A Night Of Improvised Round Robin Duets: Red Bull Music Academy Special

The format? Simple. One musician starts a solo improvisation lasting five minutes. Another musician then joins for five minutes of duo improvisation. After those five minutes, musician #1 leaves the stage and musician #3 joins musician #2 for another five minutes, and so on and so forth for two hours. The music? Expect the unexpected. A once-in-a-lifetime experience with 20+ artists from the realms of jazz, electronics, experimental rock and everything in between, curated by the Red Bull Music Academy, Search and Restore, Boom Collective and the creative minds behind the acclaimed Undead Music Series.

Launched in June of 2010 with the aim to attract new audiences to serious music while challenging expectations, the Undead Music Series celebrates the explosively creative, adventurous, instrumental music being made in New York City and beyond.

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Drummer/producer Ahmir ‘?uestlove’ Thompson is a Quincy Jones for our times: a living link between the digital science of modern hip hop and the flesh-and-blood textures of vintage R&B. A pivotal figure of the Philly scene, ?uestlove cofounded the Roots, who rejuvenated hip hop in an instrumental flurry that flits effortlessly between jazz, funk, rock, reggae, and even disco. Meanwhile, ?uestlove’s engagement with the Soulquarians production squad, and collaborations with artists such as D’Angelo, Jay-Z, and Common have reasserted the importance of real-time playing in a style dominated by sampling and programming. Besides establishing the crucial heads’ website Okayplayer and gigging with the Roots as the house band for Jimmy Fallon’s late night show, ?uestlove has also aquired serious skills behind the ones and twos. Can we get a Philly hit?

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Andrew Bird

Andrew Bird first picked up a violin at age 4 and proceeded to spend his formative years soaking up classical repertoire completely by ear. As a teen, Bird mastered the sounds of early jazz, country blues, and gypsy music. All these influences still percolate within Bird’s special brand of pop, establishing a sound that is distinctly his own. Since 1997 Bird has released 11 albums, garnering a devoted following with his early band Bowl of Fire before venturing out with his first solo record, 2003’s Weather Systems. It was with this release that Bird began using a looping pedal to combine densely layered symphonies onstage; he also revealed an unearthly talent for whistling. He has since played at prestigious venues and gigs including Carnegie Hall, Coachella, and the Hollywood Bowl. In 2011 he composed his first-ever film score for the movie Norman.

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Andrew W.K.

There’s a section on Andrew W.K.’s website that is called “What is Andrew W.K.?” It’s a nice little reminder that Andrew W.K. isn’t so much human as he is a force of nature. Born Andrew Wilkes-Krier, he started classical piano lessons at the age of 4 and kicked around the Ann Arbor music scene until he decided to move to New York City instead of attending college. It was here where he adopted the W.K. name and made his infamous hit album I Get Wet. He’s since made more music, but it’s been supplemented by a burgeoning career in motivational speaking. Extolling the merits of partying during his talks, W.K. put his money where his mouth is: in 2008 he opened the New York nightclub Santos Party House, a venue that has helped house, techno, hip hop, and more find a welcoming Manhattan home.

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Bernie Worrell

Bernie Worrell first came to prominence as a founding member and musical director of Parliament/Funkadelic. While this massively influential supergroup was altering the course of music, Bernie was radically charting the course of emerging keyboard technology during the golden age of analog synthesis. After departing Parliament/Funkadelic, Worrell resurfaced with the revamped Talking Heads lineup for several albums. Worrell’s colorings, this time delivered via new digital keyboards such as the Prophet 5, were central to the recasting of group leader David Byrne’s musical ideas through African rhythms. In the years since he left Talking Heads, Worrell has been a phenomenally prolific studio musician, serving as a primary change-agent in the many experimental works of producer Bill Laswell while contributing his singular flair to projects by the likes of Keith Richards, the Pretenders, and Deee-Lite. At the same time, he’s among the most-sampled musicians ever, with Digital Underground, De La Soul, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, DMX, and countless others having acknowledged his timeless grooves by building their tunes around his signature riffs.

