JACKNIFE press release
Street Date: April 22, 2016
Thursday, April 14th 2016 @ Cafe Pink House (w/ JACKNIFE featuring Larry Willis, JJ Kirkpatrick, Michael Mitchell & Josh Thurston-Milgrom) - SARATOGA, CA - 7:30pm
Friday, April 15th 2016 @ Red Poppy Art House (w/ JACKNIFE featuring Larry Willis, JJ Kirkpatrick, Michael Mitchell & Josh Thurston-Milgrom) - SAN FRANCISCO, CA - 7pm
Saturday, April 16th 2016 @ Wilf’s (w/ JACKNIFE featuring Larry Willis, JJ Kirkpatrick, Michael Mitchell & Josh Thurston-Milgrom) - PORTLAND, OR
Sunday, April 17th 2016 @ The Royal Room (w/ JACKNIFE featuring Larry Willis, JJ Kirkpatrick, Michael Mitchell & Josh Thurston-Milgrom) - SEATTLE, WA
Monday, April 18th 2016 @ Stanford Coffeehouse Jam Session (w/ JACKNIFE featuring Larry Willis, JJ Kirkpatrick, Michael Mitchell & Josh Thurston-Milgrom) - STANFORD, CA - 8-10PM
Friday, April 22nd 2016 @ Piedmont Piano (w/ JACKNIFE featuring Larry Willis, JJ Kirkpatrick, Michael Mitchell & Josh Thurston-Milgrom) - OAKLAND, CA
Saturday, April 23rd 2016 @ Cafe Stritch (w/ JACKNIFE featuring Larry Willis, JJ Kirkpatrick, Michael Mitchell & Josh Thurston-Milgrom) - SAN JOSE, CA
Weanedon bebop and enthralled by the rhythmic freedom unleashed by Ornette Coleman at
the end of the 1950s, alto saxophonist Jackie McLean was the rare jazz giant
who engaged deeply with two musical revolutions. While McLean is revered as a post-bop
pioneer, his music is seldom tackled by 21st-century players, a situation that
San Francisco multi-instrumentalist Steven
Lugerner is looking to change with his searing new Primary Records album Jacknife:
The Music of Jackie McLean.
A polymorphously creative improviser who has recorded a series of acclaimed albums exploring original music interpreted by heavyweights like pianist Myra Melford, drummer Matt Wilson, and pianist Fred Hersch, Lugerner has an impressive track record of creating singular musical settings. For Jacknife, he recruited a cadre of twentysomething musicians who forged tight bonds at the Stanford Jazz Workshop (where Lugerner now works as Manager of Education Programs). Featuring pianist Richard Sears, bassist Garret Lang, drummer Michael Mitchell, and trumpeter JJ Kirkpatrick, the album draws on compositions from McLean’s era-defining Blue Note recordings, circa 1959-1965.
In conjunction with the release of Jacknife Lugerner will be playing a series of gigs around the West Coast in the spring with the same formidable cast, a tour particularly noteworthy as Larry Willis will be taking over the piano chair. Best known as a formative collaborator with South African trumpet legend Hugh Masekela, Willis first gained national attention on McLean’s classic 1965 Blue Note albums Right Now! and Jacknife (and went on to record with dozens of jazz stars, from Cannonball Adderley, Carmen McRae, and Stan Getz to Lee Morgan, Joe Henderson, and Woody Shaw).
On previous recordings such as 2013’s Hebrew liturgy-inspired suite For We Have Heard and 2015’s Gravitations Vol. II, a gorgeous duo project with Fred Hersch, Lugerner created new music tailored to his formidable collaborators. For Jacknife he wanted to delve into the book of a master too often overlooked. “For better or worse a lot of us play a lot of gigs where we’re interpreting the same 20 tunes, ‘All the Things You Are,’ ‘Green Dolphin Street” and the like. I love those songs, but there’s so much other great music, and when I brought up the Jackie McLean idea to these guys they were really excited. Jackie’s music hits really hard. It has a real driving aesthetic that borders on the avant-garde, and I thought we could breathe new life into it.”
