New Orleans’ experimental large ensemble, Skrontch (of Byron Asher) feat. James Singleton & Aurora Nealand

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Genre(s): experimental large ensemble, New Orleans storytelling

 

  • Skrontch Music is an ambitious recording by award-winning New Orleans-based composer and clarinetist/saxophonist Byron Asher. This five-movement, research-based suite for ten-piece ensemble explores the intertwined histories of New Orleans jazz and anti-Jim Crow activism during the early twentieth century.
  • “Skrontch Music looks to the past to move forward – an impressive work that is well-written and performed. Truly excellent and commendably ambitious.” – Benjamin Lyons, Valid Records, NOLA
  • A limited vinyl LP will help capture the historic element of this record.

  • Features some of the heavy-weights of New Orleans older generation like James Singleton, as well as younger lions on the scene including Aurora Nealand.
  • Most recent photo shoot has Asher alongside some of the most important locations in New Orleans and pays tribute to their importance in early jazz music: here.

 

Personnel: 

 

  • Byron Asher, clarinet and tenor saxophone, compositions
  • Ricardo Pascal, clarinet and tenor saxophone
  • Aurora Nealand, clarinet and alto saxophone
  • Reagan Mitchell, soprano and alto saxophones
  • Shaye Cohn, cornet
  • Emily Frederickson, trombone
  • Oscar Rossignoli, piano
  • Steve Glenn, sousaphone
  • James Singleton, upright bass
  • Paul Thibodeaux, drumset

 

Tracks/Lengths (quick listen):

 

    1. Blues Obligato
    2. Aural History
    3. Comité des Citoyens

 

 

  1. After this/that

 

 

Story: 

Skrontch Music is the ambitious debut recording by award-winning New Orleans-based composer and clarinetist/saxophonist Byron Asher. This five-movement, research-based suite for ten-piece ensemble explores the intertwined histories of New Orleans jazz and anti-Jim Crow activism during the early twentieth century. Skrontch Music juxtaposes contemporary composition with collective improvisation, archival recording sound collage, and excerpts from the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson U.S. Supreme Court ruling. A contemporary investigation into the early jazz tradition, Skrontch Music highlights that the development of the music was itself a form of resistance to the racist Jim Crow regime.

 

The generative seed for this project came in 2014 from Asher’s desire to more deeply understand the socio-political roots of the traditional jazz that he was regularly performing. Research began with frequent trips to the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University, where Asher combed through the oral history collection. Considering the archival findings in relationship to deep reading into the Reconstruction era, the rise of Jim Crow, and the attendant development of what scholar Clyde Woods terms “the blues epistemology” illuminated the underlying thesis of the project. Through an artist residency at Tulane University’s A Studio In The Woods in 2016, Asher drew upon this research to compose Skrontch Music. The composition was further informed by Asher concurrently conducting an oral history project with members of the elder generation of clarinetists working in New Orleans today, including Dr. Michael White and Charlie Gabriel of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

 

Bassist and improvised music elder James Singleton describes the contemporary music found on this album as a continuation of the tradition of those early jazz musicians. “People have to understand: when Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, and Louis Armstrong were making their music, it wasn’t traditional at all. It was radical, new, scary music, and I’m really thrilled that this piece continues that particular aspect of the tradition.”

 

To record this album, Asher was joined in the studio by a diverse array of New Orleans’ top improvisers, including Singleton (Astral Project, Nolatet), Aurora Nealand (Tim Berne, Monocle), Shaye Cohn (Tuba Skinny), Ricardo Pascal (Marcus Roberts, New Orleans Jazz Orchestra), Oscar Rossignoli (Extended, John Boutte), Steve Glenn (NOJO, Panorama Jazz Band), Emily Frederickson (NOJO), Paul Thibodeaux (Magnetic Ear, Royal Roses), and Reagan Mitchell (UNC School of the Arts). Justin Peake (Articulated Works) contributed additional post-production sound collage work.

 

Asher made an intentional decision to assemble a multiracial, inter-generational, and multi-gendered ensemble of instrumentalists. It’s a true cross-section of the current creative music community in New Orleans. Asher explains: “I knew that asking free improvisers to play with straight-ahead virtuosos, and for them in turn to make space for traditional players was maybe asking a lot, but the number one thing everyone had in common was the size of their ears and their openness to each others’ expression. On this recording, it’s as if the ensemble developed a collective language unique to this particular piece of music.

 

Blues Obligato opens the suite with the full ensemble collectively improvising alongside a collage of early jazz recordings, including pieces by King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Mamie Smith, and Bessie Smith. This chaotic first gesture brings the listener into the world of the piece, landing them on a contemporary, blues-tinged, avant-garde-leaning journey of collective ensemble work. There are two improvised duets in this movement led by Aurora Nealand’s Bechet-esque clarinet and the growl of Emily Frederickson’s trombone and rounded out by Shaye Cohn’s 1920s-era cornet sound and the dense chromaticism of Reagan Mitchell’s alto saxophone.

