Whew! We kicked off the first week of the new season with five amazing performances: Jesse Kudler and Ian Fraser’s electronic and laptop minimalism, Fennesz’ profound and thunderous sonics that pushed the International House’s sound system further than we thought possible, Sleepthief’s spiraling improvisations that lingered between delicacy and fever, and a two-night 70th birthday celebration for Dave Burrell with William Parker and Sabir Mateen, who provided a blistering tenor saxophone interpretation of “Happy Birthday” as we brought out Dave’s cake!

Thanks to everyone who joined us for this busy first week!  For those who missed the shows, be sure to check out Nick Millevoi’s All About Jazz review of the Sleepthief performance here and David R. Stampone’s Philadelphia Inquirer review of the Burrell shows here.

After just a few days off we’ll be heading to The Rotunda this Thursday, September 16 at 8pm, for a free performance by The Nu Band. Mark Whitecage, Roy Campbell, Joe Fonda and Lou Grassi have been working as a quartet since 2000, and subsequent years have seen them release 4 albums while keeping up with national and international live dates. Their 2009 Porter Records release, Lower East Side Blues, is a hard-bop romp that showcases the rich influences and talents of these four veteran jazz players. The last time The Nu Band played Philly was at the Plays and Players Club on August 16, 2000, and we’re very excited for this 10 year reunion show!

On September 9 and 10, Ars Nova Workshop will present two back-to-back nights of performances at Philadelphia Art Alliance to celebrate the 70th birthday of legendary jazz pianist Dave Burrell.  For this very special occasion, Philadelphia-based Burrell will be playing with bassist William Parker and native Philadelphian and multi-instrumentalist (saxophones, flute, clarinets) Sabir Mateen.  These three artists have worked together on several occasions, including with Parker's The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield project.

Since he began making music in the 1960s, Burrell has continued to be one of the most significant composers, pianists and jazz innovators, ceaselessly pushing the limits of the jazz category and sharing his love of music with audiences around the world.  He is one of the most celebrated and influential artists of the post-Coltrane free jazz continuum, and has worked with a long list of jazz luminaries including Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders, Sunny Murray, and Sonny Sharrock.  His singular approach to his instrument, namely the way he radically challenges traditional modes of piano playing and expands the instrument's capacities, has influenced contemporary avant-garde artists across genres and disciplines.  Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, whose debt to Burrell is evident through his aggressive and oftentimes improvisational guitar-playing, once stated on the pages of Grand Royal Magazine that Burrell's Echo is the greatest free jazz record of all time.

Please join us tomorrow and Friday night for these two fantastic performances as we celebrate the life and work of this great artist, especially in a space as intimate as the Philadelphia Art Alliance, which will allow us to deeply experience Burrell's superb musicianship. 


In a 2008 interview following the release of the group’s debut album on Intakt Records, Ingrid Laubrock articulates Sleepthief’s sound: “There's a mysterious, dreamlike feel to some of the music—and also you can be torn right out of it. But in a wholly improvised situation it's not only your own imagination, ears, taste buds and emotions that guide your playing, it's also those of the other musicians.”

Since late 2006, saxophonist Laubrock, pianist Liam Noble, and drummer Tom Rainey have been creating sonically diverse music that emphasizes process and space, shifting seamlessly from delicate, minimal phrases to powerful, chaotic blowouts. While producing dense labyrinths of raw sound that unfold unpredictably like an uncensored dream, the three players oftentimes drift out into their own improvisational spaces. Yet, as Laubrock claims, they manage to maintain a robust collectivity, always concurrently open to each other’s movements and the erratic impulses of the dream. The result is an abundant world of sound that invites the listener to wander and encounter its numerous and colorful pathways.

Sleepthief will be performing at Philadelphia Art Alliance tomorrow night, September 7 at 8pm.

Super Feedbacker

Austrian electronic music innovator Fennesz will be kicking off Ars Nova Workshop's 2010-2011 season with his first ever Philadelphia performance on September 5, 8pm at the International House (3701 Chestnut Street).  While Fennesz has not released a solo LP since 2008's Black Sea, this has been an incredibly busy year for the artist who the San Francisco Bay Guardian's Erik Morse called "the most extraordinary ambient composer since Brian Eno."

