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Scott Gutterman

Scott Gutterman has written about art and music for Artforum, GQ, The New Yorker, Vogue, and other publications. His most recent book is Sunlight on the River: Poems about Paintings, Paintings about Poems (Prestel, 2015). He is deputy director of Neue Galerie New York and lives in Brooklyn.

Andy Statman: Practical Mystic

The Charles Street Synagogue occupies a narrow, slightly ramshackle brownstone in the West Village. Inside the temple’s low-ceilinged main room, where the Andy Statman Trio has had a monthly gig for the past eighteen years, a long folding table covered with a plastic cloth holds halvah, currants, and macademia nuts, a perfect Jewish tableau completed by a box of Manischewitz marble cake mix.

Pharoah Sanders: Spirit Ascending

I was in a state of high excitement at the prospect of seeing Pharoah Sanders play the Celebrate Brooklyn festival in June 2018. This was not just another musician gracing the great outdoor amphitheater stage in Prospect Park.

Outline: A Festival for All Seasons

The Knockdown Center is a former window and door-frame factory in Maspeth, Queens, that has been transformed into a multi-purpose arts center. It has hosted concerts and exhibitions in the past, but has now taken a big step forward by starting to produce events of its own. One of these is a new series called Outline.

Listening in: Vision and Revision

For the time being, we carried on. On March 4, I saw the concert, and it was spectacular. I looked around Town Hall, its 1,400 seats gradually filling, and thought, “Should I really be here?” A cough from an audience member set off a shudder of alarm.

Listening In: All the Way Live

So now we stumble headlong into the majesty of fall, autumn in New York. It won’t contain its usual energy, its rush of activity, the endless stream of cultural refreshment. What will take its place?

Listening In: Illuminating the Landscape

Orsós is always illuminating the community around him, sometimes literally.

Listening In: The Art of Intuitive Engineering

Užupis is also the name of a band led by American drummer and vibraphonist Kenny Wollesen, who found inspiration in the place. The band was planning to come together in order to play the Vilnius Jazz Festival, one of the best in Europe, in October, but the pandemic prevented the group from uniting there. The longtime artistic director, Antanas Gustys, found a creative solution.


And so this is Christmas, and what have you done? If you're like a lot of people, very little. Or less than you'd hoped. Or it's hard to remember. Or all three.

Listening In: Jakob Bro, A Dream Reconstructed

“Reconstructing a Dream” is the oneiric opening track on guitarist Jakob Bro’s recent release, Uma Elmo (ECM), and it is up to the challenge of its title.

Listening In: Leni Stern, High-Flying Bird

Her new release with the group, coming out in June on her label, Leni Stern Recordings (LSR), is called Dance, and it was recorded in NYC in the COVID summer of 2020: “The music has a drama to it. It’s really uplifting, even though the time it was made in was very dark.”

Sound and Vision

Live music in New York City in the summertime: nothing could be more natural, or more welcome. But after the canceled summer of 2020, nobody knew what to expect this year.

Into the Blue

From a single session in 1939 grew an inimitable label devoted to jazz “with a feeling,” as they described it. Blue Note moved from swing into bebop, then fell into its role, for about 10 years, as the defining label of hard bop.

Polymathic Possibilities

The year 2021 saw two outstanding polymath artists celebrated for their achievements in what turned out to be the final months of their lives: Lebanese poet-painter-novelist-journalist-playwright Etel Adnan, subject of an exhibition, Light’s New Measure, at the Guggenheim, and American percussionist-martial artist-herbalist-sculptor Milford Graves, whose solo show Fundamental Frequency at Artists Space grew out of another one at the ICA in Philadelphia last year.

Wade in the Water

Since her beginnings as a key member of the Black Arts movement in the 1960s and seventies, Nikki Giovanni has shared her distinctive poetic voice with us. Hearing her doing so in this context feels like a homecoming.

This About That

Pianist and composer Myra Melford makes wide-ranging, imaginative music that is about … music. On her new recording, For the Love of Fire and Water (RogueArt), she has assembled a superb group that she calls her Fire and Water Quintet—featuring guitarist Mary Halvorson, saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, cellist Tomeka Reid, and percussionist Susie Ibarra—to explore the sonorities and possibilities of improvised music.

Worlds Collide

This extraordinary tale tracks a season among seasonal female workers in northern Italy, doing the back-breaking work of rice planting and processing. One of the centerpiece moments in this story is a nighttime gathering of workers, many of them clustered around the alluring figure of Silvana Mangaro, dancing to American boogie-woogie on the phonograph.

Ukrainian Rhapsody

When pianist Vadim Neselovskyi played at a benefit for Ukraine at Roulette in April, he brought something that the other participants, even major figures like Fred Hersch and John Zorn, could not: a life spent growing up in the country by the Black Sea, in particular the ancient port town of Odesa.

Summertime Blues

The stellar ensemble the Knights has taken up a kind of residence at the lovely Naumburg Bandshell, presenting eclectic programs like one with violinist Lara St. John, ranging from Mendelssohn to the premiere of a piece by Israeli composer Avner Dorman.

Standard Deviation

Composer and drummer Tyshawn Sorey has emerged as a major statesman on the scene. The New Yorker has called him “an extraordinary talent who can see across the entire musical landscape,” and the New York Times, raising the stakes, has described him as “an artist who is at the nexus of the music industry’s artistic and social concerns.”

