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Ars Norge

This Sunday evening Ars Nova Workshop holds the first in a series of concerts entitled Ars Norge. This series presents some of the most visionary jazz, improvisational and experimental artists working in Scandinavia today. Lead by Ivar Grydeland and Ingar Zach, Norwegian quartet Dans les Arbres returns to Philadelphia, creating sonic landscapes that evolve slowly, with an intention that evokes the cinema of the natural world. Grydeland and Zach have been working with each other since the early ‘00s. Their latest release, Canopée (2012) was released by ECM.

Kim Myhr opens the show Sunday night, playing solo 12-string guitar. Once again, a music of slow development, drawing out the harmonic richness of the 12-string run through electronic processing. As guitarists, both Myhr and Grydeland are equally adept in, and move fluidly between, learned finger style approaches and tempered extended techniques.

Critics have referred to both groups as having “Americana,” “folk” and other “simplistic” influences in their work. Traditional and “folk” music has been a part of the jazz avant-garde since free jazz and improvisation became a distinct musical genre. Whether it was Charles Mingus drawing on the music of his Baptist upbringing, Albert Ayler’s use of hymns and New Orleans second line music, or Max Roach’s We Insist: The Freedom Now Suite, which explored the blues and African conceptions of rhythm across multiple places and time, the greatest music has always looked to the musical wisdom of the ancestors, rooting itself firmly in those forebears in order to create innovative collective artistic statements.

Drawing on traditional music palettes and moving in innovative directions has been, and will continue to be, a theme of ANW’s season this year. Sam Amidon and Bill Frisell’s performance certainly embodies this notion. Amidon’s recasting of traditional Appalachian and New England songs (his own parents folk singers themselves) carries forth not only traditional music, but the spirit of the 1960s Folk Revival, adding 21st century harmony to the mix. In December, we see the return of Abraxas, Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz’s group, performing songs composed by John Zorn as part of his ever-growing Masada songbook, a collection of songs drawing on Jewish identity.

Dans les Arbres, Kim Mhyr and Ballrogg all express this connection to traditional music forms as well. While they conjure sounds of place, melodies of the north shimmer, only to retreat to the very patient collective processes of creation that is the hallmark of their artistry. Their music does away with the distinction between so-called high- and low-art forms.

Tonight, William Parker concludes his ANW-commissioned four-part suite, Flower In Stained Glass Window (for creative music ensemble and improvising trio), featuring an all-Philadelphian chamber ensemble, led by Keir Neuringer (alto saxophone), and featuring Veronica Jurkiewicz (violin), Ryan Frazier (trumpet), Mike Watson (bass clarinet), Larry Toft (trombone + baritone horn), Diane Monroe (violin), and Thomas Kraines (cello). Keir shares his thoughts on these four nights:

In 1963 Martin Luther King wrote, in his too-infrequently read Letter from a Birmingham Jail, "the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be...the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists." I have been motivated by this statement, on and off stage, for years. William Parker is the rare musician working these days who connects the notes he plays and composes, the things he has to say, the way he operates in the scene, to the revolutionary legacies of jazz. His example is visionary and inspiring. He is a creative extremist.

When Ars Nova announced that William Parker and Muhammad Ali would be coming to the First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia to perform a King-inspired piece with local improvisers, I knew I had to connect to this project. Even before knowing that MLK had attended a formative sermon here, I knew the genius loci of the side chapel to be deep. I recorded my solo album in its meditative, warm resonance last summer. But this project is not about solos, despite the roster of Philly elders joining us - Odean Pope, Marshall Allen, Dave Burrell, and Bobby Zankel. Parker's work seems to me to be about a collective expression. He gave us an instrumentation and it was a privilege to find and put together a new ensemble of Philadelphia musicians very much dedicated to this kind of work. The scores that Parker created reveal not too much beyond short motifs and harmonies of intense beauty. But the music is not on the paper; rather, it's in the interactions and the musicians ourselves. We will use the scores to support, propel, and contrast the improvisations each night, navigating Parker's ideas and our collective intuition to further the revolutionary legacy of this music.

