TCO Profile: Mark Taylor

There aren’t many French horn players who, to my knowledge at least, have attracted as much attention in the improvised music world as Mark Taylor  – Max Roach has called him “a virtuoso instrumentalist,” and Time Out New York has urged its readers to “add [his] name to the list of the chosen few.”  Mark just released a new album, “At What Age,” which was recorded in New York a few years ago but is only now being released thanks to the generosity of his fans.  About the new music, he writes, “This music is about stretching and breathing, overstepping boundaries and things not quite seen.”  I encourage you to check it out!

When did you start playing?
I started playing music at age 6, singing in a boys’ choir and learning the piano. I joined the school band on clarinet at about age 10, switched to bass clarinet shortly after that, and took up the French horn at 13.

Mark Taylor

How did improvisation become part of your musical experience?
During my teen years, I became a big fan of CTI Records. They had wonderful albums by Grover Washington, Jr.,  Ronnie and Hubert Laws and many other pioneers of what eventually became known as “smooth jazz.” Back then this music was new and interesting, at least to me. I’ve always been interested in composing and arranging and was quickly drawn to the work of Bob James, who wrote many of the arrangements on those CTI albums. It was quite common to have very large orchestras on those records (and on pop records, too) and Bob James would do “jazzed up” versions of familiar classical pieces for his own projects. However, I found myself asking why it was never one of the French horn players who stepped up to solo when the chart opened up?

The more questions I asked, the more people pointed me to players like John Clark, Tom Varner, Vincent Chancey and, finally, Julius Watkins. Now, Julius played with just about everybody at one point or another, so checking him out threw me right into the “jazz tradition” and I was lucky enough to have some jazz-obsessed friends who were my guides through a lot of that great music. I didn’t realize it until much later, but after years of playing only European orchestral and chamber music it was actually a huge event in my life to discover all of this amazing music created primarily by people who looked like me!

Which composers/musicians most influence your work?
Well, in addition to the horn players I mentioned before, I’d include Dennis Brain, Barry Tuckwell and Hermann Baumann. Outside of hornists, the biggest influences – players and composers – would be Clark Terry, Kenny Wheeler, Dave Holland, Miles Davis, Mozart (there’s a certain architectural elegance to his writing that I love), JJ Johnson — the list goes on and on. I do have to put Henry Threadgill and Max Roach in their own category as far as influences go because I learned SO much from the time I spent playing with them (and in Max’s case, just from knowing him for so long).

What current projects/ensembles are you involved in?

"At What Age" by Mark Taylor

I just released my third CD “At What Age” on ARC Records and am looking to take that project out on the road. I’ve also been co-leading a new quartet with tenor saxophonist/composer Jessica Jones. In fact, we just returned from a short West Coast tour that was centered around some workshops and a presentation I did at the International Horn Society’s Annual Horn Symposium in San Francisco, CA. We also performed in Los Angeles and in Berkeley. There’s a very new “chamber/jazz/improv” group tentatively called “Horns with Strings” that’s just starting to get off the ground, which includes Jessica Jones and Tony Jones on tenor saxes, Charlie Burnham on violin and myself on French horn. Then there’s also Positive Catastrophe with the Tri-Centric Orchestra’s own Taylor Ho Bynum (I love that band!).

What events do you have on the horizon?
I’ll be spending October at an artist colony in Florida – the Atlantic Center for the Arts. Roscoe Mitchell is the composing mentor and I’ll be developing some new works for solo horn and horn and computer using generative software and techniques. I’ve wanted to try some solo concerts for a while now. This is all very new to me and I’m looking forward to having some concentrated time to work on it.

What are you currently listening to?
I came home from the Symposium with a nice little stack of CDs to check out, including Tom Varner’s “Heaven and Hell,” James MacDonald’s “French Horn sans Frontieres” and “Unveil” from the Crepuscule Trio. I’m already pretty deep into Chris Dingman’s “Waking Dreams” and Ambrose Akinmusire’s “When The Heart Emerges Glistening.”

How has working with Anthony Braxton shaped your musical experience?
It has been truly eye-opening to integrate the skills necessary for orchestral/classical/new music AND jazz/improvised music in one project. My favorite aspect of working with Anthony Braxton, however, is the sense of joy and fun he brings to his music. These are all things that I want to incorporate in my work going forward.

