect on the world around him/her, others say that the artist’s role is to recreate the world in the most idealistic way. I don’t subscribe to either camp; my personal philosophy is that we make art to experience emotions that we don’t have the luxury of experiencing in real life, some kind of fantasy world that is more complex than what is experienced in our daily lives.

What have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

KA: I grew up playing western-classical music in Damascus, a city that is very rich and diverse in its musical traditions, then moved to New York. That opened my eyes (and ears) to a variety of music that I enjoy performing today. I have been wearing different hats at different times, sometimes playing as a soloist with orchestras performing western classical repertoire, at other [times] you would find me playing with my Arab-Jazz quartet in New York, and other times playing with electronics and visual arts. I am now at the stage where I am trying to bring all these heads under one hat. I am working now on a concerto for improviser for soloist and orchestra. I do feel that music is a continuum and I would like to [replicate] that in my musical life as much as possible. I have a number of projects that are coming up including a commission to write a flute concerto, a couple film scores, and also a number of tours are coming up in the US, Europe and the Middle-East.

Who or what inspires you?

KA: I am inspired by what’s around me, my life, the lives of others and nature. However, the main idea that is occupying my brain for the last three years is home, Syria. Since the revolution began three years ago, I started to wonder about the role of art: can a piece of music feed a child, can it stop a bullet? Certainly not. But it inspires me to know that I have the power to inspire someone else, to reflect and to think. I am also inspired by the belief that making music is an act of freedom by default, which continues to provide me with the tools to keep creating. The piece “a sad morning, every morning” was written to commemorate one year of the Syrian revolution in March 2012. The title says it all, you get up in New York, first thing you do is you turn on your computer and you “put your hand on your heart” as the saying goes, waiting for the sad news to come from home (since Damascus is 7 hours ahead). The piece was written in very little time and it gave me the peace of mind i needed at that particular moment. It was also the first piece I wrote after almost a year of a silence.

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Artist Feature: Timo Vollbrecht

Composer and improvising jazz musician Timo Vollbrecht lives and works out of New York City and Berlin — collaborating with various musicians along with leading and performing with his own group. He discusses Reflection and Response as a multi-faceted concept, and highlights the subtle difference between creatively responding to specific experiences and responding to a collection of indistinguishable stimuli. Timo’s music represents the moment-based nature of improvisation as well as the decidedly trained character of composition. Check the dialogue and showcase of his work below!

Timo Vollbrecht

Some of my compositions are a direct response to an experience…Most of the time, however, my music responds to a conglomerate of different things that are often hard to distinguish. The beauty about improvised music is that you can respond to the very moment. This is what makes it so special – for musicians as well as for the audience.

– Timo Vollbrecht

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

TV: I was born in Stadthagen, a small town in Northern Germany. After living in Wyoming, Berlin, and Barcelona, I moved to New York in 2010. I am an improvising and composing artist, who plays saxophone and reeds. I live and workin between New York and Berlin, am involved in several projects and lead my own group.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

TV: Reflection can unveil your source of inspiration as an artist. If you take your time to reflect on your experiences in life, on your encounters with other people, their cultures, their points of view, your thoughts and especially your emotions and sensations, you have SO much to tell. The most important thing is to keep an open mind in life. Then, responding to your experiences in your art will happen naturally. If you are true to yourself, you will develop your own taste and thus, make your original musical decisions.

How does your work fit in with that definition?

TV: Some of my compositions are a direct response to an experience. An example is “Tale of Jordan”, which came into being during a Middle Eastern tour with my band. Among other places, we also played in Amman, Jordan, and took a bath in the Dead Sea. In Ramallah, during our concert on a roof top, the Muezzin next door started to chant and we spontaneously integrated his chanting into our free improvisation. “Tale of Jordan” reflects on these unforgettable moments. Most of the time, however, my music responds to a conglomerate of different things that are often hard to distinguish. The beauty about improvised music is that you can respond to the very moment. This is what makes it so special – for musicians as well as for the audience.