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DJ Spinna

DJ Spinna is the type of guy to do exactly the opposite of what you’re expecting. Have him pinned down as a hip hop producer? He’ll go in a dance direction. Love his soulful take on house music? Get ready for some breaks. Variety has been the guiding principle for Spinna, ever since his beginnings as a producer for the Jigmastas. Spinna may have provided beats for artists like Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and Pharaohe Monch, but that certainly didn’t stop him from remixing Nightmares on Wax. Perhaps the best way to understand Spinna is to hear his DJ mixes, where he’s just as liable to be the man behind the decks for The Boogie Back, a collection of “post-disco club jams” for BBE, as he is for the deep house sounds of King Street. The eclectic mindset of Spinna means that he’s a music lover, not a genre lover. Long may he remain so.

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Don Byron

For over two decades, Don Byron has been a singular voice in an astounding range of musical contexts, exploring widely divergent traditions while continually striving for what he calls “a sound above genre.” As a clarinetist, saxophonist, composer, arranger, and social critic, he redefines every genre of music he plays, be it classical, salsa, hip hop, funk, R&B, klezmer, or any jazz style from swing and bop to cutting-edge downtown improvisation. He has been consistently voted best clarinetist by critics and readers in leading international music journals since being named “Jazz Artist of the Year” by DownBeat in 1992. In April 2012 he was among the first to win a Doris Duke Performing Artist Award. Acclaimed as much for his restless creativity as for his unsurpassed virtuosity as a player, Byron has presented a multitude of projects at major music festivals around the world.

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The child of a once-priest and a near-nun, it almost doesn’t seem like a surprise that Martin Dosh’s path has been a strange one. A precocious child, Dosh began pestering his parents for piano lessons at the age of 3 (they gave in three years later). Dosh’s musical talents first came to the attention of the outside world in 2003 with his debut self-titled record for Anticon, a loop-building collage of shimmering Rhodes, atypical drumming grounded in groove, field recordings, and spontaneous performance. That general philosophy has colored his four other solo albums but, over the years, he’s gradually opened his studio to a variety of collaborators like Andrew Bird, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Fog, and all the Anticon stalwarts. When he’s not busy teaching music, you can find him on tour where he’s shared the stage with Wilco, Gary Wilson, My Morning Jacket, and many others.

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Erik Friedlander

Cellist Erik Friedlander is a composer, improviser, and veteran of NYC’s downtown scene. Friedlander started studying music at an early age, beginning at age 5 with guitar and then cello lessons a few years later. He grew up in a house filled with music, as his father, an avid music lover, made countless mixtapes. Erik’s desire to actively participate in the swirl of music styles he grew accustomed to hearing led him to find new ways to play the cello. Erik’s recent work includes a limited-edition LP with photographer Mitch Epstein entitled American Power, and a remix EP (on 10" vinyl) with producer Scott Solter called No Compass: Solter Resets Friedlander. Over the course of his career, Friedlander has also composed music for advertisements, dance works, documentaries and, most recently, completed the score for Nothing On Earth, a documentary about the work of landscape photographer Murray Fredericks and his trips to the Greenland ice cap.

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Glenn Kotche

Glenn Kotche is a Chicago-based percussionist and composer heralded as one of the most exciting, creative, and promising composers and performers in modern music. His eclectic works have focused on the creative use of rhythm and space, navigating the territory between the academic and the primal, the consonant and the dissonant. Glenn’s various stints with groups and ensembles have resulted in participation in nearly 100 albums, including three recorded solo works. Over the years Kotche has been commissioned to write pieces for Kronos Quartet, Bang on a Can All-Stars and So Percussion. In addition to his work as a composer and solo percussionist, Kotche is member of the groundbreaking American rock band Wilco, with whom he has played since 2001. The first album recorded after Kotche joined the group, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, was met with critical and mass acclaim, with Rolling Stone magazine recently calling it the third best album of the decade.

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James Chance

One of the central figures of the no wave movement of the late ’70s, James Siegfried was born and raised in Wisconsin. He attended music school, but never finished, dropping out to move to New York City in 1976. Under the name James Chance, he quickly became active in both the free jazz and no wave scenes. He helped put together Teenage Jesus and the Jerks along with Lydia Lunch, but left soon after their formation. It was then that he started the Contortions, a group with which he would come to find his greatest success. The band was innovative in their fusing of jazz improvisation and funk rhythms, but they were sometimes even better known for their confrontational and violent live shows. Hooking up with ZE Records, Chance eventually put together another act, James White and the Blacks, whose single “Contort Yourself” has gone down in history as one of the greatest and most influential punk-funk singles of the era. Due to their reissue project in the ’00s, Chance’s legacy has come to light for a new generation, ensuring that his enormous impact will continue to be felt for many years to come.