What impact has the Trillium-Tri-Centric Orchestra had on your concept of the orchestra as an entity?
Well, I still think the orchestra is about as nimble as an ocean liner, but THIS orchestra shows how deep and multi-faceted such a beast can be!

What’s your favorite food?
Wow! That’s tough. I’d have to say hamburgers (ask anyone who knows me!). BUT my standards for the quality and origins of the meat (and bun… And everything else on it) have been rising steadily for the last couple of years. I’m good with junk, but less and less satisfied lately….

Watch Mark Taylor perform “At What Age” with Tomas Fujiwara, Keith Witty and Chris Dingman

What do Compositions No. 232 and 233 look like?

Questions I’ve received on multiple occasions: How does Anthony Braxton notate his music? What do his scores look like? Well, here’s your chance to see a few examples.

For the month of July, New Braxton House Records is featuring “Sax Quintet (Middletown) 1998” (view Part I here and Part II here) as the free download for NBH subscribers (without a subscription, Part I and Part II are priced at $9.99 each). In lieu of liner notes, we’ve included scans of pages taken from the scores of both Composition No. 232 and No. 233.

One of the goals of the Tri-Centric Foundation is to develop a digital archive of Mr. Braxton’s written work; in doing so, we hope to eventually make more of his complete scores available in a digital library for musicians, music teachers, professors, scholars and friendly experiencers alike. I encourage you to check it out!


TCO Profile: Chris Dingman

Vibraphonist Chris Dingman arrived in New York City in 2007. In a short period of time he has earned praise from peers and press alike – The New York Times calls him a “dazzling” soloist and composer with a “fondness for airtight logic and burnished lyricism.”  Having studied formally at both Wesleyan University and the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, Chris’ musical education and experiences range far and wide, and that eclecticism is reflected in the community of musicians he collaborates with today.

Chris’ debut album as a leader, “Waking Dreams,” comes out this month.  Here are the dates to remember:

June 18, 2011:  “Waking Dreams” Album Release Party at The Jazz Gallery, New York, NY
June 21, 2011:  “Waking Dreams” officially released on Between Worlds Music

Listen to a sneak preview of “Waking Dreams” here and preorder the album here.

Chris Dingman / photo by Adriana Leopetrone

When did you start playing?
I started playing piano and drums when I was 9 and 12, respectively, then gradually switched over to vibraphone and mallet percussion full-time by the age of 20.

How did improvisation become part of your musical experience?
Drums and percussion are improvisatory by nature, so I began at an early age.  Composition and  improvisation with tones (vibraphone, marimba, piano) began in high school.  Studying with Jay Hoggard and Anthony Braxton at Wesleyan University and collaborating with other students there opened up my mind to entirely new ways to approach music and improvisation.

Which composers/musicians most influence your work?
It’s hard to write only a short list.  I’ve been influenced by a wide variety of experiences with people at particular places and times in my life.  Studies and performances with people like Pheeroan AkLaff, Mr. Braxton, Mr. Hoggard, Terence Blanchard, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter were highly influential.  But working with musicians closer to my age has been just as formative for me – Steve Lehman, Gerald Clayton, Jen Shyu, Ambrose Akinmusire, Noah Baerman and others.  And, of 
course, listening… I couldn’t list everyone who influences me without taking up too much space, but specific influences for my new album also include Woody Shaw, Bobby Hutcherson, Debussy, Toumani Diabate, Radiohead, Bach, Elliott Smith, Steve Reich, Aphex Twin… and so on…

"Waking Dreams" by Chris Dingman

What current projects/ensembles are you involved in?
My project Waking Dreams, Steve Lehman’s Octet, Jen Shyu’s Raging Waters Red Sands, Harris Eisenstadt‘s Canada Day, Sean Moran‘s Small Elephant, Bryan and the Aardvarks, two different collaborative projects with drummer/ngoni player Tim Keiper (band names soon to come), and a few other projects are currently germinating.

