Album: Leftover Beats From The Edges Of Time (Street Date September 24, 2021 on ESP-Disk’)
Featuring Tyshawn Sorey, Anna Webber
Release Show: Roulette, October 5, 2021
Leftover Beats From The Edges Of Time is the latest release from polymath and musical maximalist Gabriel Zucker. A sprawling and ambitious achievement, this 90-minute record defies categorization or synopsis, featuring complex mixed-meter jazz, virtuosic chamber music, electronic soundscapes, and indie art rock — performed with emotion and urgency by Zucker’s virtuoso large ensemble The Delegation.
Despite its stylistic variety, Leftover Beats musically coheres as a single, carefully crafted composition, portions of which were premiered at Carnegie Hall and Roulette in 2017 and 2019. Written primarily between 2015 and 2018, during several stints Zucker spent living and performing in England and throughout Europe, the record reckons with time, and with the competing impulses of a backwards-looking nostalgia and a forwards-looking futurist belief in progress. “It’s something Americans have been talking about for generations, but the age and gravity of the so-called Old World is always so striking and so palpable,” says Zucker. “As a New Yorker, you find yourself among these ancient buildings in the old capitals of Europe, struck by their beauty, and yet always missing New York’s dynamism.”
Zucker’s classical training shines as he effortlessly recycles six primary leitmotifs in seemingly endless permutations. Just moments after we first hear the titular ‘Leftover Beats’ melody in the first movement, “Requiem I: Leftover Beats,” it shows up again as a fragmented, perpetual-motion texture in the horns in “Such Closer I” — a sign of the iterations to come. Each movement is a collage of half-familiar characters, in ceaseless organic development.
The work is split into four sections of three movements each. The section names — “Past,” “Autumn 2016,” “Present,” “Future” — tell us we are moving forward in time, but the eclectic journey is anything but linear or predictable. The “Past” is manic and alive, culminating in the contrapuntal chamber-music romanticism of “How To Keep, Forever.” “Autumn 2016” opens with “Someone to Watch You,” which reaches its grand climax in a cycle of irrational meters that the band renders warm and sweet. But the section focuses mainly on November. “This notion that progress isn’t linear and forwards motion can be illusory played out so blatantly and painfully on November 8 — right as I was in the middle of composing,” Zucker says. The night of the election is grotesquely illustrated at the end of the record’s sixth track, “Confidence White.”
The “Present” that comes next feels subdued and chastened in its aftermath, with the James-Blake-inflected synth pop of “Songbird” and the hyper-produced prog jazz stylings of “Shallow Times.” And the “Future” is a dreamscape of synthesizer and sound collage nightmares punctuated by a Mahler-esque climax in “Requiem III,” before we close on Zucker’s solo piano in “How to Know, Forever,” drifting off into the sands of time.
Part of the structural conflict of Leftover Beats is built on a dialogue between two different ensembles: Several movements are performed by a chamber ensemble of Zucker, Mariel Roberts (cello), Joanna Mattrey (viola), Kate Gentile (drums), Yuma Uesaka (clarinet), and Nolan Tsang (trumpet), while the rest feature a larger ensemble of horns, rhythm section, and voices. More firmly rooted in jazz, this latter ensemble prominently features the playing of Adam O’Farrill on trumpet and Anna Webber on tenor saxophone.
The live bands were tracked in 2017 and 2019, but Zucker didn’t fully return to the recordings until the pandemic year, which he spent living nomadically in the desert of New Mexico. Far from other musicians and from the city, he turned to the tools at hand, weaving a dizzying array of synthesizers, samples, field recordings, and effects over the raw performances — disorienting waves of sound that constantly threaten to and sometimes entirely overwhelm the instrumentalists and singers. Many artists have Zucker’s skill and creativity as composers, performers, or producers — but few have such simultaneous ambition in all three.
Yet through all of the grandiose themes and overwhelming sounds, Leftover Beats is intensely personal and vulnerable — a record of confessional songs. Zucker’s rich and nuanced lyrics range from the esoteric to the direct, circling around short, emotional, aphoristic appeals repeated like mantras. The record’s first half features the effortless and beautiful vocals of Artemisz Polonyi and Lorena Del Mar, but as the album progresses the lyrics are increasingly sung by Zucker himself, in an intimate baritone over the chaos.
Leftover Beats is the second studio album with The Delegation, and Zucker’s fifth overall. It follows 2016’s Evergreen (Canceled World) with the same ensemble, which received 4.5 stars in Downbeat; 2018’s Weighting with a riveting quartet featuring Tyshawn Sorey, which won Best Debut in the New York City Jazz Record and 4.5 stars in All About Jazz; and two records with indie art rock band underorder, in 2017 and 2020.
