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In advance of the Sun Ra Arkestra's annual Halloween performance, Ars Nova Workshop asked guitarist Nick Millevoi to interview Arkestra guitarist DM Hotep. These two Philadelphia-bassed axe-slingers discussed Hotep's time in the Arkestra and how that has shaped his musical life. 

The Sun Ra Arkestra performs at Johnny Brenda's this Monday, Halloween, at 8 pm. Millevoi's band, Desertion Trio, will be featured on the Ars Nova calendar later in the season, performing alongside Nels Cline/Larry Ochs/Gerald Cleaver, also at Johnny Brenda's, on December 11.

Guitarist DM Hotep has been a member of the Sun Ra Arkestra as long as I've been going to see the band play. As a guitar player myself, I've always been intrigued by his unique approach. Using his guitar as a MIDI controller with a stereo amp setup, Hotep seems capable of conjuring any sort of sound out of his guitar from one moment to the next. In a band full of horns, he's an understated presence, often near the back of the bandstand, humbly ripping a hole in the cosmos and contributing doses of sci-fi sonics to the ensemble.

We recently started collaborating in visual artist Erik Ruin's band, Ominous Cloud, and I continue to be enthralled by Hoteps ability to channel the unexpected. We had yet to have a good hang where we talked 
about the Arkestra and his experience with the group, so I decided to document the conversation. -Nick Millevoi

How did you end up being the guitarist in the Sun Ra Arkestra?

It was the right person at the right moment at the right space and the right time, you know? It was pretty much that kind of situation.

I got to know the avant garde musicians in Philadelphia through [vibraphonist] Khan Jamal. Khan Jamal, like in the mid-90s/late-90s, he had an organization called Jazz Composer's Forum and it was a big group of musicians who were a little on the avant garde side just looking to workshop their pieces for large ensembles.

I guess I got to know Tyrone Hill [through the Jazz Composer's Forum]. Tyrone Hill was in it and I auditioned for the string section for the Arkestra's big new millennium concert at the Painted Bride. I wasn't initially gonna audition because they were looking for a string section. My girlfriend was like, “You play strings,” and I was like, “Guitar doesn't really count,” and she was like, “It's strings right?” So I ended up getting in the rhythm section and the guys became aware of me. Then, a couple of years later, they needed a guitarist in the band. Charlie Ellerbee was there and I guess he decided he was gonna go in a different direction and they needed an emergency guitarist and called me.

Ars Nova Workshop is proud to announce the British Contemporary Music Festival, a two-day celebration of Britain’s extraordinary contributions to jazz and contemporary music.
 
Presented in conjunction with the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, the UK’s largest international festival of new and experimental music, the festival presents compositions and performances by some of the leading pioneers of free improvisation and avant-garde composition in the UK. Renowned saxophonist/composer John Butcher will present a scintillating evening-length composition inspired in part by classical Arabic and Sufi music, while the compositional achievements of ground-breaking free improvisers Derek Bailey and Paul Rutherford, many of them world or US premieres, will be realized by a remarkable ensemble of creative musicians from the UK and Philadelphia.
 
On Friday, June 24 at FringeArts, the festival kicks off with an evening of compositions by guitarist/composer Derek Bailey and trombonist/composer Paul Rutherford, two of the artists who helped lay the foundation for European free improvisation beginning in the 1960s. The program includes the US premiere of Bailey’s realization of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s “Plus-Minus;” the world premiere of “Ping,” Bailey’s transliteration of the titular Samuel Beckett play, and a trio of solo guitar compositions; and the world premiere of a new version of Rutherford’s piece “Quasi-Mode” for 12 players.

Bailey co-founded Incus, the first musician-owned independent record label in the UK, with Evan Parker, Tony Oxley and Michael Walters, while his long-running Company Week festival convened a wide range of improvisers annually for nearly 20 years. Rutherford met drummer John Stevens and saxophonist Trevor Watts in 1958, laying the foundation for European free improvisation through the trio’s experiments with American jazz. He was a member of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Barry Guy’s London Jazz Composers’ Orchestra, Globe Unity Orchestra and Keith Tippett’s Centipede, and founded the group Iskra 1903, originally with Barry Guy and Derek Bailey.
 
On Saturday, June 25 at the Phialdelphia Art Alliance, the festival concludes with saxophonist/composer John Butcher and percussionist Mark Sanders performing Butcher’s hour-long composition Tarab Cuts, which was shortlisted as one of the Best Contemporary Jazz Compositions of the Year in the 2014 British Composer Awards. The concept of “tarab” stems from Arabic classical music and refers to a state of musical ecstasy, a melding of music and emotional transformation.
 
Butcher earned his PhD in theoretical physics at the University of Surrey in England before turning his full attention to music. He’s since become a vital and prolific contributor to the British contemporary music scene, both as a renowned improviser and composer. He’s well known for his solo work, often employing multitrack effects, extended techniques, and acoustic explorations of his environs. A regular duo partner with Butcher, percussionist Mark Sanders has played with many renowned musicians including Wadada Leo Smith, Derek Bailey, Henry Grimes, Roswell Rudd, Peter Brotzmann, Otomo Yoshihide and William Parker.