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

TV: I have been composing music for my next album, which I will record in June, before taking off to an artist residence in Italy with my partner-in-crime, guitarist Keisuke Matsuno, where we will be working on a duo-program. Besides that, I am getting ready for a month-long European tour, which will start on April 3rd in Osterode, Germany, which happens to be my grandparents’ hometown.

Who or what inspires you?

 

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Artist Feature: Adam Hopkins

Adam Hopkins is a composer and bassist living in the Ditmas Park area of Brooklyn by way of Baltimore, Maryland. As part of thriving music scenes in his hometown and his current city of residence, Adam tells an artistic tale of people coming together to create great music and community. Some of the groups he’s involved with, such as Signal Problems, have been around for years and thereby boast a unique group dynamic and musical language developed over time, which add intricacies to their exciting improvisations. Here, Reflection serves as the collective memory of the artist, while Response is a collective sharing and exploration of each participant’s story through sound. In our dialogue below, Adam delves specifically into two tracks, Pogo Stick and We Turn Around, and presents a video of the Adam Hopkins Quartet. He stays busy in New York and has various upcoming records with the several bands he participates in as leader and sideman. Peep the conversation below!

Adam Hopkins | Photo by Michael Yu (2014)

Adam Hopkins | Photo by Michael Yu (2014)

Playing music is all about relationships and communicating with other people, so I am constantly reacting to their ideas and embracing their musical identity as well as my own…it’s that concept of simultaneously reflecting on one’s own unique experiences and bringing them to a group environment, which creates something that is greater than each individual part combined.

– Adam Hopkins

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at? 

AH: I currently live in Brooklyn, NY–Ditmas Park specifically. I don’t think I’d normally mention the neighborhood as part of a response to this question, but I really love where I live! A lot of my closest musical collaborators live within 3 blocks of me, and also there are trees. Lots and lots of trees, which is a bit different for Brooklyn.

I was born and raised in Baltimore, MD. I left for college and grad school, but found myself back there in 2005. I consider that time in Baltimore until I moved to NY in 2011 to be the most formative years artistically of my life to this point. The music scene in Baltimore, specifically the creative and improvised music scene, is very small but at the same time full of talented and inspiring people. We started a bunch of bands, wrote new music for them, rehearsed a LOT (something that is much more rare in NY currently), made records, and played shows. It was the best, now that I think of it. In 2011 four of us decided to move to NY from Baltimore, and settled into a house in Bushwick with a great rehearsal space in the basement. That group of people, who basically moved up on the same day, was already a band called Signal Problems led by my former-roommate-but-still-friend Danny Gouker. We continue to rehearse all of the time, and still play regularly. In fact we just released our debut album on pfMentum records which can be checked out right here: http://www.pfmentum.com/PFMCD080.html. There are no subs in the group ever, which has helped maintain it as an actual band and not just a rotating group of potential people. So, you know…Baltimore sticks together wherever we are. 

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

AH: As an improviser, reflection and response are at the very center of what occurs any time I play music, be it solo or with a group.

Reflection to me is everything that has happened in my life, musically or not, that has gotten me to where I am in that very moment. At my absolute best I am able to look inwardly and draw on all of those experiences to present a statement or vision that is uniquely my own.  

The response can be looked at from a number of angles, but primarily a response is what comes out of my instrument as a result of those experiences. Playing music is all about relationships and communicating with other people, so I am constantly reacting to their ideas and embracing their musical identity as well as my own. It’s what makes improvised music like nothing else…we all bring our experiences from vastly different places to a performance, and as a group we find a way to make it work.

How does your work specifically fit in with that definition?

AH: This first track isn’t one of my own compositions, but I think it is a great example of this concept. It’s from Signal Problems, written by Danny Gouker who plays trumpet, with Eric Trudel on saxophone, Nathan Ellman-Bell on drums, and I’m playing bass. 

It is 30-seconds or so of written music and then we immediately launch into an improvisation. This band has been playing together for over five years, and we’ve developed our own sort of group language as a result. The entire improvised section is the band responding in the moment to everything going on around us. So again, it’s that concept of simultaneously reflecting on one’s own unique experiences and bringing them to a group environment, which creates something that is greater than each individual part combined. 

