On the eve of the 2020 Presidential Election, composer Darius Jones presents his newest work, inspired by and sharing a title with James Baldwin’s essay “We Can Change the Country.” Jones is joined by the ensemble Freedom Time, which brings together an innovative and bright group of musicians devoted to justice and change-making.
In this work, Jones creates a compositional environment where a multiverse of boxes and zones carries the sonic textural language of varying perspectives. The instrumentation for the piece is ten voices, violin, bass, banjo, fife, drums, conductor, and film. Everyone is wearing masks, the vocalists are placed in social distancing circles, the musicians are spread six to twelve feet apart from one another, and a film beams light and images on the performers and the space. We Can Change the Country creates an environment of sensory overload as an attempt to reflect the mania-by-design of these past four years.
“I wanted to create a piece that reflects the chaos that I feel our society is in and how we can’t seem to find balance. I’m hoping through witnessing and experiencing art that embodies this, that maybe it helps us find ideas and ways to combat what we are experiencing.”
We Can Change the Country will be presented virtually and available for free on a variety of streaming platforms. Roulette’s theater is currently closed for public performances as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the safety measures that Roulette has put in place to keep staff, artists, and the public safe.
Photos: Darius Jones
(From left to right) Fay Victor, Sara Serpa, Amanda Ekery, Amirtha Kidambi, Aviva Jaye , Cooper-Moore, Gelsey Bell, Darcy James Argue, Stephanie Lamprea, Gerald Cleaver, Jean Carla Rodea, Tanya Kalmanovitch, Laura Sofia Perez, Charlotte Mundy, Yoon Sun Choi, Sean Conley
Jean Carla Rodea
Yoon Sun Choi
Tanya Kalmanovitch: Violin
Sean Conly: Bass
Gerald Cleaver: Drums
Darcy James Argue
Laura Sofia Perez: Filmmaker
Darius Jones has created a recognizable voice as a critically acclaimed saxophonist and composer by embracing individuality and innovation in the tradition of African-American music. Jones has been awarded the Van Lier Fellowship, Jerome Foundation Commission, Jerome Artist-in-Residence at Roulette, French-American Jazz Exchange Award, and, in 2019, the Fromm Music Foundation commission at Harvard University. Jones has released a string of diverse recordings featuring music and images evocative of Black Futurism. His work as a new music composer for voice culminated in a major debut performance at Carnegie Hall in 2014. Jones has collaborated with artists including Gerald Cleaver, Oliver Lake, William Parker, Andrew Cyrille, Craig Taborn, Wet Ink Ensemble, Jason Moran, Trevor Dunn, Dave Burrell, Eric Revis, Matthew Shipp, Marshall Allen, Nasheet Waits, Branford Marsalis, Travis Laplante, Fay Victor, Cooper-Moore, Matana Roberts, JD Allen, Matthew Shipp, Nicole Mitchell, Georgia Ann Muldrow, and many more. The New York Times named Jones among the Best Live Jazz Performances of 2017 for his Vision Festival performance with Farmers by Nature. In 2018, Darius premiered across the United States a major new composition entitled LawNOrder, a dramatic commentary on social justice and American politics. Jones’ music is a confrontation against apathy and ego, hoping to inspire authenticity that compels us to be better humans.
Brooklyn, NY based sound artist/composer Fay Victor hones a unique vision for the vocalist’s role in jazz and improvised music. Her ‘everything is everything’ aesthetic permeates her work in performance where a song leads to free improvisation and back again. Victor’s released ten critically acclaimed albums as a leader, performed with luminaries such as Randy Weston, Archie Schepp, Gary Bartz, Nicole Mitchell, Marc Ribot, Misha Mengelberg and Tyshawn Sorey. Victor’s latest release is B ARN SONGS (Northern Spy, 2019) w ith her Chamber Music Trio featuring Marika Hughes (cello) and Darius Jones (alto saxophone) has received great reviews. Her eleventh release as a leader, “WE’VE HAD ENOUGH!” with her improvising quartet SoundNoiseFUNK Fay is set for release in 2020 on ESP-Disk. Victor is currently on the faculty of the New School of Jazz & Contemporary Music. Learn more about Fay Victor at www.fayvictor.com
Amirtha Kidambi is invested in the creation and performance of subversive music, from free improvisation and avant-jazz, to experimental bands and new music. She is an educator, activist and organizer, informed by anti-racism, decolonization and anti-capitalism. As a bandleader, she is the creative force behind Elder Ones and has received critical praise from the New York Times, Pitchfork, Downbeat and WIRE magazine. Kidambi topped the categories of “Rising Star Vocalist”, “Rising Star Composer” and “Rising Star Jazz Group” in the Downbeat Critics Poll for 2019. She is active in an improvising duo with electronic musician Lea Bertucci, in a kinetic interaction with reel-to-reel tape machine two albums on Astral Spirits. Kidambi is a key collaborator in Mary Halvorson’s latest sextet Code Girl, the duo Angels & Demons with Darius Jones and in various collaborations with William Parker and has worked with Muhal Richard Abrams and Robert Ashley. She has performed and presented her music in the U.S. and internationally at Carnegie Hall, The Kitchen, Whitney Museum, EMPAC, Berlin Jazzfest and various DIY/punk spaces. Kidambi has received grants from the Jerome Foundation, Asian Cultural Council and artist residencies at EMPAC, Roulette, Pioneer Works and Bucareli 69 in Mexico City.