MORE ABOUT GABRIEL ZUCKER
“Gabriel Zucker is a pianist, composer, and multi-instrumentalist from New York, whose work combines maximalist compositions with the progressive improvisation of New York’s creative music scene. His music has received two ASCAP composition awards, and has been praised in Downbeat (4.5 stars), All About Jazz (4.5 stars), Stereogum, Jazzwise, and the New York City Jazz Record. A Yale graduate and Rhodes Scholar, Zucker has performed throughout New York at such venues as Carnegie Hall, The Stone, Roulette, and the Jazz Gallery, as well as in 22 countries around the world.
Zucker’s groundbreaking large ensemble, the indie jazz orchestra The Delegation, was born at the Banff Jazz and Creative Music Workshop. The group’s debut record, a twelve-movement composition titled Evergreen (Canceled World), was supported by an American Composers Forum JFund grant and released in October 2016 on ESP-Disk’ to critical acclaim. Zucker’s small-ensemble touring incarnations of The Delegation have performed in over a dozen countries.
Zucker maintains a prolific activity with a range of other projects. In November 2018, ESP-Disk’ released Zucker’s third studio record, Weighting, an extended composition inspired by Rachel Kushner’s novel The Flamethrowers, featuring Tyshawn Sorey, Adam O’Farrill, and Eric Trudel. The record was widely praised, recognized as a Debut of the Year by the New York City Jazz Record, listed among the Best of 2018 by All About Jazz, and featured as a runner-up in Stereogum’s Best Jazz of 2018 list. Zucker and Sorey collaborated again in 2018 with the premiere of Zucker’s new duo New York, USA, 2018 at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Hall. Zucker’s avant indie band underorder released its critically acclaimed sophomore record in parts over the course of 2019 and 2020. He also performs regularly as a concert pianist focusing on twentieth century repertoire. His 2018 performance of Frederic Rzewski’s Squares was listed among the New York Classical Review’s best performances of the year, and his 2019 performance of Messiaen’s Vingt Regards Sur L’Enfant Jesus also drew praise. Before the pandemic, Zucker was a manager and curator of the prominent New York experimental venue Spectrum.
A committed social activist in addition to a musician, Zucker is currently Associate Policy Director for the tax benefits program at Code for America. He previously served as Director of Research at the progressive turnout organization VoteTripling.org; worked on homelessness and healthcare policy as a member of the U.S. Digital Service; and co-led the successful campaign to end veteran homelessness in Connecticut. He graduated summa cum laude from Yale in 2012, where he double majored in Ethics, Politics, & Economics and Music, and he holds a Masters in Applied Statistics from Oxford, where his research focused on applications of machine learning to social policy administration.
Album: Weighting Due (Street Date November 16th on ESP-Disk’)
Featuring Tyshawn Sorey, Adam O’Farrill, Eric Trudel
Release Show: The Jazz Gallery, November 15th
Pianist, composer, and multi-instrumentalist Gabriel Zucker is quickly becoming one of the most prominent voices in the New York avant-garde/creative music scene. A Yale graduate and Rhodes scholar, Zucker’s maximalist compositions and intense, virtuosic playing have earned him recognition in jazz and new music circles alike. His prior release Evergreen (Canceled World) (2016), recorded with his singular and imaginative indie jazz orchestra, TheDelegation, was awarded 4.5 stars in Downbeat magazine, which described it as “a fascinating form of sonic installation blending wild improvisation, classical strings, disciplined unison passages and untrammeled solo excursions.” In his prolific career, Zucker has won awards from ASCAP and the American Composers Forum and has performed in 18 countries, in contexts ranging from his rock-jazz touring duo No Reference For Taste, to his evocative indie band underorder, to his performances as a solo pianist with a focus on 20th century repertoire.
With the release of Weighting, his fourth studio album and his second on ESP-Disk‘, Zucker firmly solidifies himself as of the most adventurous and inventive voices in contemporary music. An extended composition in eight movements, Weighting was written over a six-month period in 2014-2015. At the composition’s heart are a series of excerpts taken from Rachel Kushner’s novel The Flamethrowers, set primarily in the 1970s New York art scene; while the composition has no explicit program, the epigraphs’ explorations of identity, relationships, and art elucidate the emotional vulnerability of the music.
In its architecture and conception, Weighting is composed firmly in the European classical music tradition, drawing especially on Zucker’s early- and mid-twentieth century influences as Olivier Messiaen and Charles Ives. The composition is built on three principal themes — reflected in the piece’s three main sections and drawn from epigraphs from Kushner’s text — which are intricately explored over the work’s nuanced, hour-long structure. But, like Zucker’s previous work, Weighting is realized in a broadly jazz context, successfully straddling the line between thorough composition and free improvisation, and defying attempts to neatly categorize it. “The piece is composed: it has an identity, a form, content; many parts of it are even entirely notated. But the musical surface is often left open for improvisation, in directions that I know the players I’ve chosen will be able to run. This, to me, is how you truly take advantage of the personalities of your musicians, and how you create an alive, dynamic performance,” said Zucker. Attentive listeners can also catch glimpses of Zucker’s indie rock inspirations, with numerous, fleeting quotations of contemporary singer-songwriters.