This second track is a little bit older, but it’s one of my own compositions from 2011. It is a band that was started in Baltimore called Turn Around Norman, with Cam Collins on saxophone, JJ Wright on keyboards, Nathan Ellman-Bell (again) on drums, and myself on bass. 

There was a time when this entire band lived in New York as well, but life choices spread us out a bit and we don’t get to play together nearly as often as we’d like. It is a good example of my compositional approach, so I figured why not include it!? There is improvising in the track, but I think it is mostly influenced by the grunge rock of my high school years and my earliest musical experiences playing in dive clubs and wearing funny hats. There’s maybe a little disco at the end as well, and I’m not sure where that came from. It seeped into my musical being somewhere along the line. 

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

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Artist Feature: Billy Buss

I first saw Billy Buss playing onstage with the Berkeley High Jazz Ensemble a number of years ago, ripping the trumpet during a jazz solo, using a mic that was hooked up to a distortion pedal that I had thought could only be used for rock music. It’s stuck with me all this time as an incredible example of the interconnectedness of musical genres. Billy went on to study at Berklee College of Music and Loyola University in New Orleans, and now lives between Boston and NYC. In our interview, he talks about utilizing the medium of music to explore deep within ourselves as people and peers and practices this exploration through his debut album of original material, Scenes From A Dream. Billy hustles on the daily organizing and performing shows while also teaching trumpet and piano. Peep the dialogue below!

Billy Buss

Reflection is the time we take to ponder, analyze and justify the past. Response is how we utilize the present to bring meaning and potential to the future.

– Billy Buss

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

BB: I grew up in Berkeley, CA. Currently, I split my time between NYC and Boston, MA.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

BB: Reflection is the time we take to ponder, analyze and justify the past. Response is how we utilize the present to bring meaning and potential to the future. For me, the artistic process serves as an introspective microcosm of this system.

How does your work fit in with that definition?

BB: Any musical composition of mine that makes it to paper embodies this approach. Most start either with a melodic idea, concept, feeling, or emotional or spiritual observation and are developed and thusly titled from there. The title track from my debut album, “Scenes From A Dream,” encompasses the over-arching theme explored throughout the CD as a whole. Dreams are projections of our subconscious and often explore, without prejudice, the deepest, darkest (and brightest) corners of our mind. Much like the composers of Romantic Classical music such as Wagner, Beethoven or Debussy, I strive to create music that can elicit a whole spectrum of emotion or thought from the listener. And much like dreams, my music can (and should) be open to many interpretations.

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

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Artist Feature: Achilles Kallergis

Just a couple of months ago we connected with Achilles Kallergis at El Born, a dope Spanish restaurant down the street from us. This multi-faceted Brooklyn-based artist by way of Athens, Greece, and Switzerland utilizes his guitar to reflect on and respond to the various sets of stimuli that comprise the reality we live in. Achilles has recently dove into the art of Flamenco music and he celebrates the power and continuity of this folk art form that has handed down generations of style, melody, and story. Drawing on his global presence, his future projects involve recording albums with connected artists from around the world. In a piece that locates the power of song as a common denominator around the globe, Achilles breaks down the collaborative and improvisational possibilities of music.

Achilles Kallergis

Art is very esoteric and personal but it is also an attempt to connect and communicate with people, the need to feel part of the world, of a place, of a community. And that is a contradiction: the secret or mystic world of the artist crying out for contact and connection with the rest of the world.

– Achilles Kallergis

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

AK: I am from Athens, Greece and currently living in Brooklyn NYC for the past five years. I’m a musician, guitarist, and composer interested in both written and improvised music forms.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

AK: Any artistic expression is a response or in response to something experienced. Art reflects life, lived or even un-lived experiences so reflection and response is always at the center of any piece of art.

How does your work fit in with that definition?