 

The words of legendary New Orleans clarinetists Alphonse Picou, Albert Nicholas and Barney Bigard weave throughout the second movement, Aural History. A sound collage constructed of excerpts of oral history interviews culled from the collection of the Hogan Jazz Archive, accompanies this track, which opens with a minimalist-inspired, Steve Reich-ian passage and transforms into a lush, Ellingtonian ballad. As a clarinetist himself, Asher has long been fascinated by the importance of that instrument to the development of New Orleans music and wanted to showcase those instrumentalists specifically in the piece.

 

Comité des Citoyens, the third movement, is named for the activist organization based in the 7th Ward of New Orleans whose act of civil disobedience led to the 1892 arrest of Homer Plessy. The angular up swing of this movement is intensified by text from the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court ruling, recited by members of the ensemble. All of the clarinetists quoted in the previous movement and many more were born and raised in the same neighborhood, and Asher himself lived there while writing Skrontch Music. He notes, “It’s a special place. There was something that was happening at the time that led to both political agitation and artistic excellence, and I wanted to address that duality.Fiery and virtuosic solos from tenor saxophonist Ricardo Pascal and pianist Oscar Rossignoli undergird this movement.

 

The final two movements, Elegy and After this/that, bleed from one into the next. First, there is a tone of reverence, an opportunity for the listener to digest the dense content of the first three movements. The written music slowly bleeds into collective improvisation by the full ensemble, which, in turn, fades into a solo piano ostinato that leads into the fifth movement. The melodic content of After this/that is built upon the ever-present foundation of that piano ostinato and is indebted to contemporary large ensemble writing in the spirit of Darcy James Argue. This movement also affords the most space for solo improvisation, including a sinewy clarinet solo by Asher himself, his only solo moment in the suite. Other solos include an explosive bowed statement by bassist Singleton, and explorations by Mitchell on soprano saxophone and Nealand on alto saxophone.

 

Skrontch Music borrows its name from a lesser-know swing era dance step, the Skrontch, which Duke Ellington featured in his show at the Cotton Club in the late 1930s. The lyrics to Duke’s 1938 recording of Skrontch instruct us: “Skrontch on the four beat/Skrontch then you repeat/Skrontch up on your toes/And then start to cover ground.” The emphasis on beat four propelled a dancer into the next measure of music, and like the step, Skrontch Music pauses in the here and now, looking back from where we came, and steps forward.

 

 

 

 

Credits:

  • Produced by Byron Asher, Scott Borne and Sinking City Records
  • Additional sound collage production by Justin Peake
  • Recorded and mixed by Rick Nelson, Marigny Studios, Winter 2018, New Orleans
  • Additional mixing by Paul Macdonald
  • Mastered by Kevin Blackler
  • Academic advisors Dr. Lydia Pelot-Hobbs and Dr. Sharlene Sinegal-DeCuir

 

Links:

 

Publicity / Press Contact:

Matthew Golombisky: [email protected]

iMessage, WhatsApp, FaceTime: +54-911-5828-9811

 

BYRON ASHER BIO

 

Byron Asher is a multi-instrumentalist, composer and improviser based in New Orleans.

Raised in Maryland, he has performed across Europe and the US. Festivals include the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and French Quarter Festival, the Montreux Jazz Festival, Switzerland, and Jazz a Vienne, France. He has also played shows and festivals in Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia and performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

As a composer, Byron has been an artist in residence at the MacDowell Colony (New Hampshire), A Studio In The Woods (New Orleans) and the Barn Arts Collective (Maine). He has been commissioned by the Marigny Opera Ballet (New Orleans) and funded by the Jazz And Heritage Foundation (New Orleans) and the Puffin Foundation (Teaneck, NJ). In 2011, he received a grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts (NYC) to present a new concert length jazz work, “Impermanence,” at the Axa In Action Festival in Prague, Czech Republic. His chamber works have received premieres from such groups as the Mivos Quartet (NYC), Contemporaneous (NYC), and the New Resonance Chamber Orchestra (NOLA).

Byron maintains an active performing schedule in New Orleans and around the US as a leader and sideman. His award-winning Skrontch Music project will release its debut recording in 2019 on New Orleans’ Sinking City Records. His collaboratively led trio, Nutria, performs weekly at Bacchanal Wine, a New Orleans hotspot for creative jazz music, and will release its third album in 2020. Byron has performed and collaborated with a diverse array of musicians, including James Singleton, Johnny Vidocovich, Gordon Grdina, Mike Gamble, Doug Belote, Adonis Rose, Charles Neville, Rick Margitza, Aurora Nealand, free feral, Jeff Albert, Justin Peake, and Mahmoud Chouki, among others.