The William Way LGBT Community Center, with generous support from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, is proud to announce OutBeat: America's First Queer Jazz Festival, set to take place on the final days of summer - Thursday, September 18 to Sunday, September 21. OutBeat host to a number of critically acclaimed jazz artists across a broad musical spectrum including: John Coltrane's favorite vocalist, Andy Bey, Grammy® Award-winning pianist Fred Hersch, Patricia Barber Quartet and drummer Bill Stewart. Additional headliners and further details will be announced throughout the spring.

Ars Nova Workshop is pround to announce that Artistic Director Mark Christman is helping co-produce the festival, which has already garnered a tremendous amount of buzz from outlets such as The New York Times, Philadelphia Magazine, DownBeat Magazine, and WHYY.

The New Paths Festival is underway, and the local press has shared our excitement.  Our pairings of music and place have generated interest from several media outlets. 

WHYY’s Peter Crimmins joined us for the festival opener, Ken Vandermark’s Made to Break at the Barnes Foundation, and spoke to both Vandermark and ANW executive director Mark Christman about “Fourth Foundation,” the composition commissioned by ANW for the festival. 

WXPN’s Alex Lewis covered last weekend’s presentation of Milford Graves at Bartram’s Gardens for The Key, calling it “a mesmerizing display of focus and virtuosity”.  If you missed this show, Lewis’s write-up really captures the impetus behind the New Paths Festival – it’s a glowing review of Graves’ performance with a healthy dose of background and context.

Additionally, other Ars Nova Workshop events have been receiving great press.  Tonight’s Nels Cline Singers show has garnered attention from several outlets, including Philebrity, and the Philadelphia Inquirer recently spoke to Cline about the influence of Coltrane, playing in Philadelphia, and his relationship with ANW: “I want to work with any such quixotic cultural organizations," he says, "who offer me these opportunities rather than me going to them, and ANW really keeps track."

On Monday, April 21, Ars Nova Workshop presents Ken Vandermark's Made to Break at the Barnes Foundation, kicking off our New Paths Festival. We asked Barnes Foundation director of education Blake Bradford - who we'll present in conversation with Vandermark at 7pm, just before the performance - to share some of his thoughts in preparation of Vandermark's first performance in Philadelphia in five years:

I think my first encounter with  Ken Vandermark was seeing him as part of Peter Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet in the late 90s. With these improvised music big bands, my process was usually to see the large ensemble live, and then take in other projects and recordings from individual members.

I quickly realized that this approach wouldn’t work with Ken. By the turn of the century, he had appeared on a bunch of records, as both a leader and a contributor. How many is a bunch? Go ahead, pull him up on Amazon or Discogs or whatever music portal you prefer. You’ll see how prolific and varied his career has been. How could I take it all in? I learned to stop worrying about record collecting and committed to open my ears to whatever was available.

Seeing Ken perform and listening to his records, I began to see his connectedness in the midst of all the variety as his hallmark. It made me think about the way composure and composition come from the same place. What I imagined I heard was Ken, within ensembles of different size, shape, and style, transmitting his certainty of the music’s cohesion and underlying logic.

In preparation for this project, I shared that the thing people find most striking about the Barnes Foundation are the Wall Ensembles. Albert Barnes created deliberate combinations of what might be considered incongruous objects—eastern and western, sacred and secular, fine art and craft. All that stuff! Barnes’s arrangement of paintings, furniture, metalwork, and more were meant to bring these elements into active dialogues. With that sentiment in mind and a belief in forging new connections, I’m looking forward to hearing the conversations inspired by Ken’s time at the Barnes Foundation.

Blake Bradford serves as the Barnes Foundation’s Bernard C. Watson Director of Education. He has been on the Foundation’s staff since 2009, conducting programs that engage the Barnes’s full range of audiences and leading dedicated initiatives for adult learners, families, K-12 students, and pre-school aged children.

Ars Nova Workshop is pleased to announce the New Paths Festival for April and May 2014. With New Paths, ANW looks to the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson for inspiration: “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail.”

New Paths is a citywide festival conceptually connecting some of the most innovative artists in the world to a variety of historic and peculiar Philadelphia spaces. The work of these artists is inherently adventurous, but New Paths aims to deepen artists’ engagement with their performance space as well as with our city’s history, cultures and people, making these events uniquely Philadelphian.

