Saturday, September 17, 2011

New jazz concert series starts at Studio Z

Zacc Harris by John Whiting
What was once a bare box on the second floor of the Northwestern Building, a neoclassical high-rise artists’ cooperative in St. Paul’s Lowertown, has been transformed into a gem of a listening room, thanks to the Zeitgeist new music ensemble, whose performing space it is.

Over time, they have added drapes, color, sound baffles, and risers to create an intimate, welcoming place to hear some of the most inventive music the Twin Cities offers—not only their own, performed throughout the year, but also that of guests who rent it.

Since I first discovered Studio Z in 2009, when I went to hear the Ellen Lease/Pat Moriarty Jazz Quintet, I’ve returned often—for George Cartwright’s GloryLand Ponycat and “Bonanza: The Musical,” Trio Raro, Antigravity, the Consortium of Symphonic Transients, Milo Fine. 

Starting in September, it’s home to a new monthly jazz concert series, sensibly named Jazz at Studio Z.

Curated by guitarist Zacc Harris, the series features large-ish ensembles beginning with the Dave King Trucking Company on September 24.

Formed in the winter of 2009, the Trucking Co. debuted at the Walker Art Center in March of 2010 during the Walker’s “King for Two Days” mini-festival for drummer King, member of a million bands. (King launched two new bands just that weekend, the other being Golden Valley Is Now with Craig Taborn.) Their first CD, Good Old Light, came out on Sunnyside this July. 

The CD release show at the Artists’ Quarter on July 29 was terrific. King (or someone) flew in saxophonist Chris Speed from New York City, who plays on the CD, to join the other members of the group, who live here: Eric Fratzke on guitar, Brandon Wozniak on saxophone, Adam Linz on bass.

The September 24 show at Studio Z will be a quartet, not a quintet (Speed won’t be here), and Luke Polipnick will step in for Fratzke. Not to worry. Actually, I look forward to hearing this group in a different configuration. We’ll still get King’s thorny, tuneful compositions and surrealistic stories.

The series continues in October with Seven Steps to Havana, Doug Little’s Latin jazz septet. In November, the Zacc Harris Group (Harris, Bryan Nichols, Chris Bates, Wozniak, JT Bates) will play, in Harris’s words, “new compositions in the vibe of Miles Davis’s 1960s quintet.” In December, pianist/composer Nichols will bring his nine-piece band We Are Many (Nichols, JT Bates, Mike Lewis, Fratzke, Jeremy Ylvisaker, Wozniak, and others TBA). That group debuted at MacPhail in March 2010, as part of its Jazz Thursdays concert series, performing original compositions by Nichols.

Jazz at Studio Z is scheduled through May 2012, but the later concerts haven’t yet been added.

So—why this series? I asked Harris earlier this month.

“The whole idea is to provide another venue for jazz,” he said. “Over the last couple of years, there’s been a tightening and a lessening of places for jazz musicians to play. A big part of this series is trying to connect with the community more, especially with younger audiences.”

A special feature is the workshops—free and open to the public—that will be offered before each performance, in the afternoon. “These are workshops, not jam sessions,” Harris explained. “It will be up to the individual artists how they present them. The idea is to have an open rehearsal, with people able to ask questions in a respectful way. What will be really cool about it—and I’ve attended many workshops—is it won’t just be someone standing there talking. The rehearsal format creates a much better opportunity for people to see what happens.”

Saturday, September 24: The Dave King Trucking Company
Saturday, October 22: Seven Steps to Havana
Saturday, November 19: The Zacc Harris Group
Saturday, December 17: Bryan Nichols’s We Are Many

Workshops at 1 p.m. (free), concerts at 7 p.m. ($10). Tickets at the door.

Studio Z
Northwestern Building
275 East Fourth St., Suite 200
Saint Paul, MN 55101
(Look for the big red neon Z in the window)

Jazz at Studio Z is made possible by a grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (MRAC) through the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund as appropriated by the Minnesota State Legislature with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008. (Thank you, people of Minnesota.) Its mission is to promote jazz music by creating a new setting for jazz education and performance. The program runs from September 2011 through May 2012.

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