What are you currently listening to?
A bunch of albums that friends have put out recently!  Finally getting a chance to catch up, and I am enjoying the music immensely:
Fabian Almazan‘s “Personalities”
Tomas Fujiwara and the Hook Up’s “Actionspeak”
Gerald Clayton’s “Bond”
Ambrose Akinmusire’s “When the Heart Emerges Glistening”
Mark Taylor‘s “At What Age”
Eivind Opsvick‘s “Overseas III” 

How has working with Anthony Braxton shaped your musical experience?
Mr. Braxton creates this feeling that anything is possible, and puts forward a positive and creative energy that is so inspiring and infectious.  I always want to create new music when I’m around him – especially music that knows no bounds of genre or style.

What’s your favorite food?
Chips and salsa!

Visit Chris Dingman on the web:

Two Days in Pictures: Tri-Centric Orchestra Workshops

The Tri-Centric Orchestra convened for two days of workshops earlier this month.  The first day was held in Brooklyn, NY at the Douglass Street Music Collective, and the second day in New Haven, CT at Firehouse 12

(photos by Kyoko Kitamura)

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TCO Profile: Anne Rhodes

I (Amy) first met Anne Rhodes when she was a graduate student at Wesleyan University – at that point in my own musical experience I’d never met a vocalist quite like her.  With extensive classical training and studies in jazz, South Indian voice, overtone singing, and shape-note singing, Anne crafts a sound that is completely her own.  Catch her performing around New England and in New York at one of the following events:

May 25, 2011: Broadcloth Trio at Outpost 186, Cambridge, MA
May 27, 2011: Broadcloth Trio and Architeuthis Walks on Land at IBeam, Brooklyn, NY
June 18, 2011: Classical recital (with Zohra Rawling, soprano and Tim Shaindlin, piano) at Lyric Hall, New Haven, CT
August 13 Rhodes/Kitamura Duo at Never Ending Books, New Haven, CT

Anne Rhodes / photo by Bruce Wahl

When did you start playing?
I think I started singing about the time I started talking, which was pretty early. I used to walk around in a circle making up songs when I was about 3. I didn’t take voice lessons until I was 16, but sang in choruses and played various instruments – piano, violin, and tenor sax – growing up.

How did improvisation become part of your musical experience?

When I was a voice major at BU in the late ’90s, I met Ran Blake and began hanging around and making music with with people in New England Conservatory’s Contemporary Improvisation program. Later I moved to Middletown and became involved in the Braxton Ensemble, and eventually did an MA at Wesleyan University. During that time I found that my favorite way to improvise is not in the performance-art diva style of many experimental singers (not that I don’t have a hefty dose of diva in me!), but to take an instrumental approach as part of an ensemble.

What composers/musicians most influence your work?
It sounds funny, but conversations with my husband Carl Testa have by far the biggest influence on my choices as a musician; those are the times I find myself thinking about and articulating what it is I’d most like to accomplish. As a singer and improviser I’m less influenced by other experimental singers than by more traditional singers like Frank Sinatra, Beverly Sills, Nancy Wilson, and Chet Baker. I think I also unconsciously soak up and spit back out what I hear from lots of instrumentalists and electronic musicians. I’ve just very tentatively started to compose, and Anthony Braxton is definitely a huge influence on that work, which is something I didn’t fully realize until I listened a recording of a recent performance of one of my pieces.

What current projects/ensembles are you involved in?
I’m in the improv/experimental music trio Broadcloth with Nathan Bontrager (cello) and Adam Matlock (accordion). We’ve been together for about a year and a half, and in that time I’ve come to think of the trio as my main musical outlet as well as my musical nuclear family. One of the things I do with that group is to embroider graphic scores. I’m currently composing a long-form embroidered book for the group. I also work with my husband, multi-instrumentalist/composer Carl Testa as part of the duo Bruxism, and we have been collaborating in recent years with the dancer Rachel Bernsen. Working with Rachel on pieces that combine music and movement has been incredibly rewarding and helped me link my opera and theater background to what I’m doing now.

