Songs Set in a Bed of Improvisation


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Drummer Gerald Cleaver was last in Philadelphia when Ars Nova Workshop hosted the Michael Formanek Quartet in October, and he’ll be returning two more times before the New Year: on December 2 with the Gerald Cleaver Group and on December 12 with Mario Pavone’s Orange Double Tenor.

Cleaver began playing drums, trumpet, and violin at an early age, and after earning a BA in music education from University of Michigan he taught in the music department at both his alma mater and Michigan State University. Over the years he has worked with Roscoe Mitchell, Henry Threadgill, Hank Jones, Matthew Shipp, Reggie Workman, Joe Morris, and Ralph Alessi, to name only a few. This fall he’s played many dates, touring Europe and Brazil with the Enescu Project, Craig Taborn, Ivo Perlman, Samuel Blaser and Michael Formanek.

Cleaver has also been working heavily with his two projects Uncle June and Farmer By Nature. Uncle June, with Andrew Bishop, Mat Maneri, Tony Malaby, Craig Taborn and Drew Gress, will have a new album out on January 25 titled Be It As I See It; Farmers By Nature, his trio with Craig Taborn and William Parker, will release Out Of This World’s Distortions in February on AUM Fidelity.

The Gerald Cleaver Group is a special project made possible by a Towson University Jazz Residency set up by Professor Dave Ballou, who plays trumpet in this group and also in Pavone’s Orange Double Tenor. Cleaver had the following to say about this new ensemble of improvisers.

“This group is a special project, never assembled before, although we've played together in different circumstances. I'm very happy and fortunate that each person was available. In general, they're some of my favorite improvisers. And that is always a large focus of my endeavors. I've known Andrew Bishop the longest; we've played in so many great configurations I like to think of him as the anti-matter Gerald Cleaver (smile). Michael Formanek is a living legend. There's literally nothing he can't do musically. I met my wife, Jean Carla, in an improvisational setting, and was greatly impressed from day-one with how much music she makes out of every situation. And Dave Ballou and I have had many great musical moments with the great Mario Pavone. He's a great musician, such a lyrical trumpet player.”

The Gerald Cleaver Group will perform on Thursday, December 2 at Philadelphia Art Alliance (251 S. 18th Street).

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This story appears courtesy of Ars Nova Workshop.
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