Jean Carla Rodea (b in Mexico City) is an interdisciplinary artist and educator currently based in Brooklyn, NY. Her work involves a variety of disciplines and mediums such as music, sound, poetry, vocal performance and performance art, photography, video, movement, and sculpture. Her artistic practice deals with spaces and instances where socio-political and cultural constructs are rendered visible through multimedia installations and performance. Jean Carla is dedicated to perform a plethora of music in a variety of settings ––from solo to large ensembles. She has performed and recorded with William Parker, Darius Jones’ vocal quartet Elizabeth-Caroline Unit, Gerald Cleaver’s Uncle June, Anthony Braxton’s Syntactical Ghost Trance Music Choir, Cecilia Lopez’s Machinic Fantasies, and Talibam!. In addition to this, she leads her own multimedia projects; Looking for Marina, and Azares. Jean Carla has worked with Amirtha Kidambi, Patricia Nicholson, Jo Wood Brown, Rachel Bersen, Anastasia Clarke, Taylor Ho-Bynum, Joe Morris, Stephen Haynes, Matt Mottel, etc. She has performed extensively and shown work at Roulette Intermedium, Carnegie Hall, BRIC, Knockdown Center, Judson Church, Danspace, Center for Performance Research, Panoply Lab, Parallel, Rio ll Gallery, The Clemente, BRAC, WAAM, El Museo de Los Sures, Casul, The Graduate Center, to mention a few.
Lisbon, Portugal native Sara Serpa is a vocalist-composer and improviser who implements a unique instrumental approach to her vocal style. Recognized for her distinctive wordless singing, Serpa has been immersed in the field of jazz, improvised and experimental music since first arriving in New York in 2008. Described by the New York Times as “a singer of silvery poise and cosmopolitan outlook,” Serpa started her career with jazz luminaries such as Grammy-nominated pianist Danilo Perez, and Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow pianist Ran Blake. As a leader, she has produced and released nine albums; the latest being Recognition, an interdisciplinary project that combines film with live music, in collaboration with Zeena Parkins (harp), Mark Turner ( saxophone) and David Virelles (piano). Sara has performed with John Zorn, Nicole Mitchell, Ingrid Laubrock, Erik Friedlander, André Matos, Okkyung Lee, Guillermo Klein, Linda May Han Oh, Kris Davis, among many others. Serpa was voted #1 Rising Star – Female Vocalist 2019 by the DownBeat Magazine Critics Poll, and she currently teaches at The New School and at New Jersey City University.
Aviva Jaye is a multi-disciplinary performing artist working primarily in music, wielding voice, piano, harp, guitar + ukulele. Her interdisciplinary work includes theatre, dance, composition + poetry. Aviva currently focuses on performative projects that highlight empathy, self-awareness + social justice. Recent features include Oracular Recall the play (actor); LORDES the play (composer); premiere composition with Brooklyn Youth Chorus at Kings Theatre; World Premiere by Nic Kay: [GET WELL SOON] you black + bluised (music); “Four Questions”, a Pride production at LaMama Theatre (music); featured musician at the Civic Salon series at The Public and Spring 2018 Artist-In-Residence program at Guildhall in East Hampton (performance art).
Vocalist and composer Amanda Ekery weaves her experience in underground rock, improvisatory creative music, research, and jazz into her compositions, workshops, and community-based performances. Amanda’s compositions have been featured at the Kennedy Center and the Panama Jazz Festival, and have earned her grants from New Music USA and Chamber Music America. Amanda’s recent album “Keys With No Purpose,” received praise in Downbeat Magazine, features an 11-piece ensemble, and earned her the St. Botolph Club Foundation Artist Award.