Thus far, 2010 has seen the release of 7 Fennesz collaborations, archival recordings or reissues: 1) Szampler, a cassette that collects samples used in his previous work, 2) In Stereo, a new album by his ongoing project with Jim O'Rourke and Peter Rehberg, Fenn O'Berg, 3) a newly mixed version of 2001's classic Endless Summer album, 4) On's Something That Has Form and Something That Does Not, an album featuring Fennesz' reworked versions of improvised pieces by Sylvain Chauveau and Steven Hess, 5) Knoxville, a live recording with David Daniell and Tony Buck, 6) Quiet Inlet, a collaborative release out on ECM with electro-acoustic improvisers Food, and 7) a remix of Oneohtrix Point Never's "Returnal," which appears as a B-side on an Editions Mego 7".Aside from proving Fennesz' prolificity, these many projects and releases show how dedicated he is to discovering new sounds and exploring the creative possibilities opened up by fresh collaborations with diverse artists.  In preparation for this very rare North American performance - this Philly show is 1 of only 10 US dates - we'd like to share a few interviews and videos (links below).  Enjoy, and we'll see you on Sunday!

Interview: Wall Street Journal, 2009

Interview: Pitchfork, 2009

Video: Fennesz live at V. Sessions, 2008

ANW 2010-2011

Greetings ANW friends!  As you know, we successfully concluded our 10th season and kicked off the summer in July with spectacular performances by Nels Cline Singers and On Fillmore.  While we're sad that another summer is almost gone, we're incredibly excited to announce the many creative music performances planned for our upcoming season!

If you've kept an eye on our website, as well as our Facebook,, Myspace, and Twitter pages, or if you've seen the fantastic ANW 2010-2011 events poster made by Norwegian noise artist Lasse Marhaug (pictured to the right and also viewable here), you'll know that we've been slowly updating the performance schedule over the past two months.  Featuring creative artists representing a wide cross-section of the rich tradition of, and new directions in, experimental and jazz music - from noise to new music, European improvised music to Free Jazz, solo performances to large ensembles, legendary to emerging artists - here is what Ars Nova Workshop has in store this season.

As we begin the next ten years of adventurous and exciting programming, Ars Nova Workshop wants to know a little more about you - what you like, what you want to see, and how you want to see it. We have put together a short survey to help us with this goal, and it would mean a lot to us if you could take a few minutes to fill it out.

As a thank you, we are giving away an ANW prize pack featuring a pair of tickets, CDs, and a t-shirt to a winner drawn at random. Just fill in your name and email at the end of the survey if you want to enter - otherwise, this information is optional.

And now, here's the link:

The Magic City

The last time we heard from the Sun Ra Arkestra was on May 25th at Johnny Brenda's when Ars Nova Workshop hosted Maestro Marshall Allen's 86th birthday celebration.  Through two high-energy sets that had the audience either dancing feverishly or contemplatively traversing the spaceways, the group demonstrated the unrivalled expertise, joy, and passion that have been the foundation for their musical journeys since Sun Ra founded the Arkestra in the mid-1950s.

At 6PM on Saturday, July 24, the Sun Ra Arkestra will be offering another hometown performance!  This free outdoor concert will be held in University City, on 40th Street between Walnut and Locust Streets, in the green space directly behind the Walnut Street Free Library.  We hope to see you there for this special mid-summer show by Philadelphia's much loved pioneers of jazz and experimental music! 

Solid Sound

On August 13-15, MASS MoCA will be transforming the sleepy Western Massachusetts town of North Adams into a paradise city for fans of critically acclaimed rock band Wilco.  The Wilco Solid Sound Festival - a Wilco-curated 3 day music, art, comedy, and film event - will showcase numerous Wilco side-projects.  In the same spirit, Ars Nova Workshop is pleased to announce that we will present two of these Wilco side-projects here in Philadelphia to conclude what has been an excellent season of events.  This two-part season finale will feature performances by Nels Cline Singers and Glenn Kotche's On Fillmore.

On Wednesday, July 7 The Nels Cline Singers will be performing at Johnny Brenda's, an event that will mark the group's first Philadelphia performance.  Their latest full-length record, Initiate, was released in April of this year, and if you haven't heard it yet, now is the perfect chance to experience some of the new material and witness the world's most dangerous guitar player for yourself.  ANW is also pleased to announce that the trio will be joined by a very special guest for the evening: Cibo Matto-founder and multi-instrumentalist Yuka Honda!  Sharing the bill with The Nels Cline Singers will be Good for Cows - the duo of Xiu Xiu's Ches Smith and Devin Hoff of Nels Cline Singers - and the hypnotic minimalism of Tzadik recording artist and mibra player Richard Crandell.

