Pianist Javier Red was in his mid-40s and had been a working musician for years, both in his native Mexico and in the United States, when he arrived at a musical crossroads.
It happened at a workshop in 2015 with saxophonist and composer Steve Coleman at the University of Chicago. “I told Steve that I’ve got two options. I can deny everything that I saw there and keep my music flowing in a comfortable way, or I can accept that what Steve was saying is a completely new and different conception of music,” he remembered. “I said, ‘Man, what I’m losing? Nothing!’ And I decided to go that way.”
He’s still going that way on a musical and life journey that will bring Red and his Chicago quartet Imagery Converter to BOP STOP Thursday for a New Ghosts concert that will have meaning well beyond music.
Life & Umbrella (Desafio Candente Records), the new release by Imagery Converter, reflects some of the musical innovations pioneered by Coleman. Yet the recording is far from a theoretical exercise.
Red and his wife have an autistic son. The recording is the composer’s expression in music of the experience of neurodiversity for persons who are under its umbrella, a term Red prefers to the widely used concept of a spectrum, and for those not under the umbrella whose lives they share.
“Nobody tells us when you are with an autistic person, to just take it easy,” he explained. ” You can perhaps say, ‘Hey buddy, what’s up? Are you thinking something?’ So I want to do that with my music. I want to portray the message of trying to let people imagine how autistic people imagine their worlds, how they deal with it.”
The music on Life & Umbrella is a prismatic Rubik’s cube of interlocking and shifting rhythms and structures. It’s complex music to be sure, yet as played by Red, warm-toned tenor saxophonist Jake Wark and the alert rhythm team of Ben Dillinger on bass and drummer Gustavo Cortiñas, it unfolds with a patient clarity that draws the ear closer.
In addition to the boleros and popular music of his youth, Red, 51, heard a lot of Stravinsky as a child. “My dad used to play ‘Rite of Spring’ when I was very young, and I generalized those sounds somehow.”
Red moved decisively toward jazz in his 20s. “I got a strong connection with the ECM style of jazz that I think started through Keith Jarrett,” Red said. He later absorbed the music of the British pianist John Taylor, an ECM artist from whom Red took a couple of lessons.
In the early aughts, Red broadened his listening to include the piano innovators of that decade, Jason Moran and Vijay Iyer, himself a student of Coleman’s. “I was like, this beautiful music recorded from ECM and these musicians, why it doesn’t explode,” Red told me. “It doesn’t explode as when you’re listening to the [Jason Moran’s] Bandwagon or this stuff from Iyer. What is going on?”
Looking for answers, Red headed to New York, to the incubator of young jazz talent: the Greenwich Village club Small’s. “I got some very important lessons with a guy that I respect a lot, Bill Carrothers,” Red said. He told me, ‘Man, for jazz, stop doing everything that you’re doing for six months. Only listen to Charlie Parker. You’ve got to get that into your head. You don’t have it.”
What the largely self-taught Red didn’t have, Carrothers suggested, was the bebop language. The young pianist followed his teacher’s advice. “It took some time, but that was more internal work. All musicians do internal work,” he said.
In some ways, the music on Life & Umbrella can seems like internal work. Yet Red prefers to see it as a kind of outreach project. “I think that I am a guy that can make music to talk about my beliefs, my feelings, my life and things that matter to me. I’m going to talk about it. I decided not to have this as a normal jazz [concert with] only a few interventions in a set for introducing the musicians and the music. I decided to talk a little more for the audience to make a connection with what we’re trying to say.”
And make it explode.
Javier Red’s Imagery Converter, Thursday, June 15, 7 p.m. at BOP STOP, 2920 Detroit Ave., Cleveland, $20 available here.
There’s never a bad time to get out and commune in the same room with creative musicians. Below are four musical events of interest in the coming week that you might want to check out.
Wednesday, June 14, 6 p.m.
Wade Oval, 10820 East Blvd., Cleveland (free)
Summer Wednesdays mean free concerts in Wade Oval. The weather hasn’t felt particularly summery lately, but that’s okay. Hubbs Groove is a reliable source for bringing the heat—and the party—to whatever stage they occupy.
American Patchwork Quartet
Thursday, June 15, 7:30 p.m.
Hoover Auditorium, 115 W 3rd St., Lakeside (tickets)
The Lakeside Chautauqua in Ottawa County is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year and this week, jazz fans get the gift. It’s an appearance by the American Patchwork Quartet. Grammy-nominated vocalist Falu Shah and Grammy-winning guitarist and vocalist Clay Ross are out front, but the real interest might be the gold-plated jazz rhythm team of bassist Yasushi Nakamura and that most musical of drummers, Clarence Penn.
Legendary Ladies of Jazz with The Dancing Wheels Company
Friday, June 16, 6:30 p.m.
Allen Theatre 1407 Euclid Ave., Cleveland (tickets)
This inclusive and innovative dance company has chosen to honor the contributions of historic female performers of color in this gala evening of works by choreographers Catherine Meredith, Staycee Pearl and Laura Ann Smyth.
Pat Metheny and Side-Eye
Saturday, June 17, 8 p.m.
Evans Amphitheater, Cain Park, 14591 Superior Rd., Cleveland Heights (tickets)
He might be old enough to collect Social Security, but when it comes to touring configurations, NEA Jazz Master Pat Metheny still likes to shake things up. This summer, he’s fronting a power trio with Chris Fishman on keyboards and kinetic drummer Joe Dyson in tow. They might be more than a generation younger than the boss, but don’t expect Metheny to concede a thing in the energy department.
Information for this section came from Jim Szabo’s essential, weekly Northeast Ohio jazz calendar , NEO’s most complete list of jazz and jazz-adjacent events.