What recent releases or upcoming events do you have on the horizon?
Broadcloth will be recording our first album this month, and I’m planning to do a solo recording project in the next year, which will involve a number of pieces I commissioned a few years ago. Broadcloth will be performing on May 25 at Outpost 186 in Cambridge, MA, and May 27 at IBeam, as well as a couple of June dates. On June 18 I’m doing a classical recital with Zohra Rawling (soprano) and Tim Shaindlin (piano) at Lyric Hall in New Haven, and in July I’ll be doing a duo show with Kyoko Kitamura at Never Ending Books in New Haven.

What are you currently listening to?
I have to admit that I don’t listen to a lot of recordings, but most recent thing I’ve heard and loved is Sun Red City’s (Max Heath et al) new album “Timelines.”  As for live stuff, some of my favorite recent performances have come from Liz Albee, Brian Parks, Tyshawn Sorey, Katherine Young, and Chris Riggs.

How has working with Anthony Braxton shaped your musical experience?
It’s hard to give a concise answer to this one! Through his extraordinary combination of rigorousness and generosity, Anthony has shown me, and so many other musicians, that we are capable of much more than we realize. He has this way of challenging you and at the same time keeping you from feeling overwhelmed or intimidated. It’s a valuable lesson to carry into any musical situation: be committed, push yourself, but don’t obsess over some false idea of perfection; there’s nothing very musical about perfection anyway.

He’s also shown me that the personal relationships you have with other musicians have everything to do with the music you make. Mutual respect and affection really come through in music-making – it’s hard to say which comes first, really – and the life of a musician is too short to waste a lot of time on situations that aren’t emotionally as well as professionally rewarding.

What impact has the Tri-Centric Orchestra had on your concept of the orchestra as an entity?
To pick up on my last point, Anthony refers to the orchestra as a “family.” That may sound corny, but it has a lot to do with an ensemble functioning less as a competitive, top-down corporate body than as a “multi-hierarchichal” (his term) group in which to explore music together and forge new collaborative relationships.  Also, improvisation as part of a large orchestral/operatic ensemble may not be a brand new idea, but I think it still feels pretty revolutionary in the current musical climate and I’m glad it is something we are committed to.

What’s your favorite food?
Ribeye steak, rare, with béarnaise sauce.

Visit Anne Rhodes on the web:

Anne collaborated with Anthony Braxton on an album of Ghost Trance Music, which was released in 2010.  View more information about that album here:  GTM (SYNTAX) 2003 Composition 339 & 340

TCO Profile: Cory Smythe

Lauded by his peers (Jason Moran, Vijay Iyer, Steve Lehman) as well as critics (Steve Smith), TCO member Cory Smythe is an accomplished pianist, an inventive improviser and composer, a sought-after chamber musician and a pioneering performer of contemporary classical music.  Smythe’s debut recording, (“Pluripotent”) released on March 14, 2011, is a concise flow of newly composed and improvised music for solo piano, with occasional voice and electronics (also supplied by Smythe). Its originality, poetry, and virtuosity have earned it underground, online recognition among forward-looking jazz and classical musicians in New York City and beyond.

Cory Smythe

When did you start playing?
My parents say I started playing Beatles songs by ear when I was two… but isn’t that exactly the sort of thing parents can’t be trusted to report accurately?

How did improvisation become part of your musical experience?
I think composing (like, pop tunes, not string quartets), playing radio hits and movie themes by ear, ‘soloing’ over chord progressions — all these things were a big part of my piano playing when I was a kid, and probably all remain at the heart of my improvising today in one way or another.

Which composers/musicians most influence your work?
Lately, a few of the people I find myself thinking about the most are Fats Waller, Gerard Grisey, Andrew Manze, and Neil Young.

What current projects/ensembles are you involved in?
My main group is the International Contemporary Ensemble, but I’m fortunate to play a part in some other new music groups, including the Firebird Ensemble in Boston, Present Music in Milwaukee, and the New York Miniaturist Ensemble.  Fellow Braxton experiencer, Chris DiMeglio and I recently started an experimental electronic pop duo called Twice Kitten.  I do a fair amount of canonic classical chamber music and (less frequently) solo recitals.  But for the next few weeks, I’m mostly at home fiddling around with my computer in the hopes of fleshing out a new collection of pieces for piano and electronics.