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Joe Lovano

Hailed by the New York Times as “one of the greatest musicians in jazz history,” Grammy Award–winning saxophone giant Joe Lovano has distinguished himself for some three decades as a prescient and pathfinding force in the arena of creative music. The secret to Lovano’s success is his fearless ability to push the conceptual and thematic choices he has made in his quest to find new modes of artistic expression within the jazz idiom. Lovano was born in Cleveland in 1952, and began playing alto saxophone as a child. His father, tenor saxophonist Tony ‘Big T’ Lovano, schooled Joe in dynamics and interpretation, and regularly brought him to live performances of international jazz artists. Over the years Lovano has played with an enormous amount of groups both large and small, but perhaps his greatest relationship has been with a record label: Blue Note. He’s garnered eight Grammy nominations, with a win in the Best Large Ensemble category for 2000’s 52nd Street Themes.

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Julia Holter

Classical and not-so-classical-at-all: Julia Holter’s music lies at a crossroads similar to the one where artists like Arthur Russell or Laurie Anderson reside. It’s the sound of an artist who has clearly been trained—in this case at Cal Arts with Michael Pisaro and in India singing with harmonium under guru Pashupati nath Mishra—and one that has no problem forgetting everything previously learned, if needed. Holter’s songwriting stems from a mythological reverence of that which is incomprehensibly beautiful. Her 2007 EP Eating the Stars was a first attempt at musically transcribing this feeling, and Holter’s 2011 debut album Tragedy embraced similar strains of shimmer. But it was on 2012’s Ekstasis where everything came together. Critically beloved, it’s the culmination of her young career, a record whose motivating character was best described by Holter herself: Ekstasis reflects, she says, a “desire to get outside of my body and find what I can’t define.”

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Kim Gordon

Besides keeping Sonic Youth’s sound on the rails with her sparse bass playing and perfectly detached vocals, Kim Gordon has always kept busy as a visual artist, making videos for the Breeders and collaborating across canvas, screen, and performance. Three decades on and she’s still riffing on both themes. Musically, with free-noise artist Bill Nace as Body/Head; with her other band Free Kitten; and in variform creative excursions across the board. Visually speaking, she has collaborated with various fashion designers over the years (most recently for a line with French marque Surface To Air) and is exhibiting artworks both uptown in galleries and downtown in expertly cool fanzines. Gordon’s blend of noise, experimentalism, integrity, and extended innovation has kept her right at the center of, well, wherever she wants to be.

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Mary Halvorson

Guitarist/composer Mary Halvorson has been active in New York since 2002, following jazz studies at Wesleyan University and the New School. Critics have called Mary “NYC’s least-predictable improviser” (Howard Mandel, CityArts); “the most forward-thinking guitarist working right now” (Lars Gotrich, NPR.org); and “one of today’s most formidable bandleaders” (Francis Davis, Village Voice). In addition to her long-standing trio featuring bassist John Hébert and drummer Ches Smith, and her quintet, which adds trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson and alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon, Mary also co-leads a chamber-jazz duo with violist Jessica Pavone, the avant-rock band People, and the collective ensembles Thumbscrew, Reverse Blue, and Secret Keeper. She is also an active member of bands led by Tim Berne, Anthony Braxton, Taylor Ho Bynum, Tomas Fujiwara, Curtis Hasselbring, Ingrid Laubrock, Myra Melford, Marc Ribot, Tom Rainey, and Matthew Welch, among others.

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Matana Roberts

Matana Roberts is a jazz musician informed by history and intent on helping to craft the genre’s future. Trained as a classical clarinetist in Chicago during her youth, Matana moved to New York in 2002 and quickly became part of the city’s bustling music scene. Nowadays her weapon of choice is the saxophone. You can hear it implemented in her trio Sticks and Stones, as part of Greg Tate’s Burnt Sugar, or on a clutch of releases from Montreal’s Constellation Records. Add to this an appearance on TV on the Radio’s Dear Science and the honor of getting picked by Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel to play at All Tomorrow’s Parties in 2012, and you can easily see that jazz is just a starting place for Matana—it’s not even close to where things end.