The album draws from four seminal Blue Note albums, including 1959’s New Soil, 1962’s Let Freedom Ring, and 1964’s It’s Time! The modal opening track “On the Nile,” a piece by trumpeter Charles Tolliver, debuted on McLean’s Jacknife, which was recorded in 1965 but only released a decade later. The unaccountably shelved album also provided “Climax,” an impressive composition by Jack DeJohnette, who was making his recording debut. Both tunes eschew harmonic complexity in favor of sinuous melodies that allow soloists to generate hurtling momentum. For Lugerner, it’s a sound that embodies the roiling environment of New York, “the grittiness, the hustle and fast-paced lifestyle, the energy that city brought to their lives. ‘On the Nile’ takes no prisoners, but it’s accessible, a modal, vampy piece that hits a few key centers. In a way it anticipates developments in rock and hip-hop.”
Like fellow altoists Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman, McLean infused much of what he played with the feel of blues, whether or not the tune itself was a blues. The jaunty hard-bop anthem “Hip Strut” from New Soil was the tune that turned Lugerner into a McLean devotee during his first year at the New School. He included another classic JayMac blues “Das Dat,” from It’s Time, a consistently thrilling album with Tolliver, Herbie Hancock, Cecil McBee, and Roy Haynes. The best-known piece on the new album, McLean’s mischievously lyrical “Melody for Melonae,” hails from Let Freedom Ring, a quartet session with Walter Davis Jr., Herbie Lewis, and Billy Higgins
“I chose all the tunes because the melodies were super-strong,” Lugerner says. “I’d listen to the albums and these are the songs I’d hum walking down the street. I love the juxtaposition of ‘Melody for Melonae’ and then this straight-ahead blues. I think Ornette and Jackie were the two bluesiest players that have ever existed.”
While Lugerner never had the chance to study with McLean, he did take lessons from saxophonist Mike DiRubbo, who worked closely with McLean in the early 1990s. And during his undergrad years at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music he took an orchestra class with trumpet great Charles Tolliver, who played such an important role in McLean’s mid-60s bands.
“Tolliver was definitely an influence,” Lugerner says. “I was pretty heavily into these recordings in school, and Mike DiRubbo, an amazing musician, hipped me to a lot of Jackie’s music too.”
Lugerner’s collaborators are similarly inspired by McLean’s music. Hailing from Portland, Oregon, and based in Los Angeles, trumpeter JJ Kirkpatrick has gained attention with the Sophisticated Lady Jazz Quartet. New York-reared drummer Michael Mitchell is making waves on the Bay Area scene with the electro-acoustic Negative Press Project. Bassist Garret Lang, who’s now based in his native Los Angeles, has recorded with emerging players such as saxophonist Ben Flocks and reed player Levon Henry. And pianist Richard Sears, a Bay Area native now based in New York, is a rapidly rising star who released an acclaimed 2015 trio session Skyline and recently recorded his six-part suite for drum legend Tootie Heath, who’s featured on the project (along with Lugerner and Lang).
Lugerner has been particularly visible in recent years. In a relatively short period of time he’s collaborated with a heavyweight roster of jazz masters, including percussionist John Hollenbeck, tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens, altoist Miguel Zenón, soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom, flutist Jamie Baum, bassist John Hébert, pianist Jason Moran, and trumpeters Ralph Alessi and Darren Johnston. Born on May 20, 1988, in Redwood City and raised in Burlingame, a city just south of San Francisco, he grew up in a multicultural, artistically nurturing family. In his youth, Lugerner performed on clarinet, oboe, and alto saxophone with college orchestras and professional pit orchestras while simultaneously organizing and performing local jazz performances. In 2006, he moved to New York City to attend the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music where he graduated with honors four years later.
Lugerner moved to Brooklyn in 2010 and maintained an active schedule recording and performing throughout the country with ensembles under his own name as well as being a member of the experimental pop group In One Wind, the collective jazz trio CHIVES, and the post-core quartet killerBOB. He moved back to the Bay Area in 2013 and has maintained a bi-coastal presence ever since.
A skilled and diversified woodwind doubler on saxophones, bass clarinet, B-flat clarinet, oboe, English horn, flute, and alto flute, Lugerner decided that for Jacknife he’d stick with the alto. Even though he doesn’t attempt to evoke McLean’s singularly tart tone, the project “was pretty scary and daunting,” he says. “In retrospect I’ve found comfort in playing multiple instruments, in being the guy to call if you need multiple horns. Doing something that’s just alto meant putting myself out there in a way that I haven’t before. My end goal is to make a musical statement as opposed to a saxophone statement.”
Web Site: www.stevenlugerner.com