Tag Archives: Taylor Ho Bynum

TCO Profile: Kamala Sankaram

Kamala Sankaram’s voice (and accordion!) is one you won’t forget.  And, surely, you’ve heard her before.  As a performer, Kamala has collaborated with and premiered pieces by the Philip Glass Ensemble, the Wooster Group, eighth blackbird, Phil Kline, Fred Ho and many others.  Her compositions have been featured as part of the Bang on a Can Summer Festival, the Santa Fe New Music Festival, the Lucerne Festival, the Music With a View Festival at the Flea Theater,  American Opera Projects’ series “Opera Grows in Brooklyn” and in the article “More Song, Less Art(ifice): The New Breed of Art Song” in New Music Box magazine.  And, for the animation fans out there, she’s voiced many a character on the Cartoon Network and Comedy Central.  Kamala sings the part of Helena in Trillium E and has always brought a truly joyful spirit to her work in the Tri-Centric Orchestra.  Read on about her latest project, “Miranda,” opening on January 12th in New York.

Kamala Sankaram

When did you start playing?
I started playing piano when I was six.  I was very serious at that time, playing in competitions and so on, but I stopped playing piano when I was 12 because I saw the high school show choir!  Mind you, this was in the early ‘90s and I lived in a very small town, so the show choir seemed very glamorous.  They got to wear spangly, sequined outfits and tons of makeup.  I joined, started singing and that was it.  I didn’t really start studying classical voice until I got to college.  I was introduced to Anthony Braxton’s music in college, as well.

What current projects/ensembles are you involved in?
I’ve been working on an opera (well, opera-ish-type-thing) for the past three years, and it’s finally opening on January 12th at HERE Arts Center. The opera is titled “Miranda,” and it’s a steampunk murder mystery.  Other than that, I sing, compose and play accordion for Bombay Rickey, a Bollywood/spaghetti western/ Yma Sumac band.  I sing and play accordion with Taylor Ho Bynum in Positive Catastrophe.  I’m working on another opera with Susan Yankowitz called “The Thumbprint of Mukhtar Mai.”  That opera will consist of a mix of Hindustani and Western instruments with many different vocal styles ranging from Bel Canto to Bulgarian.

What recent releases or upcoming events do you have on the horizon?
I’m really excited for Miranda!  As I mentioned, it’s a steampunk murder mystery opera where the audience must vote and convict the killer at the end.  Six instrumentalists (including myself!) walk the audience through the final day of Miranda’s life.  The show is scored for violin (Rima Fand), cello (Pat Muchmore), electric guitar (Drew Fleming), high reeds (Ed RosenBerg) and low reeds (Jeff Hudgins).  These people are awesome – they act, sing and dance all while playing their instruments! The show runs January 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 19, 20, and 21st at 9 pm.  On the 17th, we’ll have a talkback with the audience entitled “When Pink Floyd meets Puccini: Indie Classical Music and Opera” which will be a really great discussion about a new generation of opera composers who aren’t afraid to throw in a little rock.

What are you currently listening to?
I’m listening to a lot of Bollywood music from the ‘60s. I just picked up a really great complication called “The Bollywood Funk Experience.”  I think RD Burman is my hero!

How has working with Anthony Braxton shaped your musical experience?
Working with Anthony has been a joy.  He is genuinely one of the kindest people I’ve ever met, in addition to just being amazing!  One of the biggest things I’ve gained from working with Anthony is a new appreciation for rhythm and an awareness of the constraint of meter. When we speak, our sentences naturally change in tempo and contour along with what we’re saying, so it makes sense that vocal music should do the same thing – but I don’t know of anyone else who is approaching vocal music this way.

What’s your favorite food?
Mexican!  Anything Mexican!  Especially guacamole… I could eat a whole bowl of it by myself!

Visit Kamala Sankaram on the web:
http://www.kamalasankaram.com
http://www.twitter.com/kamalasankaram

TCO Profile: Jen Shyu

Jen Shyu is always on the move: leading her own projects, lending her voice to others’, performing in inter/cross-disciplinary contexts, engaging in research abroad.  Ben Ratliff of The New York Times writes, “Instead of thinking about [Jen] categorically, you can focus on how beautifully and generously she uses sound.”  Read her biography and you’ll quickly realize that she is a force to be reckoned with.  Steve Coleman, David Binney and Taylor Ho Bynum are frequent collaborators, and on Thursday, Jen heads out on the road with bassist Mark Dresser to celebrate the release of their duo CD, “Synastry,” available now on Pi Recordings.  I recommend catching one of their performances this month, as Jen will soon depart for Solo, Indonesia, where she will spend the next year studying sindhenan, the traditional singing of Javanese gamelan music, on a Fulbright Scholarship.