Then, exactly one week later, on Wednesday, July 14, On Fillmore will be performing at Philadelphia Art Alliance.  Bassist Darin Gray and Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche have collaborated with a long list of jazz, experimental, and indie artists, including Jim O'Rourke, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Chris Corsano, Loren Connors, Will Oldham and Kevin Drumm.  Their excellent 3rd LP, Extended Vacation, was released in 2009 and praised by The New York Times and Pitchfork alike for its idiosyncratic genre-bending.  A solo performance by composer and pianist Rachel Grimes, who was called "one of American independent music's few truly inspired technicians" by The Wire, will start the night off.

Please come out and join us for these two very special events.  We'll be celebrating the end of a wonderful season of music and the beginning of an even better one!

Tim Berne's Return

It's been an excellent time for Tim Berne fans at Ars Nova Workshop this season!  In mid-December of last year we had two back-to-back nights of Tim Berne projects and works as part of our Composer Portrait Series.  On December 11, Berne performed with the Collide Saxophone Quartet, and then led his Big Satan trio of Marc Ducet and Tom Rainey through an amazingly raucous set.  The following night, after a pre-concert discussion with New York Times music writer Nate Chinen and Screwgun Records (the label Berne founded in 1996) artist Steve Byrum, Philly-based pianist Matt Mitchell started the music off with a newly commissioned solo piano composition written by Berne.  The evening was concluded with a spell-binding performance by Berne's new all-star large ensemble, Adobe Probe, which featured Mitchell, Chris Speed, Shane Endsley, Marc Ducet, Michael Formanek, and Dan Weiss.  Then, on April 13 of this year, Berne was back in Philly again for the fantastic debut performance by Matt Mitchell's Central Chain with Oscar Noriega, Mary Halvorson, John Herbert, and Tomas Fujiwara.

Well, it's not over. 

On Thursday, June 24 Tim Berne's Los Totopos, a new touring quartet, will be taking the stage at the Philadelphia Art Alliance.  Always selecting the best and brightest musicians for his ensembles, this time Berne is working with Matt Mitchell, Oscar Noriega, and Ches Smith (who performed with ANW last as Congs for Brums when he opened for the Peter Brötzman-Hamid Drake Duo).  Like all things Berne-related, and as recent reports from Los Totopos' currently underway Invasion Of Privacy Tour suggest, this performance is not to be missed.  Please join us for one of the last shows of the current season and what is sure to be one of the best!

On June 16, composer, musician, producer, visual artist, and educator Bill Dixon died during the night at his home in Bennington, VT. He was 84 years old.

Since his first release in 1962, the Archie Shepp-Bill Dixon Quartet, Dixon has ceaselessly produced challenging, unique, and creative jazz music.  Just like the Earth-shattering low-end blasts of his horn, his compositions and playing have had a massive impact on the trajectory of contemporary experimental music.  He worked with many first generation free jazz artists, including Cecil Taylor, Marzette Watts, Alan Silva, Jacques Coursil, and Jimmy Garrison, and in 1964 he organized the Jazz Composer's Guild and the October Revolution in Jazz, which hosted performances by Taylor, Shepp, Sun Ra Arkestra, Giuseppi Logan, Milford Graves, Rashied Ali, Paul Bley, Ornette Coleman, Andrew Cyrille, and many others.  In addition to his superb musical contributions, Dixon also played a relentless organizational role by bringing experimental jazz to new audiences.  Similarly, as the founder of Bennington College's Black Music Division, for which he was a professor and chair from 1969-1995, Dixon had an equal passion for enlightening students about the rich and frequently neglected musical traditions that were such a deep part of his life, and that he so greatly influenced.

In the past three years, Dixon created some of the most amazing music of his life.  In 2008, both his performance of compositions for large ensemble at the 2007 Vision Festival was released by Aum Fidelity, 17 Musicians In Search Of A Sound: Darfur, and Thrill Jockey released his collaboration with Rob Mazurek's Exploding Star Orchestra, titled Bill Dixon with Exploding Star Orchestra.  Both of these recordings showed Dixon at the height of his talents and working with some of the best young musicians currently on the jazz scene.  Then in 2009 came Weight/Counterweight, featuring Dixon alongside Aaron Siegel and Ben Hall, and Tapestries For Small Orchestra.  The latter may very well be remembered as Dixon's greatest achievement as a composer and musician, and it is unfortunate that his death has come at a time when his musical imagination was so limitless.

Ars Nova Workshop is deeply saddened by the loss of Bill Dixon, who was such a monumental force in the world of jazz music.  We are, however, very glad and honored to have had the pleasure to host his first ever Philadelphia performance last December, when he played with Exploding Star Orchestra at International House.   That event will now be remembered as even more of a special occasion.  Our thoughts go out to Dixon's family and friends, and to the entire jazz community.