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If you’re a jazz fan in NYC (or just very curious about the music), then the 11th annual Winter Jazz Fest should be squarely on your radar. If it is, good! You’re likely gearing up to push through the cold snap that’s hit us.

So far, I’ve done a first look with some basic logistics of the festival. In this post, I’ll dive into a few of the acts that you should keep an eye out for. Full disclosure, it’s weighted toward past guests from our Suga’ in My Bowl radio show, but I’ll also mention a few others at the end.

There are a lot of acts to choose from over the festival’s 2 main evenings (Friday and Saturday: Thursday has a lighter schedule), so hopefully this will give you a head start on who to see.

Friday January 9th

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If the festival gave out an MVP award, saxophonist David Murray would certainly be in the running. He’s at the Minetta Lane Theater with his Clarinet Summit at 7:30 and with drummer Teri Lyne Carrington and pianist Geri Allen at 8:45.

We just profiled Murray in December, so I’ll point you to that show for more details. But, needless to say, Murray’s a standout artist and incredibly versatile player. He’s capable of playing as far out as anyone, yet has the skill to drop back into more introspective playing that leans as much on finesse as sheer technical virtuosity. While Suga’ host Joyce Jones won’t (yet) get her wish of a reunion of the World Saxophone Summit, catching the “Clarinet Summit”, his collaboration with Carrington and Allen, or his Saturday set leading his own Infinity Quartet ought to give you as rounded a view of Murray as you’ll ever get.

We’re looking to see a highly charged set with some experimental stuff thrown in with the Clarinet Summit, which has Don Byron and Hamiett Bluiett providing backup. Count on a more straight-ahead set with Carrington and Allen.

Terri Lyne Carrington has developed into a solid presence in jazz drumming. Her all-female Mosaic Project (which featured WJF collaborator Geri Allen) was much more than just a concept album to showcase women in jazz: it was a solid release in its own right. Her 2013 remake of the classic Money Jungle deservedly got high praise as well. Head to our audio archives for a deeper look at her work.

Similarly, pianist Geri Allen is sought after as both a leader and in side projects. Whether she’s heading up her own Timeline group or in collaboration with others (she’s also worked with TRIO 3, though won’t be at this year’s WJF), her percussive style is a joy to listen to. It won’t be the first Allen-Carrington collaboration and their comfort working together should translate into a solid rhythm section for the set with David Murray.

See both of them in this 2013 clip of “Unconditional Love” along with bassist Esperanza Spaulding.

Harpist Brandee Younger has seemingly taken the task of upholding the work of the late, underappreciated harpist Dorothy Ashby as her mission. You’ll likely get fully up to speed on where she is with this project at her “Afro Harping” Ashby tribute to the latter’s classic album of the same name at the Bitter End on Bleecker Street at 8:45. See Younger’s take on Ashby’s “Respected Destroyer”, recorded live in 2014.

Drummer Will Calhoun has come a long way since his days with Living Colour – a trip that’s come full circle, as the group reunited for a world tour in 2014 to support their Synesthesia release and even took a few days off to put the finishing touches on another release, Shade, scheduled for spring 2015. In the middle of all that, he’s grown into a respected leader in the jazz world as well, with a style that pulls equally from his prowess as a rock drummer and the finesse he’s gained at jazz styles and African percussion. Expect a meeting of all those worlds as he joins forces with Living Colour bandmate, bassist Doug Wimbish, and Vinx, who lends vocals and electronic loops and samples for the “Jungle Funk” collaboration at Bowery Electric at 9 PM. Jungle Funk leans more toward Living Colour’s end of the spectrum than Calhoun’s more standard jazz work. Here’s a sample of what you might hear, recorded live in Poland in 2013. For a longer listen, you can check out our 2013 Calhoun profile.

Saxophonist Oliver Lake and bassist Reggie Workman join forces with drummer Andrew Cyrille and special guest Vijay Iyer for TRIO 3 at Minetta Lane at 10 PM. All are incredibly accomplished players and Workman has nearly legendary status. TRIO 3’s shows are always extremely satisfying. Lake is as comfortable playing “out” and pushing the limits of the saxophone as he is using finesse honed from many years on the instrument. Iyer is scarily talented and adapts well to almost any setting. Below is a clip from the 2012 Vision Fest and for a much deeper dive into Lake, you can check out our December 2014 profile of him or our 2009 Workman and 2010 Iyer profiles, which live on in our audio archives, too.

Saturday January 10th

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Saxophonist Oliver Lake returns with a show at The Bitter End on Bleecker Street with his Organ Quartet at 6:15 PM. Here they are performing at the Jazz Standard. Hammond B3 fans will be in for a treat with organist Jared Gold shoring up the rhythm section.