What recent releases or upcoming events do you have on the horizon?
I just released my first album, “Pluripotent”, available online (for free… or any price you wish) at

What are you currently listening to?
Literally, right this second,  Scriabin’s Prometheus


Peter Evans, “Ghosts”
AGF, “Westernization Completed”
Benoit Delbecq, “Circles and Calligrams”
Some improvisations on progressively disassembled piano by Gust Burns (
…and the new Paul Simon.

How has working with Anthony Braxton shaped your musical experience?
I think it’s tempting when you work with someone legendary to become a bit ridiculous with awe.  And I hate being ridiculous!  But Braxton makes it so difficult…

There’s something ineffable going on with that guy.  I don’t know how he does it – realizing one inspired idea after another, seemingly unfettered by doubt, by practical concerns, by the laws of physics…  But when I’m in the same room with him, I feel like I might be able to do it, too.

What impact has the Trillium-Tri-Centric Orchestra had on your concept of the orchestra as an entity?
If I understand correctly, the Tri-Centric group is only just beginning to explore all of Braxton’s ideas about the orchestra (and this is after having recorded an entire opera).  I’m sure I’ll have a different answer a year from now, but at present I’m still just really enjoying the musicians, themselves — all amazing people from a wide variety of backgrounds.  The new music groups I’m in would never play Braxton’s music the way Braxton’s group does, and I find the difference really exciting.

What’s your favorite food?
Currently can’t get enough coconut water!

(Ed. note: I was curious about the meaning behind “Pluripotent,” so I just had to ask…)
Pluripotent is (for me) a (dimly understood) term from biology referring to a kind of stem cell that can become any other type of cell in the adult body.  I wanted the music on “Pluripotent” to seem like that sort of charged raw material, or for its forays into song and abstraction to seem rooted in the same mutating collection of ideas.  And I guess at another level I wanted the album to suggest vague, almost magical thinking about biology, about single cells becoming complex organisms.

Visit Cory on the web:

TCO Profile: Matt Bauder

We’re going to start a semi-regular series on the blog that features individual members of the vibrant Tri-Centric Orchestra community.  These musicians and singers are engaged in so many projects (as leaders and otherwise) that we highly recommend you explore.  Hopefully each interview will yield some new music and creative work that is exciting to you, our readers.  Enjoy!

Matt Bauder kicks things off for us – See him perform with his ensemble Day in Pictures live at the University of the Streets in New York City on Monday, April 25 at 8:00pm.  You may buy advance tickets at this link.  RSVP to Matt’s show on Facebook here.

Matt Bauder / photo by Peter Gannushkin

When did you start playing music?
I started guitar when I was 8, and saxophone at 11.

How did improvisation become part of your musical experience?
At first by playing in a punk rock band in high school and doing noise experiments.  Later, I studied jazz and eventually I was able to see the connection between the two and the world of improvised music opened up.

Which composers/musicians most influence your work?
Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Jimmy Giuffre, Morton Feldman, Sam Cooke, Sun Ra, Edgar Varese, David Tudor…

What current projects/ensembles are you involved in?
Day in Pictures
(Eclectic Jazz Quintet), Memorize the Sky (Improvisational Trio), White Blue Yellow and Clouds (Experimental Doo-Wop and R&B).

What recent releases or upcoming events do you have on the horizon?
Day in Pictures is performing at University of the Streets on April 25th.  I’ll be attending the Music Omi residency this summer.

What are you currently listening to?
The last two records I listened to were Mahmoud Ahmed (Ethiopiques 19) and Paul McCartney (McCartney II).

Where can we learn more about you and your work?

How has working with Anthony Braxton shaped your musical experience?
He has constantly inspired me to push further and think bigger.  He also encouraged me to connect all of my musical and artistic activities into an integrated concept.  This idea was very liberating, in that I could pursue many different artistic endeavors and connect them through my overall philosophy.  When you look at his work, there’s opera, marches, jazz, puppet shows and on and on, but its all Braxton.

What impact has the Tri-Centric Orchestra had on your concept of the orchestra as an entity?
I certainly saw the kind of camaraderie that can develop with such an inspiring figure such as Braxton leading an enormously talented orchestra.

What’s your favorite food?
Hot Fudge Brownie Sundae.