Ars Nova Workshop Announces Spring Season

Ars Nova Workshop is proud to present its spring 2016 season, a thrillingly eclectic mix of American innovators and European masters. The line-up includes two MacArthur Fellows, a pioneer of post-punk minimalism, an electrifyingly versatile drummer/composer, an icon of European free jazz, and a Norwegian piano great making his Philadelphia debut. Highlights including the return of Chicago multi-reedist Ken Vandermark’s electro-acoustic Made to Break quartet, pianist Vijay Iyer and poet/emcee Mike Ladd’s provocative Veterans’ Dreams Project, and a rare meeting between saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and pedal steel guitarist Heather Leigh.
“Ars Nova has always celebrated jazz as a living art form, presenting those artists who are continually redefining the tradition,” says ANW founder and Artistic Director Mark Christman. “This spring we  have the honor of welcoming back MacArthur Fellows Ken Vandermark and Vijay Iyer as well as presenting unusual new projects from European masters Peter Brötzmann and Tord Gustavsen. We’re really celebrating boundless energy this spring season.”
So far in 2016, Ars Nova has already presented sold-out shows featuring rising-star Chicago cellist Tomeka Reid, legendary Australian trio The Necks, and the trio of experimental icons Nels Cline (Wilco), Larry Ochs (Rova Sax Quartet), and Gerald Cleaver (Matthew Shipp, Craig Taborn). In addition, they’ve offered an exciting two-night tribute to maverick composer John Zorn and a series featuring Japanese noise artists.
The spring season kicks off on April 4 at Boot & Saddle with Chicago multi-reedist Ken Vandermark’s electro-acoustic Made to Break quartet, his most unhinged offering in years.The band makes its return to Philadelphia for the first time since their unforgettable 2014 performance at the Barnes Foundation, part of Ars Nova’s city-ranging New Paths Festival. Featuring Chicago-based drummer Tim Daisy, Austrian-born, Buenos Aires-based electronic musician Christof Kurzmann and Dutch bassist Jasper Stadhouders, Made to Break draws on influences as disparate as Ethiopian music, the new music devices of John Cage and Morton Feldman and the anarcho-jazz-punk mash-ups of Vandermark’s sometime compatriots in Dutch band The Ex with his usual history-spanning jazz concepts.
On April 22 at the Kimmel Center, as part of the citywide Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, ANW will present Holding It Down: The Veterans’ Dreams Project, the third installment in an ongoing collaboration between MacArthur Award-winning pianist Vijay Iyer and poet/emcee Mike Ladd about American life over a decade of war. Ladd drew on interviews with young American veterans of color about their dreams upon returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, which Iyer set to a flexible score for an all-star cast of improvisers, including cellist Okkyung Lee, guitarist Liberty Ellman and drummer Kassa Overall. The result was one that Rolling Stone lauded for its “powerful narrative invention and ravishing trance-jazz.”
Drummer/composer Allison Miller returns on May 13 at the Philadelphia Art Alliance with her inventive sextet, bringing together some of the most versatile and idiosyncratic artists in modern jazz. The group’s latest CD, Otis Was a Polar Bear (Royal Potato Family) was inspired by the birth of the Miller’s first child, resulting in Miller’s most compelling set of music to date: alternately playful and profound, raucous and grooving, urgent and soothing. Miller, whose resume includes work with Dr. Lonnie Smith and Steven Bernstein as well as singer-songwriters Merchant, Ani DiFranco and Toshi Reagon, is joined by pianist Myra Melford (Snowy Egret, Trio M); violinist Jenny Scheinman (Bill Frisell, Jason Moran); cornetist Kirk Knuffke (Matt Wilson, Uri Caine); clarinetist Ben Goldberg (New Klezmer Trio, Tin Hat); and bassist Todd Sickafoose (Ani DiFranco, Nels Cline).
Influential composer Rhys Chatham returns to Philly on May 24 at FringeArts, performing an expansive new post-punk composition with Brooklyn-based musicians Tim Dahl and Kevin Shea. Born in Manhattan but based in Paris for nearly 30 years, Rhys Chatham is a ground-breaking and influential composer and multi-instrumentalist who fused the architecture of minimalist composition with the aggression and power of punk rock beginning in the 1970s. His latest composition is a trans-Atlantic trio piece that finds the composer supplementing his guitar with trumpet, flute and electronics, designed specifically for two Brooklyn-based bassist Tim Dahl (Child Abuse, Lydia Lunch’s Retrovirus) and drummer Kevin Shea (Mostly Other People Do the Killing, People).
The partnership between saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and pedal steel guitarist Heather Leigh began at last year’s Tectonics Festival in Glasgow and will continue with a rare Philadelphia appearance at FringeArts on May 25. The 75-year-old Brötzmann has been a polarizing figure in global free jazz since the late 1960s. His 1968 landmark Machine Gun LP essentially documented the formation of European free improvisation, while other major group collaborations include the blistering noise-jazz unit Last Exit, the Ayler-indebted Die Like a Dog, and the Chicago- and Scandinavian-based Tentet featuring Ken Vandermark. Heather Leigh is a Houston-bred coal miner’s daughter who lives and works in Glasgow. Equally informed by her Appalachian roots, Albert Ayler, and Harry Pussy, Leigh’s approach to the pedal steel guitar could be interpreted as a fractured survey of American culture’s deeply troubled heritage.
Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen makes his much-anticipated Philadelphia debut on June 20 with his latest trio, featuring longstanding drummer Jarle Vespestad and introducing German-Afghan vocalist Simin Tander. The trio’s new CD, What was said (ECM), explores the tradition of Norwegian church music in untraditional ways. It’s a mesmerizing and transcendent convergence of traditions, setting Pashto translations of Norwegian hymns from Gustavsen’s childhood into Pashto, English translations of lyrics by 13th-century Sufi poet Jalal al-Din Rumi, and the work of Beat-era American poet Kenneth Rexroth to stark, intimate music.