What releases or upcoming events do you have on the horizon?
Bassist Mark Dresser and I are thrilled to release “Synastry,” a duo album for voice and bass, culminating in our New York City CD release concert at the Jazz Gallery Friday, September 16, 9pm. Leading up to this concert are CD release concerts September 8 in Los Angeles (Blue Whale), September 10 in Buffalo (Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center), September 11 in Accord, NY (Nancy Ostrovsky‘s home), September 13 in New Haven (The Big Room), September 14 in Philadelphia (Ars Nova Workshop), and September 15 in Baltimore (Windup Space). I then leave September 23 for Indonesia on a Fulbright research scholarship, so the Jazz Gallery concert will be a farewell party as well.  Our collaboration makes Mark the first bassist and myself the first female and first vocalist to record on Pi Recordings as leaders, so we are excited.

Jen Shyu / photo by Miranda Lichtenstein

How has working with Anthony Braxton shaped your musical experience?
Mark has worked with Anthony Braxton extensively, and my recent experience with Anthony’s music has had a deep impact on how I think about improvisation and composition.  His concepts, energy, true love and passion that he infuses into his music and music making process have been completely inspiring; he as a mentor is so encouraging and empowering. Anthony has pushed me to become more articulate about my work and to challenge my own notions of music making in this universe.

What impact has the Tri-Centric Orchestra had on your concept of the orchestra as an entity?
The Tri-Centric Orchestra experience has been very powerful – the first impression of having Anthony direct us was realizing how precise the music is, yet how much one’s own intent, energy and personality is as important or almost more important – that one’s vibe and vibration is what carries the music and delivers it to the people.  The precision is only a given, the first step.  It is this perfect marriage that makes the music so powerful, challenging and a joy to make.

What are you currently listening to?
I was recently turned onto the Norwegian Modern psyche/rock trio VIRUS – love it!

What’s your favorite food?
It’s a competition between Samoas (yes, the Girl Scout cookie) and my mom’s sweet tarot root soup….

Visit Jen Shyu on the web:
Official Website
Jen Shyu discography on Bandcamp
Review of “Synastry” on All About Jazz

TCO Profile: Jessica Pavone

An active performer in New York City for the past decade, Jessica Pavone has been leading her own bands, performing in ensembles led by Anthony Braxton, Jason Cady, Jeremiah Cymerman, Matana Roberts, Aaron Siegel, Henry Threadgill and Matthew Welch, and contributing to some musical collectives that readers of this blog know and enjoy.  While you’re likely to see her playing viola with Anthony Braxton, if you catch one of her other projects live you’ll probably see her play other instruments such as bass or violin, sing, or begin to incorporate effects pedals in her performance to create the sound of many Jessica Pavones at once.  Jessica has a busy fall ahead of her, with the premiere of several new projects and the release of a new CD.  Read about all of her upcoming events here.

Jessica Pavone / photo by Erica Magrey

When did you start playing?
When I was three years old, I started asking my parents for a violin. After two years of constant pestering, my father asked me at age five, “why?”

I answered that I liked the sound it made, which justified to them that the proposition was worthy of investigation. I began taking lessons at the Brooklyn Conservatory in Flushing, Queens but after a year, my teacher died! I had another teacher for a year and then we moved to Pelham, New York. I studied with various teachers around there and played in Baroque and county orchestras. I also started picking up piano lessons from my neighbor who taught at her house. In high school there was no string program available at my school, so I joined the band. I doubled the tuba parts on double bass and picked up electric bass around then as well. After graduating, I decided to go to music school because I hated school and thought that studying music in college would be creative and fun. I am fortunate that I had the opportunity to pursue this endeavor. I auditioned on viola, which I had switched to from violin at some point in my early teens. I always liked playing musical instruments but I am not sure if, at that time, I understood entirely why.

How did improvisation become part of your musical experience?
Upon almost instant creative paralyzation after entering conservatory at age 17 (I wasn’t quite sure of what I was getting myself into, nor was I aware of other outlets for using my instrument at that time), I struggled to figure out a way to make music a more creative experience. Initially, I broke away from the confines of orchestra excerpts and viola master classes by beginning studies in education. It seemed a bit more well-rounded to me. When I still felt like I was hitting a wall studying to be an educator for band nerds, I attempted to take some composition classes. My courseload was so extensive already – playing catch-up on credits due to switching majors – that I didn’t really have time to focus on the composition course. I had to drop the course almost immediately. I began free improvising with a violinist friend of mine from the school orchestra, and that was rather eye-opening. I started to seek out more of these experiences and quickly realized that there were other people around Hartford, Connecticut who were interested in creative approaches to music. I started playing free with a bunch of people around that time. Eventually my friend Ed brought me down to Wesleyan University, which was twenty minutes from Hartford, to hear an Anthony Braxton concert. My mind was blown. Also, the people I met there were really friendly. Shortly after, students from Wesleyan were calling me to come down to work on projects and play in original music groups, as well as participate in composer/performer collectives. This is where I first started to compose and approach sound more creatively.