Joining Zucker are his bandmates from The Delegation: trumpeter Adam O’Farrill and saxophonist Eric Trudel. From bombastic growling peaks to plaintive melodic whimpers, O’Farrill and Trudel realize an outstanding dynamic emotional range in their playing that perfectly serves Zucker’s complex composition. The addition of legendary drummer Tyshawn Sorey, whom Zucker met at the 2013 Banff Jazz and Creative Music Workshop, makes Weighting a true tour-de-force. (Weighting was Zucker and Sorey’s first collaboration; their second, on Zucker’s composition New York, USA, 2018, premiered in April at Carnegie Hall.) Sorey realizes the rhythmic complexity of Zucker’s writing with heart, originality, and excitement, building expansive orchestral textures that showcase his distinctive musical personality.
Weighting premiered in 2015 at Spectrum, a prominent experimental music venue where Zucker is also a manager and curator. The band recorded the piece the following fall, in a single, intense, four-hour evening session at Oktaven Audio in Mount Vernon. “We went pretty hard; I vividly remember the last take of the night, a full 35-minute take of Stones at about 11pm, at the end of which Adam just sort of collapsed onto the floor of the studio for several minutes,” said Zucker.
The recorded version of Weighting, produced by Zucker, showcases not just the band’s raw virtuosity, but also the same innovative post-production that has become a hallmark of Zucker’s studio albums. Working with longtime collaborator Chris Connors, Zucker uses aggressive sonic treatments to elucidate the piece’s sharp twists and turns, throwing the music’s form into sharp relief and creating a record that is more than just a document of the live performance. The expressive production is present from the very first phrase of the record, as O’Farrill and Trudel’s melodies drift away from and back to the listener, and grows more immersive over the course of the record, culminating in the saturated-tape soundscape pervading the overwhelming first half of “the stones in my pockets,” the record’s finale.
The production underscores that, despite its complexity, virtuosity, and ambition, Weighting is ultimately deeply human, immediate music, as much for scholars as for everyday listeners. “Like most of my work, Weighting is long, and not exactly a light listening experience,” said Zucker. “But, at its best, it should draw you in to move at the same speed it does.”
Cover art by Gaya Feldheim Schorr
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"A captivating album that reveals more of its charms with each encounter." Read the full review here.
"Weighting ignites sparks of creativity with a top-end subterranean New York Quartet, featuring Tyshawn Sorey, and Adam O'Farrill." Read the full review here.
THE VINYL DISTRICT
"Zucker’s compositional fortitude never gets misplaced, and while there are certainly passages that are aptly pegged as abstract, Weighting isn’t an improv free-for-all." Read the full review here.
POINT OF DEPARTURE
"Unimpeded by traditional notions of Western harmonic theory, Weighting expertly balances avant-garde abstraction with neoclassical formalism, reflecting a committed artistry of tempestuous romanticism. Zucker’s writing is knotty and unconventional, symbolically acknowledging the loft jazz of the ‘70s without directly emulating it." Read the full review here.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"It's a magical recording, and one that should garner the heightened attention that Zucker and his colleagues rightly deserve." Read the full 4.5 star review here.
"Zucker's advanced compositional work is knotty, unpredictable, and utterly satisfying. Spinning with freshness and maturity, Weighting is put forward with a sterling avant-garde posture that reflects the artistry and commitment of the musicians involved." Read the full review here.
"You can hear the crashing energy of rock, the reeling and wrenching power of Wadada Leo Smith’s free improvising, and the large-scale harmonic vision of Wayne Shorter." Read the full interview here.
AVANT MUSIC NEWS
"...the album has no shortage of appeal. This one should be on everybody’s best of 2018 list." Read the full review here.
"The album’s eight tracks are combined into three suites, each surging and receding, slamming and roaring before descending into a keening wail from the horns or a solo piano passage." Read the full review here.
MUSICAL MEMOIRS BLOG
"As a multi-instrumentalist and deep thinker, Zucker has become one of the prominent voices on the New York avant-garde scene." Read the full review here.
"Drummer Tyshawn Sorey, trumpeter Adam O'Farrill, and saxophonist Eric Trudel perform pianist Gabriel Zucker's compositions with an at times volcanic intensity, though they also play with nuance and sensitivity when the material calls for it..." Read the full review here.
"...a beautifully crafted and brilliantly creative piece of multimedia art showcasing a play on light and shadow that graciously moves to the rhythm of the music." Check out the full video premiere here.
"Zucker’s approach to the keyboard reminds me of free jazz’s most aggressive players, like Dave Burrell, but a lot of this music is extremely gentle and beautiful, too." Read the full review here.
"Lots of emotion and energy begging for resolution." Read the full review here.