 

Previous Press for ASHER

 

“There is a neat brilliance to saxophonist Byron Asher’s music.” – Anthony Dean-Harris, Nextbop.com

 

“The obvious stylistic comparison would be to Ornette Coleman with flavors of Dexter Gordon from Asher’s dark tenor tones, but that would be too simplistic. The true virtue of what is going on here is the lack of self-indulgence.” – Stacey Leigh Bridewell, Offbeat Magazine, NOLA

 

“There’s a clear strategic intelligence and inventiveness at work… a range of musical influences showing a substantial depth of artistic resourcefulness. Byron Asher’s large, generous tenor sax tone and melodic invention recall Sonny Rollins.” – Kevin Lynch, No Depression Magazine

 

Byron Asher C/V

 

Education

   

    M.M. University of New Orleans – Jazz Studies                        2015

– Saxophone instruction with Ed Petersen, Composition with Yotam Haber

B.A. Brown University                                    2008

 

Residencies/Grants/Commissions/ Selected Recordings, Performances, and Presentations

   

    2020 – Release of Meeting In Progress, by Nutria (co-leader), ears&eyes Records, Chicago/Buenos Aires,                 anticipated 02/2020

    2019 – Release of Skrontch Music recording, Sinking City Records, New Orleans, 10/2019

2019 – Release of High Fashion by Brad Webb Making Faces (sideman), Breakfast for Dinner Records,                 anticipated 10/2019

2019 – Tour with Nutria to Maine, performance at Barn Arts

2019 – Tour with Nutria to Texas, performance at Nextbop.com South By Southwest showcase

2019 – Nutria begins weekly residency at premiere creative jazz venue, Bacchanal Fine Wine, New Orleans

    2019 – Commission by Marigny Opera Ballet to compose Querelle, premiered January 2019

2018 – Premiere of Hinterland project (leader), Sidebar, New Orleans, composed at MacDowell Colony

2018 – MacDowell Downtown lecture about Skrontch Music, my work and process, Peterborough, NH

2018 – MacDowell Colony Fellow

2018 – Composition residency at Barn Arts, Bass Harbor, ME

2018 – Performance with James Singleton Quintet featuring Johnny Vidocovich, Snug Harbor, New Orleans

2018 – Release of 100% Humidity by Basher (leader), Breakfast for Dinner Records, New Orleans

2018 – Release of Call To The Air by Nutria, Breakfast for Dinner Records, New Orleans

2018 – Release of 10,000 Starry Nights by Matt Sakakeeny and Lonely Birds (sideman), New Orleans

2018 – Grant from Puffin Foundation, Teaneck, NJ, to fund upcoming Skrontch Music recording

2018 – Invited guest on Tripod with Laine Kaplan-Levinson, WWNO radio

2018 – Reprise performance with Nutria and Marigny Opera Ballet of Wary Heat, Marigny Opera House

2018 – Tour with Panorama Jazz Band to Maryland and Pennsylvania

2017 – Invited guest on Inside The Arts with Diane Mack, WWNO radio, to talk about Skrontch Music

2017 – Grant from New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation to fund Skrontch Music recording

2017 – Performance with Nutria on the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center, Washington, DC

2017 – Premiere of Skrontch Music at Xavier University, produced by A Studio In The Woods, New Orleans

2017 – Commission, as Nutria, by Marigny Opera Ballet to compose Wary Heat, premiered February 2017

2016 – Composition residency at A Studio In The Woods, New Orleans

2016 – Performance with Los Po-boy-citos on Acura Stage (main) of New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

2016 – Performances with songwriter Sarah Quintana for new album release, Miss River, at Preservation                 Hall, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

2015 – Receipt of M.M. degree, jazz studies, from the University of New Orleans

2015 – Premiere of Up For Air for string quartet by award-winning Mivos Quartet, Tulane University

2015 – Release of Make A Tadpole Holler Whale by Smoking Time Jazz Club (sideman), nominated Best                 Traditional Jazz Album, Offbeat Magazine Best of the Beat awards

2015 – Commission by Cripple Creek Theatre Company to compose a new score for children’s musical                   Revolt of the Beavers, premiered 03/2015

2015 – Performance of composition for film Ghosts Before Breakfast (Hans Richter) by award-winning new                 music ensemble Contemporaneous

2013 – Composition residency at Barn Arts, Bass Harbor, ME

2011 – Premiere of jazz suite Impermanence by Itinerant Orchestra, Axa In Action Festival, Prague, CZ

2011 – Emergency Grant from Foundation for Contemporary Art, NYC to fund Impermanence

 

Work

 

University of New Orleans – Adjunct instructor                    2019-present

    – Courses taught include MUS 1100 Music Fundamentals and MUS 2103 Musicianship

 

Freelance musician – Bb and Bass Clarinets, Tenor and Alto Saxophones    2004 – present

– New Orleans, 2011 – present; Prague, Czech Republic, 2008 – 2011; Providence, RI, 2004 – 2008

– Performances across the United States and internationally, including at the Kennedy Center

– International festivals include Montreux Jazz Festival, Switzerland; Jazz a Vienne, France;

Karlovy Vary Jazz Festival, Czech Republic

– Local festivals and venues include Jazz & Heritage Festival, French Quarter Festival, Congo Square             Festival, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans Jazz Museum

 

Composer                                        2008 – present

– Composer of original jazz and chamber works for various projects, including

contemporary jazz projects Skrontch Music (leader), Nutria (co-leader), and Basher (leader)

– Chamber works performed by award-winning ensembles Mivos Quartet (NYC),

Contemporaneous (NYC), New Resonance Chamber Orchestra (NOLA)

(Complete list of work available)

 

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