Wassulu Empress

The art of the music doc has seemed especially strong the last fifteen years or so. Filmmakers in the digital era have access to so many different kinds of source material, and they can sometimes create richer portraits with them.

Playing the Room

Musicians are always playing off one another, and their own sounds are altered by these different contexts. Guitarist Grant Green sounds very different on two separate recordings of “My Favorite Things,” one with the low-slung, stepped-back style of pianist Sonny Clark, another with the ethereal modal reach of pianist McCoy Tyner. And these particularities are not limited to the musicians, but to the spaces in which the music is played.

Odyssey for Violin

Burnham has been a key player in a wide range of recordings over the decades, starting his career with a loud bang as part of the trio that free jazz/deep blues guitarist James Blood Ulmer assembled to record the landmark Odyssey album in 1983. This record hit the scene hard, blasting through distinctions of genre with a fine disregard for any perceived boundaries.

Nice Touch

Musicians often make their mark young, which makes sense given the energy and determination required to do so. They then must transform that early gift through the course of a life in order to sustain a career.

Ambient Awareness

Sometimes the mood is doom, or at least some inchoate but powerful feeling. This may be best expressed by phrases that loop and mutate slowly, thickly, allowing for extended immersion in a kind of amniotic environment. Here, the repetition, the lack of typical progression or resolution, the indeterminacy, becomes a path to freedom or release.

Amarcord Hal

Through his work, Hal Willner showed us a sometimes hidden, but always-needs-to-be-revealed fact, that we contain multitudes. People of all stripes dig music of all stripes.

Follow the Sun

What a difference a year makes. As the summer solstice approached in 2022, most of us were still dragging through the final stages of the pandemic, wondering how it would end. There was a deep sense of lingering frustration, even disbelief, that more than two years after it began we still faced restrictions and fear of new variants. Suddenly, this summer, all that feels gone.

Amayo: Fist of Flowers

The sound of Antibalas (Spanish for “bulletproof”) is thunderous. When this 15-piece horn-heavy ensemble is on stage, the effect is orchestral. Interlocking rhythms create a form of internal combustion, a self-generating energy source.

Rhythmic Conclave

The name of the band came about because it can be read to mean a gathering, particularly a religious one, or “con clavé.” “’Clavé’ means key, and as an instrument and as a rhythm, the clavé holds all this music together. Through these connections, the ancestors are speaking to you and through you.”

Winter Jazzfest

Winter Jazzfest 2020:
My Kind of Marathon

With its scores of stages already filled with superb musicians every night, does New York need a Jazzfest? I’d say a strong yes. Besides offering a comparatively cheap way to see a ton of great music, it does link disparate musicians and their audiences in a larger enterprise.

Listening In: Version and Inversion

In this column last month, for a piece called “Vision and Revision,” I concluded with a poem by Rumi (“The Guest House”) about the inevitability of change, and the need to accept it. The story struck a fairly optimistic note. But if I am honest, my predominant feeling lately has been one of dread. To open the newspaper is to unleash a cascade of barely imaginable stories. Yet how can we be surprised when we knew? The answer: We don’t want to know.

Gone Global

The year is almost over. Is the pandemic? We are all poised to return to our former lives, to jump back into the pool of possibilities that life in New York offers. While following the rules and watching the statistics, we are left to wonder if we have learned anything from this, other than how much can be done on a computer (and how much of true living that leaves out).

Promise of Glory

Among music’s many other powers is the ability to cross boundaries and make intuitive connections between cultures. In the recognition of that is our own godlike feeling, the ability to travel over the earth, to fly free and to apprehend.

Just Folk

The recent passing of the singer, actor, and activist Harry Belafonte got me thinking of the strange roads folk music has traveled in this country. When Bob Dylan came onto the scene in 1961, people thought of him as the first folk superstar. But as Dylan takes pains to point out in his unconventional and brilliant memoir, Chronicles: Volume One, the whole idea of folk music is that it derives from traditions going back centuries.

Sound Inheritance

What is a young Palestinian-American artist to make of these seismic changes? For electronic musician Omar Ahmad, raised in Brooklyn but with strong family ties to his ancestral home, the way forward is through the creation of open sonic space in which to explore possibilities.

Listening In: Olivier Conan, The Soul of Barbès

I’ve sometimes puzzled over what people mean when they say, “be fully present.” But my nights at Barbès often provided a natural version of that phrase. It was like a literal expression of that beautiful Rumi line, “I have fallen into the place where everything is music.”

Listening In: Cat Toren, Inside the Sound

Pianist and composer Cat Toren combines classical training with a commitment to the questing, open-ended nature of free jazz. Her playing is lyrical and spare, with a deep affinity for the qualities of space and silence. Likewise, her composing is attuned to the importance of simplicity.

Listening In: Keshav Batish, Both/And

Batish celebrates hybridity, while also recognizing its costs.

Goldberg Variations

Choreographer Trisha Brown once said of the artist Robert Rauschenberg, “[He] arrives fresh at the scene of the accident he’s about to create.” I ran that line by composer and clarinetist Ben Goldberg recently, because it reminded me of his approach.

Listening In

The films Scholl creates are open-ended; “they’re narrative, but in a non-narrative context,” says Ulrich. “It’s sort of like how we describe the music of Big Lazy, which people are always calling noir and cinematic: ‘We write the music, you write the script.’”  


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2023

All Issues