As a researcher, Amanda has been invited to speak at the International Vocal Jazz Conference in Helsinki Finland 2017, International Women in Music Leadership Conference in London 2019, Jazz Congress at Lincoln Center 2019, and the Chamber Music America Conference 2018.
Amanda is also the founder of El Paso Jazz Girls, a non-profit organization committed to education equity for young female musicians.
Colombian-American soprano Stephanie Lamprea is an architect of new sounds and expressions as a performer, recitalist, curator and improviser, specializing in contemporary classical repertoire. Trained as an operatic coloratura, Stephanie uses her voice as a mechanism of avant-garde performance art, creating “maniacal shifts of vocal production and character… like an icepick through the skull” (Jason Eckardt). Her work has been described as “mercurial” by I Care If You Listen, and she “sings so expressively and slowly with ever louder and higher-pitched voice, that the inclined listener [has] shivers down their back and tension flows into the last row.” (Halberstadt.de) She has received awards from the St. Botolph Club Foundation, John Cage Orgel Stiftung and Puffin Foundation. She has performed as a soloist at Roulette Intermedium, National Sawdust, Miller Theater at Columbia University, the Slipper Room, Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), and the Re:Sound Festival. Stephanie was a featured TEDx Speaker for 2019 TEDxWaltham.
Gelsey Bell is a singer, songwriter, and scholar. She has been praised by the New York Times as “one of New York’s most adventurous musicians.” She is a Resident Artist at the HERE Arts Center, has been both a Resident and Commissioned Artist at Roulette, and received a Foundation for Contemporary Arts award for music/sound. She is a core member of thingNY, Varispeed, and the Chutneys. Recent works include the sound walk, Cairns, for Green-Wood Cemetery (available through bandcamp); SubtracTTTTTTTTT and A Series of Landscapes, made with thingNY for live online performance; and shuffleyamamba, created with Yasuko Yokoshi. She has released multiple recordings including Home (the Chutneys), This is Not a Land of Kings, and Empty Words (Varispeed). Performance highlights also include Dave Malloy’s Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812 (Broadway) and Ghost Quartet, Robert Ashley’s Improvement and Crash, and Kate Soper’s Here Be Sirens. www.gelseybell.com
Soprano Charlotte Mundy specializes in music that is new, daring and sublime. She has been called a “daredevil with an unbreakable spine” (SF Classical Voice). Recent performances include George Benjamin’s one-act opera Into the Little Hill at the 92nd Street Y and a set of music for voice and electronics presented by New York Festival of Song, described as “an oasis of radiant beauty” by the New York Times. She acted and sang in A Star Has Burnt My Eye at the BAM Next Wave Festival and The Apartment at Abrons Arts Center. In fall 2020, Mundy was a resident artist at Harvestworks House on Governor’s Island developing her surround sound/light/wind/smell installation, Light as a Feather. She is a member of TAK ensemble and Ekmeles vocal ensemble. Learn more at charlottemundy.com.
Yoon Sun Choi has spent more than two decades capturing listeners with her uncompromising, freewheeling and beautiful style and the breadth of her musical vision. A Korean-Canadian improvising vocalist and pianist, Choi has been based in New York City since 2000. Her main musical projects are her piano trio Owls At Night with violinist Dana Lyn and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza, her longtime collaborative duo with pianist Jacob Sacks and her solo work. Choi has performed and collaborated with renown artists such as Jane Ira Bloom, Samir Chatterjee, Steve Coleman, Mark Dresser, Mark Elias, Gerry Hemmingway, Darius Jones, D.D. Jackson, Oliver Lake, Mat Maneri, Ben Monder, the Tri-Centric Orchestra, Sarah Weaver, Kenny Werner and Kenny Wheeler. She has performed in some of the finest concert houses and music venues including The Blue Note, Birdland, The Stone, Roulette, The River Theater, Roy Thompson Hall and Carnegie Hall. Choi received a BMus in classical piano and composition at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario and a BMus in voice and jazz performance at the University of Toronto. She studied voice with Thomas Schilling and piano with the late Sofia Rosoff.