Which composers/musicians most influence your work?
Laurie Anderson
Ludwig Van Beethoven
John Cage
Johnny Cash
Kurt Cobain
Leonard Cohen
John Coltrane
Alice Cooper
E.E. Cummings
Bob Dylan
Casper Electronics
Morton Feldman
James Jamerson
Leroy Jenkins
Lee Krasner
Jackson Pollack
Sun Ra
Otis Redding (Booker T and the MG’s)
Gerhard Richter
Mark Rothko
Erik Satie
Martin Scorsese
Elliot Smith
Phil Spector
The Ramones
Terry Riley
Smokey Robinson
Brian Wilson

What current projects/ensembles are you involved in?
I still perform in my duo with Mary Halvorson. We have been doing this for almost ten years now. We tend to only tour once a year – more often that not, in Europe.  Our fourth record, Departure of Reason, comes out this fall on Thirsty Ear.

I recently joined the band Normal Love as a violinist. This music sounds like nothing I have ever heard before. It has been one of the more satisfying musical experiences I have had in a while. We have a new record, Survival Tricks, due out later in the year.

The Thirteenth Assembly, which includes Mary Halvorson, Tomas Fujiwara, and Taylor Ho Bynum, just finished our second album, Station Direct, which is also due out this fall on Important Records. We will be touring in Europe in late October.

As for my own creative personal vision, I am cultivating a solo project. I have composed and performed solo music over the years on both the viola and violin, but I decided to elaborate on previous ideas by acquiring a multi-channel loop station to enable me to create more dense and intricate songs that I can sing simple melodies over. I spent a good portion of 2011 writing lyrics for my chamber music project, Hope Dawson is Missing, and really got into creating with words. I am not the greatest singer, but I have always felt that the human voice is one of the most elemental forms of musical expression. Besides, I am definitely more interested in creativity versus virtuosity, which is overrated. I am also currently interested in creative independence at this point in time. If you see me playing music around town in the coming year, most likely that is what I’ll be doing.

What recent releases or upcoming events do you have on the horizon?
I received a Jerome Foundation commission from Roulette a year or so ago and began work on Hope Dawson is Missing as the follow-up to my 2009 Tzadik release, Songs of Synastry and Solitude. I augmented the Toomai string quartet’s format from “SOSS” (a string quartet that includes double bass) by adding guitar, drums and voice, and I composed lyrics that meditate on plutonian themes of destruction and rebuilding, migration, falsities and undeniable truths. It premieres on Thursday, September 29th at Roulette’s new space in Brooklyn.

I am also exited to be going to Saalfelden, Austria with the group Army of Strangers on August 28th. I spent a good portion of 2009 composing all of the music for this band and we released a record on Porter Records in February 2011. This will be our first concert since the recording, so it is a CD release concert of sorts.

And I will of course be participating in the Tri-Centric Foundation Festival from October 5 – 8 at Roulette.

How has working with Anthony Braxton shaped your musical experience?
Anthony was a huge part of an amazing creative musical turn-around for me, as I mentioned earlier. Not just his influence as a creative artist, but the community that has developed around him as a result of his energy as well as his encouragement to self-produce, has been really influential. People I met around then (this was the late 1990s) were just doing: organizing, creating, exploring. Not everything was coming out intelligible, but for me it was a safe place to try ideas, learn what did and didn’t work and figure things out better for the next time.

What impact has the Tri-Centric Orchestra had on your concept of the orchestra as an entity?
Well, it is my favorite orchestra that I have been a part of. For one, the leader is encouraging and insightful and one hundred percent grateful to be sharing a musical experience with you, which I cannot say of any other orchestra director I have worked with. In the Tri-Centric Orchestra, each orchestra member participates on an equal level. It isn’t structured for a sole leader, which is in line with the hierarchy – or lack or hierarchy – in Anthony’s musical system.
One of my favorite parts of orchestra workshops, aside from being involved with the music, is listening to Anthony talk at the end of rehearsals and share his insights. He is a brilliant and captivating speaker whether he is talking about about music, current events, pop culture – anything at all. His revolutionary mind, in tandem with his eloquent form of communication, always results in my leaving the rehearsals jaw-droppingly inspired.

What’s your favorite food?
I am the moodiest eater ever. Not picky – moody. What I like one day may totally disturb me the next, and it is always unpredictable. Some foods that remain constantly on my good side are: salmon sashimi, tacos (bean, fish), broccoli rabe, breaded chicken cutlet, yogurt, oatmeal, coffee, rice noodles, quinoa, coconut milk, cheese ravioli, seared tuna, skirt steak, red wine, sopas, mushroom barley soup, squash soup, pesto, toast, kombucha, fresh mozzarella, angel hair with ricotta and salt, most green vegetables, brownies, chocolate and peanut butter, italian ice, sicilian rice balls, tequila and grapefruit juice. I am a fan of things that are natural and not processed, but I am not uptight about it. I also enjoy sampling the vast array of ethnic foods available in south Brooklyn.

Visit Jessica Pavone on the web:
Jessica Pavone official website
About Jessica Pavone’s Army of Strangers
Jessica Pavone in Signal to Noise

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

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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