NYC Pianist Sebastien Amman Releases “Color Wheel” (Skirl Records) with Michael Attias, Noah Garabedian and Nathan Ellman Bell

The Wikipedia entry for “color wheel” defines it as “an abstract illustrative organization of color hues around a circle, which shows the relationships between primary colors, secondary colors, tertiary colors etc.” While that description may be a little dry for the brilliantly dynamic and intricately layered music of pianist/composer Sebastien Ammann, it’s nonetheless an apt definition for his quartet Color Wheel: the band creates a whirling, vividly abstract sound from the complex interactions of myriad hues.


Color Wheel’s self-titled debut, to be released on February 3rd 2017 via Skirl Records, and presented as part of the Sound It Out concert series, presented by Bradley Bambarger at Greenwich House Music (NYC) on February 4th 2017, features ten of Ammann’s original compositions, striking a balance between knotty constructions and bracing free improvisations, between minutely plotted, deftly interwoven composition and pure chance. The Swiss-born pianist cites influences ranging from Jimmy Giuffre and Paul Motian to Schoenberg and John Cage, which combine in compellingly original ways throughout Color Wheel.


Ammann created Color Wheel specifically to explore the convergence of composed and improvised music, and drafted the perfect mix of players to achieve it: Israeli-born saxophonist Michaël Attias, leader of the longstanding trio Renku, who has collaborated with a number of creative musicians including Anthony Braxton, Paul Motian and Oliver Lake; bassist and native Californian Noah Garabedian, who has worked with Ravi Coltrane, Josh Roseman, Ralph Alessi, and Andrew D’Angelo, among others; and in-demand drummer Nathan Ellman-Bell, whose background bridges classical and jazz, and who has performed with such jazz luminaries as Michael Formanek, Uri Caine, Dave Douglas, and Sam Rivers.


“This music comes from different places and influences,” Ammann says. “I write with the musicians’ sound in mind, and I’m always trying to find a way to will give them enough information to create a coherent piece and give form to the improvising but find ways to give them enough freedom to do whatever they feel is right.”


Chance, as opposed to completely free improvisation, is a particularly intriguing and fruitful element in Ammann’s music. One of the tunes on Color Wheel, “The Diceman,” takes its name from the cult 1971 novel pseudonymously written by Luke Rhinehart, which traces the story of a psychiatrist who allows the roll of a die to determine his decisions in life. Ammann’s composition allows a number of specified events to occur at random. Similarly, his piece “M” was derived in part through the use of the I Ching, the ancient Chinese divination system that was also integral to some of John Cage’s writing.




The album opens with the byzantine, interlocking lines of “One,” a piece influence by the contrapuntal writing of Jimmy Giuffre for his trio with Steve Swallow and Paul Bley (another major influence for Ammann). “Straight Shot” was composed during a ten-hour bus ride from Toronto to New York, with Ammann seizing on the challenge of hearing countermelodies in his head without recourse to his instrument or composition software. The jagged, boisterous rhythms of “On a Move” were inspired by the complex time feel of Cuban music, despite having a more abstract than Latin flavor.


“Twelve” utilizes a Schoenberg twelve-tone row, while the self-explanatory “Simple Song” took the spark for its sing-song melody from Paul Motian’s airy but hummable songs. Beginning with an extended spotlight for Garabedian, “Entre Chien et Loup” is named for a French saying that refers to the liminal hours of dusk, literally describing them as something “between a dog and a wolf.” Another transitional period was the inspiration for “Saturn Return,” namely the formative years between 27 and 30 when Saturn coincides with the same point it occupied at one’s birth – a concept introduced to Ammann by Steve Coleman. Finally, “Early Enough To Be Late” concludes the album with a rousing avant-funk groove.


Born and raised in Geneva, Switzerland, Ammann began studying piano with a strict classic instructor, but discovered improvised music through his second teacher, a native of Uruguay who played a variety of music from salsa to pop and jazz on the Swiss scene. Ammann initially visited New York in 2006, to participate in trumpeter Ralph Alessi’s renowned School for Improvisational Music, then returned in 2008 with the intention of staying a bit longer, but quickly became so enmeshed in the thriving NYC jazz scene that six months became eight years and counting. He currently leads Color Wheel as well as his quartet with saxophonist Ohad Talmor, bassist Dave Ambrosio, and drummer Eric McPherson, with whom he released his debut album, Samadhi, in 2013.


In addition, Ammann co-leads an ensemble called Steel Fern with trumpeter Jake Henry and recently began a new collective group with guitarist Gene Ess. He also plays with the Gary Douglas Band, a rock group that regularly shares the stage with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. ~Stephen Buono Publicity

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