 

Ars Nova Workshop is proud to present its spring 2016 season, a thrillingly eclectic mix of American innovators and European masters.

MacArthur Fellow saxophonist-composer Steve Coleman and his ensemble, Five Elements, are in Philadelphia for a  two-week residency. Activities include multi-level workshops, performances, outreach, masterclasses, and more. Events and activities will happen in a variety of locations throughout the city.

Upcoming performances include:

Friday, October 9, 6-9pm
STEVE COLEMAN & FIVE ELEMENTS
Rigby Mansion, 523 East Church Lane
Free Admission, Rain or shine, BYOB, BYOBlankets

Sunday, October 11, 11pm
STEVE COLEMAN & FIVE ELEMENTS
Ortlieb’s, 847 North 3rd Street
$10 Admission

Attention Students! ADVANCED INTENSIVE WORKSHOP
Monday, October 12, 4-7pm
Tuesday, October 13, 4-7pm
Wednesday, October 14, 4-7pm
Thursday, October 15, 4-7pm
Friday, October 16, 4-7pm

The five 3-hour workshops will focus on merging intuitive and logical faculties. Sessions led by Coleman will develop individual work, demonstration, theoretical skills, and listening. Sessions led by the band will focus on ensemble demonstrations, communication, and instrumentation. Includes some public rehearsals and performances. All workshops will be held at the Rigby Mansion in Germantown. Tickets are extremely limited.

For up to date details please click here.

 

The AACM at 50

“The AACM intends to show how the disadvantaged and disenfranchised can come together and determine their own strategies for political and economic freedom, thereby determining their own destinies.” –Muhal Richard Abrams and John Shenoy Jackson

The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) is without question one of the most influential music collectives of the 20th and 21st century. As individuals, its members have created singular visions and musical languages that draw on evolving traditions of Jazz, European classical music, and other world music traditions. They have created distinct music that elevates and advances what Robin D.G. Kelley refers to as “the black radical imagination.” As a collective, the AACM has been at the forefront since its inception of community-based, grassroots music education. Its musicians have long recognized the liberatory power of improvisational music to lift up communities and imagine new possibilities when there seems little hope. Historically, the AACM’s members have been active in some of the most revered moments in the development of jazz and experimental music: Chicago in the late-‘50s and ‘60s, the American ex-patriot scene in Paris in the ‘70s, the ‘70s Loft scene in New York, and New York’s Downtown scene of the ‘80s. Today, AACM members teach at some of the most esteemed, progressive music schools in the country, including Columbia, Wesleyan, University of California Irvine, and CalArts.

So much of the music that Ars Nova presents would not exist were it not for the tremendous living legacy of the AACM’s individuals. In 2005, Ars Nova celebrated the AACM’s 40th anniversary of “Great Black Music – Ancient to Future.” Over the past decade, Ars Nova has regularly presented AACM members and their students. To name a few: Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton, Wadada Leo Smith, Joseph Jarman, Henry Threadgill, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, George Lewis, Leroy Jenkins, and Matana Roberts.

This year, we help celebrate the AACM’s 50th anniversary with two very special concerts. On Friday, June 5, we welcome back Wadada Leo Smith’s Golden Quartet, featuring Anthony Davis (piano), John Lindberg (bass), and Pheeron akLaff (drums). On June 12, Nicole Mitchell (flute), Tomeka Reid (cello), and Mike Reed (drums) make their Philadelphia debut. In addition to their tremendous musical outputs and critical accolades, this trio served on the AACM's executive board from 2009-11, holding the positions of Chairperson, Treasurer and Vice Chairperson respectively. These very special performances are not to be missed.  

Ars Nova Workshop (ANW), the Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts, the Painted Bride Art Center and the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound are excited to announce a new, unprecedented city-wide collaboration that brings world class musicians and fiery big band jazz to Philadelphia’s Clef Club and the Painted Bride Art Center every first Tuesday March–June. Philadelphia’s Bobby Zankel leads his now-institutional big band, the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound, alongside some of the most innovative voices in jazz: Dave Burrell, Oliver Lake, Rudresh Mahanthappa and Jaleel Shaw. Philadelphians can expect a swinging blend of intricate compositions composed by Zankel and commissioned pieces composed by the evening’s special guest.

The series kicks off in March, when Dave Burrell joins the Warriors for their return to the Painted Bride. As part of this performance, the ensemble will perform a new arrangement of “Crucificado,” one of Mr. Burrell’s most popular compositions. The series continues in April at the Clef Club as part of Jazz Appreciation Month, with Indian-American altoist and peerless composer Rudresh Mahanthappa revisiting his 2010 collaboration with the Warriors. The last time these two icons were on stage together, All About Jazz said, The musicianship was consummate, and there were gems of improvisation, highlighted by melodic interludes…along with brilliant turns of phrase and moments of deep, meaningful expression.” Celebrating its 20th year, the Clef Club welcomes the revolutionary Oliver Lake to join the Warriors in May. The series will conclude in June with the welcomed return of Philadelphia native, Clef Club alumnus, and rising star altoist Jaleel Shaw. 

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."