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Robert Glasper

Robert Glasper is one of the ringleaders who guides jazz into new realms. Brought up in Texas listening to his mother sing the gospel at the local church and watching her trawl the blues club circuit, he moved to New York to pursue his dream of becoming a successful jazz musician. Fresh off the boat, he hooked up with future band member Damion Reid and dorm roommate Bilal, with whom he has worked on various occasions, including his fifth and current album Black Radio. Ever since his debut Mood astounded listeners and critics alike, Robert has served as the musical curator of album projects by the likes of Kanye West and Q-Tip, and collaborated with Erykah Badu, Talib Kweli, Meshell Ndegeocello, Karriem Riggins, and Mos Def. Over the years, Robert has developed an outstanding ability to please the Wynton Marsalises of this world with the rather true school jazz of his Robert Glasper Trio; he equally satisfies the Detroit rap and Soulquarians aficionados, using the Robert Glasper Experiment as his playground to fool around with synthified soul and effects pedals, Dilla-isms, and vocoder versions of Radiohead and ’90s grunge classics.

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Roy Hargrove

When you get your big break from a trumpeter as renowned as Wynton Marsalis, you know that you’re dealing with formidable talent. So it is for Roy Hargrove, a horn blower who has taken the sound of hard bop to places that few could have imagined when he began his career in the late ’80s. Like many talented instrumentalists, Hargrove went to the Berklee College of Music in Boston. And like many talented instrumentalists, he soon gave it up to move to New York and enter the biz sooner rather than later. In addition to his many jazz recordings, Hargrove has worked on albums with celebrated soul musicians like Erykah Badu and D’Angelo. But it’s jazz that he’ll always come home to—and it’s where he’s won his greatest acclaim, including Grammys for his 1998 Afro-Cuban album Habana and 2002’s Directions in Music.

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Since the release of his acclaimed full-length debut, Stephen Bruner, aka Thundercat, has become a central pillar of the West Coast beat movement. As a bass player trained in jazz and classical, Stephen had already gained an impressive resume by collaborating with all-time greats such as Erykah Badu, Snoop Dogg, and Stanley Clarke before eventually catching the beat bug. Growing up in a family of drummers, Stephen quickly followed suit. At only 15, he backed the boy band No Curfew and toured Japan with soul legend Leon Ware. He also joined his brother in the rhythm section of funk-fuelled thrash metal legends Suicidal Tendencies. After years of crafting his own music as Thundercat, it still took some coaxing by collaborator and Brainfeeder head honcho Flying Lotus to get those swirling jazz melodies, heavy basslines, and fierce electronica productions into the world. The Golden Age Of Apocalypse, released in 2011, picked up right where FlyLo’s Cosmogramma left off, melding the astrality of Sun Ra with the impact of future bass. He comes to the Academy fresh from putting the finishing touches on his second Brainfeeder full length (again in collaboration with Flying Lotus), due to be released in July of this year.

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Vijay Iyer

Easily ranking among the most daring jazz composers and pianists of our time, Vijay Iyer has never formally studied his instrument. The scholarly trained mathematician and physicist, who holds a PhD from Berkeley, has nonetheless become one of the best known and adventuruos names contemporary jazz has on offer. Equipped with a set of skills to fit a wide array of genres, Iyer’s original compositions range from true school jazz to avant-garde, classical, and current popular stylings. Just take the visceral crossover appeal of his 2012 full-length effort Accelerando, which was (almost) earnestly dubbed “one of the best instrumental hip hop albums ever made” by New York magazine. A prolific leader and sideman, Iyer has performed with the likes of Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Roscoe Mitchell, avant-garde MC Mike Ladd, John Zorn, and Beat poet Amiri Baraka, all the while churning out albums on an almost yearly cycle since 1995.

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Jameszoo kicked off his career as a DJ opening for luminaries like Kode9 and Modeselektor in Holland. A committed crate digger and cognoscente of avant-garde jazz, he recently moved into production work for the acclaimed Kindred Spirits label and Rwina Records. His releases join the dots between influences like Hermeto Pascoal, Sun Ra, and the leftfield beat music of the LA and Amsterdam scenes, creating a sound that’s as colorful and forward-thinking as it is chaotic and experimental. He has remixed artists like Shlohmo and Soosh, collaborated with St. Louis singer Coultrain, and recently convinced legendary Brazilian guitarist Arthur Verocai to hit the studio for a few sessions for his forthcoming album. With ancient-to-future power moves like these already under his belt, it’s safe to say that this zookeeper is a unique breed of astral animal.

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