Participating artists and venues include:

KEN VANDERMARK’S MADE TO BREAK
// BARNES FOUNDATION

MILFORD GRAVES
// BARTRAM’S GARDEN

WILLIAM PARKER-MUHAMMAD ALI-MARSHALL ALLEN
WILLIAM PARKER-MUHAMMAD ALI-DAVE BURRELL
WILLIAM PARKER-MUHAMMAD ALI-ODEAN POPE
WILLIAM PARKER-MUHAMMAD ALI-BOBBY ZANKEL

// FIRST UNITARIAN CHURCH

MATS GUSTAFSSON’S SWEDISH AZZ
// AMERICAN SWEDISH HISTORICAL MUSEUM

ST. FRANCIS DUO (Steve Noble + Stephen O'Malley)
// ST. FRANCIS DE SALES

PETER BRÖTZMANN
// GERMAN SOCIETY’S HORNER MEMORIAL LIBRARY

And more!

More details here. Individual event tickets will go on sale this week, but we’re releasing a limited number of festival passes at a 20% discount. To purchase a festival pass click here.

New Paths Festival has been supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

The second installment of our "Still The New Thing" blog post series, where we've asked curator Bobby Zankel about some of his favorite Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman and Sun Ra recordings, brings us to 1965 with Ornette Coleman's Chappaqua Suite. Divided into four parts, this recording was originally commissioned as a soundtrack for the film "Chappaqua" by Conrad Rocks. However, the music was not used for fear of it "overpowering the imagery" of the film, and Columbia Records instead issued it as a double LP. This was the first studio recording with Coleman's trio featuring David Izenzon on bass and Charles Moffett on drums. It was also Ornette's first recording with a full orchestra, arranged and conducted by Joseph Tekula. Tenor Saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders makes an appearance on the fourth movement of the suite. Although the album quickly went out of print, this under-appreciated recording stands as testament to Coleman's skill as a composer and savvy with orchestral writing.

We sat down with Philadelphia saxophonist-composer and “Still The New Thing” curator Bobby Zankel and asked him about some of his favorite recordings and performances from Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman and Sun Ra. Our first post in this series – just in time for tonight’s Celebrating Cecil event – takes us back to May 22, 1973 when Mr. Taylor performed at Koseinenkin Dai-Hall in Tokyo with drummer Andrew Cyrille and the late great alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons. The event was recorded and released on the Japanese label Trio Records as a double LP called Akisakila – Cecil Taylor Unit In Japan.

The Painted Bride Art CenterArs Nova Workshop, Warriors of the Wonderful Sound, and the Philadelphia Jazz Project are excited to announce a three-show collaboration paying homage to jazz legends Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, and Sun Ra.  Scheduled to coincide with the artists' respective birthdays, these one-of-a-kind all-star evenings feature musicians who, over the last five decades, have had key professional and personal relationships with Cecil, Ornette and Sun Ra. These special performances will celebrate the lives and work of these challenging, uncompromising composer-performers.

The inimitable Cecil Taylor has received the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and has been named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master. In March, to celebrate both his remarkable contributions to jazz and his 85th birthday, saxophonist Bobby Zankel will lead a one-night only quintet featuring some of Taylor's closest and most longstanding colleagues, including bassists Henry Grimes and William Parker, Philadelphia pianist Dave Burrell, and drummer Andrew Cyrille.

To celebrate the 84th birthday of Ornette Coleman, the artist who coined the term “Free Jazz,” two unique ensembles will be presented.  The first, the Denardo Coleman Group, is led by the saxophonist's son (who first recorded with his father as a 10-year-old boy) and will feature members of the elder Coleman's unique current quartet. Additionally, bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, best known for his work in Ornette’s Prime Time ensemble, will perform with a group hand-selected for this special night.

The series will culminate in a double-header celebrating not only the work and lives of Ornette and Cecil, but also Sun Ra, who would have celebrated his 100th birthday this year. Two big bands with extraordinarily rich Philadelphia histories will be featured: the Sun Ra Arkestra led by Marshall Allen, and “Still The New Thing” curater Bobby Zankel with his Warriors of the Wonderful Sound.

We're pleased to have a bunch of our upcoming activities previewed in this week's Philadelphia City Paper. So no need to take our word for it.