Saxophonist Billy Harper is at Minetta Lane Theater with The Cookers at 8:45 PM. Last year, The Cookers were one of the WJF highlights for me. Harper’s comfortable in the “free jazz” end of the sax spectrum (which I’ll admit I’m partial to), but as part of the collective he contributes to a hard driving straight ahead sound that’s accessible yet adventurous. Expect them to live up to their name. Here they are at the 2014 Nisville Jazz Festival. For a closer look at Harper, see our 2011 show on him.

Saxophonist David Murray makes a final appearance at Le Poisson Rouge with his Infinity Quartet at 9 PM. Keep an eye out for the spoken word of Saul Williams with Saturday night’s Infinity Quartet show. Here they are in a 2014 show.

Vocalist Catherine Russell, who’s been getting solid reviews for her 2014 Bring it Back release, is at the Greenwich House Music School on Barrow St. at 10 PM. Fans of the more traditional jazz vocals should be sure to catch Russell’s set. Her exposure on the popular Boardwalk Empire series has gained her some additional notoriety and her work is fresh and innovative, while still connecting to the jazz tradition. See her perform live in 2013 below or check out our 2014 show for a deeper dive into her work.

Drummer J.T. Lewis will be at Subculture on Bleecker Street with Harriet Tubman at 10 PM. I missed Tubman a few years ago when they were on at an ungodly late hour: not so this time! Tubman describes itself as an “avant metal jazz band” which is a description that I’d be hard pressed to improve upon. If you’re open to electronics in jazz, crossovers into fusion, and aren’t afraid of electric guitars, then this is your set. This clip from a 2010 show at NYC’s The Stone gives a good sense of the type of long, funky, ambient grooves they specialize in. For a longer look at Lewis, see our 2014 show focused on him.

Honorable Mentions

I’ll be honest: that’s an unfair header for this section, since there are so many fantastic acts to choose from. But you have to start somewhere, so here’s who else I’d catch in an ideal world—and just might in this one if I can manage to finagle the schedule just right.

I’ve never seen vibraphonist Joe Locke perform live, but I’d really like to. He’s at the Players Theater at 7 PM on Friday.

I’m a sucker for the electric guitar. Chalk it up to 1980s heavy metal. Still, Marc Ribot’s playing is always fantastic. Team him up with frequent collaborator and fellow guitarist Mary Halvorson for the “Young Philadelphians”? Yes, please! Halvorson’s an up-and-coming name on the scene and she played the WJF last year with both her own ensemble and as a guest with Ribot’s group and the result was a blistering set that I still remember and want to see again and again. Strong incentive to stick around for an 11:15 PM Friday set at Minetta Lane.

Suga’ host Joyce Jones and I were just talking about how Wallace Roney seemed to be the go-to person older trumpeters looked to for backup very early in his career. Both Miles Davis (whose influence is clear) and Freddie Hubbard tapped Roney’s talents. You can’t ask for a better pedigree than that. But he’s taken those lessons and developed his own unique voice on the trumpet. Hmm, 6:15 Saturday at the Bitter End? I just might make it.

Lionel Loueke’s Trio is 8:30 on Saturday at Subculture. Guitar and African rhythms? It makes me really wish I could be in two places at the same time. But you can catch them! And you should!

Lastly, I’ll point you to the full performance schedule. They also have a handy guide to full group line-ups, which you can check to see if a favorite musician is on the list somewhere. Finally, there’s a map of the various venues, but you will get all that at the check-in site at Judson Memorial Church.

So that’s it. That’s a lot of acts! But they’re all really good. Find who’s to your liking and take some time to see someone you haven’t—you might become a fan of a new group. I’ll likely be wiped out after it’s wrapped up, but it’s good training for the week-long Vision Fest, which has moved to July this year. We’ll have some coverage of that, but before then, I’ll check in with a WJF wrap-up.

Shameless self-promotion time: if you’re not already a listener, check out our show that airs alternate Sunday nights from 11 PM – 1 AM on WBAI Radio and streams online. This week, we’ll feature an interview with Geri Allen on January 11th, which should be a good way to wrap up the weekend.

Are you going? Anyone in particular you’re looking forward to seeing? Let me know in the comments.

Hank Williams is an associate producer for Suga’ in My Bowl on WBAI Radio and webmaster for the Suga’ and Behind the Mic sites. He is also a PhD candidate in English and Africana Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center and teaches at Hunter and Lehman Colleges and The City College of New York. Find him on Twitter: @streetgriot

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