Drummer Gerald Cleaver, born May 4, 1963 and raised in Detroit, is a product of the city’s rich music tradition. Inspired by his father, drummer John Cleaver, he began playing the drums at an early age. He also played violin in elementary school and trumpet in junior high school and high school. He gained early invaluable experience with Detroit jazz masters Ali Muhammad Jackson, Lamont Hamilton, Earl Van Riper, and Pancho Hagood. While attending the University of Michigan as a music education major, he was awarded a Jazz Study Grant, from the National Endowment for the Arts, to study with drummer Victor Lewis. He graduated in 1992 and began teaching in Detroit where he worked with Rodney Whitaker, A. Spencer Barefield, Marcus Belgrave, Donald Walden, Wendell Harrison, and with visiting musicians Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Barry Harris, Kenny Burrell, Frank Foster, Cecil Bridgewater, Ray Bryant, Eddie Harris, Dennis Rowland, Howard Johnson, Diana Krall, and Don Byron. In 1995 he accepted an appointment as assistant professor of Jazz Studies at the University of Michigan, and in 1998 also joined the jazz faculty at Michigan State University. He moved to New York in 2002.
Sean Conly is a bassist (electric/contrabass) and composer whose love and affection for a huge spectrum of the world’s musics have made him an extremely versatile performer. As a player and a writer, Sean is constantly looking for ways to mix the traditional with the new, in an never ending journey to mix melody harmony rhythm and sound into a unique artistic voice. Sean is also an in demand Teacher. He has given clinics on four continents and since 2009 has been on the faculty of The Collective School of Music (thecollective.edu). In 2016 He spent two weeks doing clinics for the Collective . In May 2017 he was honored to be chosen as a Jazz Master in The AlaadeenJazz Master/Apprentice program (AMAP) giving him a chance to impart some of his experience to a younger musician. The Program is geared to give a young musician some of the tools to help them move forward and to teach them the sort of Things that you don’t learn in traditional educational settings, i.e. the way Musicians used to learn before the advent of structured Jazz education like is common in universities today.
Cooper-Moore is a general practitioner of the Art of Music. He resides in East Harlem, New York City with his wife, Doreen Coghlan.
Tanya Kalmanovitch is a Canadian violist, ethnomusicologist, and author known for her breadth of inquiry and restless sense of adventure. Trained at the Juilliard School, her pioneering work as a violist in jazz and improvised music has been profiled in Jazz Times, DownBeat, and the New York Times. She is an Associate Professor at Mannes College at The New School in New York, and faculty at the New England Conservatory in Boston. Her uncommonly diverse interests converge in the fields of improvisation, social entrepreneurship, and social action with projects that explore the provocative cultural geography of locations around the world. Her work on Tar Sands Songbook, a solo performance about coming of age in Alberta’s oil industry, is the recipient of a 2020 MAP Fund award, and was recognized by her nomination to the Grist 50 Fixers, a select group of innovators with solutions to climate change. Born in Fort McMurray, Alberta, she now lives in Brooklyn, New York.
“For a wholly original take on big band’s past, present and future, look to Darcy James Argue” — so says Newsweek’s Seth Colter Walls. The Vancouver-born, Brooklyn-based composer and bandleader has toured nationally and internationally with his 18-piece ensemble, Secret Society, garnering countless awards and nominations and reimagining what a 21st-century big band can sound like. “It’s maximalist music of impressive complexity and immense entertainment value, in your face and then in your head” writes Richard Gehr in the Village Voice. Argue made his mark with his critically acclaimed 2009 debut Infernal Machines. 2013 saw the release of Brooklyn Babylon, which, like Infernal Machines before it, earned the group nominations for both GRAMMY and JUNO Awards. His most recent recording, Real Enemies, released in the fall of 2016, earned a third consecutive GRAMMY nomination and has been praised as “wildly discursive, twitchily allusive, a work of furious ambition… deeply in tune with our present moment” by The New York Times’ Nate Chinen.
Laura Sofía Pérez is an interdisciplinary artist who works in video, installation, sound, and performance. She received her MFA in Film/Video from California Institute of the Arts. Exhibitions include “WAVEFORM” (Curated by CultureHub LA), Shatto Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (2019), “Homeless” (Curated by Void Projects), Miami, FL (2017), “Without a Song,” Fundación ACE, Buenos Aires, Argentina (2014), and “WIMMIN,” Glasshouse, Brooklyn, NY (2013). Residencies include SUB30, Fundación ACE, Buenos Aires, Argentina (2014), La Práctica, Beta-Local, San Juan, Puerto Rico (2019), and BAiR Emerging, Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Banff, Canada (2020). This year she participated in the inaugural AfA Masterclass Program with Terike Haapoja.
Darius Jones: We Can Change the Country was commissioned by Roulette and made possible with funds from the New York State Council on the Arts and New Music USA.