AK: Especially in improvised music (whatever the style) I think everything is response and reflection. It can be a response to a musical phrase, to one note or texture (even to the sound of the cash register at the bar). At the same time though it reflects the mood, personality and experiences of the performer. It is responding to and “being at the moment” while reflecting who you are. 

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

AK: Recently I’ve been getting obsessed with flamenco. It’s definitely a new art form for me which I started getting deeper into more recently. Definitely challenging in every aspect but also extremely deep in a unique way. It is really heavy and powerful music. Also, at a time where everything is about the next “new thing” or new sound it is very refreshing to go back to a folk music form, that does not claim to be innovative but strongly rooted in the history of its people. One that has been orally transmitted from generation to generation and that brings with it the tumultuous history of Gitanos, perhaps the most misunderstood and persecuted group in history. I feel this connection to the past is something that is missing from many new music idioms. Maybe flamenco showcases the importance of response and reflection – a response and reflection on the history of Gitanos by Gitanos.

In terms of new works, I’m looking forward to record two albums. The first one will be based entirely on my compositions and will document my working jazz quartet featuring Timo Vollbrecht on saxophone, Adam Hopkins on bass and Nathan Ellman-Bell on drums. I’ve been playing with these guys for a while now and I’m grateful cause they are all amazing musicians who manage to add a new dimensions to my music.

Another exciting future project is a collaboration with some musicians from Switzerland featuring Ganesh Geymeier, great saxophone player and improvisor, Michael Gabriele and Marc Olivier Savoy who are both members of Ouizzz one of my favorite bands (make sure that you check them out!). I will be joining them for a recording in Switzerland next summer and I am really happy to reconnect and play with these guys. 

Who or what inspires you?

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Artist Feature: Noah Garabedian

Bassist and composer Noah Garabedian is originally from Berkeley, has lived in Los Angeles, and now resides in Brooklyn. It was a long time coming, but we were able to catch up with Noah recently at Hank’s Saloon in Brooklyn, where he played with his group The Slim Tones – a flat-out incredible set featuring their signature honking-tenor rhythm and blues. A hardworking craftsman, Noah plays with multiple groups spanning an eclectic range of sound and genre, including – along with The Slim Tones – Big Butter and the Egg Men, The Amigos Band, and the Rebirth Project. In the following dialogue, Noah breaks down his approach to music and discusses his current and future projects. Keep an eye out for a couple New York engagements this weekend and The Amigos Band’s upcoming tour in Southeast Asia in March. Check it!

Noah Garabedian

Everyone experiences countless provocations of the senses everyday, and reflection is the moment one takes to acknowledge its occurrence. Response is the way one acts after that experience.

– Noah Garabedian

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

NG: I’m from Berkeley, CA, and I currently live in Brooklyn, NY after 5 years in Los Angeles.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

NG: Reflection is the process of digesting material that has penetrated one’s exterior and provoked a reaction; whether it be within or out for all to see. Everyone experiences countless provocations of the senses everyday, and reflection is the moment one takes to acknowledge its occurrence. Response is the way one acts after that experience.

How does your work fit in with that definition?

NG: My current ensemble that I compose for is called Big Butter And The Egg Men. It is a sextet comprised of bass, drums, two tenor saxophones, alto sax, and trumpet. The compositions and sound of the group combine several influences of mine. I cannot help being influenced by experiences of my past, not only musical, and those inevitably show themselves in my writing and improvising.

As a music student, you are constantly told to understand and respect the history, the tradition, and the rules. Then you are told to throw it all out and to be creative and original. I suppose my own compositional process and my own approach to making music on the bandstand, is a response to my reflections of the past or just old habits I developed by rote.

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

NG: I am currently excited to be working on two other projects. The first is The Amigos Band. We play all types of American music – country, Cajun, blues, and jazz. We just released our first full length album, Diner In The Sky, and on March 10 we will be representing the US State Department as musical ambassadors on a 5 week tour throughout Southeast Asia. The second project I am working on is called the Rebirth Project. The music I am currently writing for this project is traditional Armenian folk music, mixed with improvisation, and combined with a contemporary compositional aesthetic.

Who or what inspires you?

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