In this part of the preview, I’ll look at a few select acts on Saturday night (Friday’s picks were in my previous post) and take a quick look at Sunday evening’s show that wraps up the festival.
Again, there’s an admitted bias toward musicians featured on our Suga’ in My Bowl radio show since we like to keep long-term tabs on the people we profile. But we think you’ll like them too — or at least should give them a shot.
As a reminder, the festival has several new stages this year–at New School University, WNYC Radio’s Greene Space, and elsewhere. The WJF is adding extra check-in tables at different venues (PDF), which should shorten some of the long lines from previous years, but it’s still best to plan to arrive really early for the sets you want to catch. The linked PDF gives a good overview of the logistics and you should take a quick look at it before you leave.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the music.
Saturday Highlights
Ibrahim Maalouf: New School Auditorium @ 66 W 12th St. 7:40 PM

Lebanese saxophonist Ibrahim Maalouf shows yet another of the intriguing directions jazz takes when interpreted by players worldwide. Maalouf’s work blends Arabic sounds with the jazz tradition and solid playing. Maalouf is coming off a successful show at Jazz at Lincoln Center and backed by bassist Larry Grenadier, his show will be one to catch. Here’s a clip from a live show in Istanbul.

Chris Potter Quartet: New School Tishman Auditorium @ 63 5th Ave. 8:40 PM

To be honest, saxophonist Chris Potter wasn’t really on my radar until he popped up on Pat Metheny’s new releases with the Unity Band. I’m fixing that omission now and beginning to appreciate Potter’s voice on the instrument, which shone more on the 2013 Kin recording (Nonesuch) with an expanded Unity Group that revisited some of the musical concepts of Metheny’s mid-90s recordings. With pianist (and longtime collaborator) David Virelles, drummer Marcus Gilmore (fresh off last night’s set with Vijay Iyer’s trio), and bassist Joe Martin, expect a hard charging, open set of music. Here they are live in Hanover, Germany.


Will Calhoun Celebrating Elvin Jones: New School Jazz Building 5th Floor Theater @ 55 W 13th St. 9:40 PM

Full disclosure here: I’ve been a fan of Will Calhoun since seeing Living Colour in the mid-90s and wore out the cassette of their critically acclaimed self-titled first release. Since then, he’s matured as a musician and gone in interesting directions, seriously applying his skills to jazz and African percussion. The Elvin Jones tribute makes perfect sense and complements Calhoun’s drumming style well, as he can play with the power (and volume) and finesse Jones was known for. Beyond that, however, Calhoun has an impressive narrative ability on the drum kit and, like Jones, can inscribe multiple textures and layers of meaning into a solo and carry it seemingly forever while still keeping it interesting. Here, he’s joined by a slightly different line-up than is on the planned release, but they’re easily up to the task. This is one set I’m really looking forward to. For a deeper dive, see our 2013 show profiling Will, or for a quick take, watch this preview of the Jones project.


Lakecia Benjamin: The Bitter End (147 Bleecker St) — 9:40 PM

The 9:40 PM conflicting shows gives an idea of the breadth of the WJF. Lakecia Benjamin’s been at the festival before and usually heads the Soulsquad, which derives as much from the wells of funk and soul as it does from the jazz tradition. Add the vocals of Nicole Phifer and The Bitter End’s loose atmosphere, and you have a party with equal appeal to listeners who aren’t diehard jazz fans or are new to the music. Don’t write her off as a novelty act, though. Her 2012 RETOX (Motéma) release showed her depth and range as a musician and just as Will Calhoun shows one way forward for jazz, Benjamin shows yet another possible direction. Choice is a good thing.


OGJB Quartet: New School Auditorium @ 66 W 12th St. — 10:20 PM

It’s hard to write a short intro to saxophonist Oliver Lake, because what do you omit? Lake, who has roots in the Black Arts Movement has been steadily playing and expanding his reach since then and currently works on a variety of projects. In addition to being a member of TRIO 3, with veteran players Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille, Lake leads several combos of his own including a big band and an organ quartet. Lake’s as comfortable playing “out” as he is swinging in a more relaxed setting, his command of the sax and ability to finesse the instrument clear no matter who he’s with. He appeared at last year’s WJF with TRIO 3 and his own organ quartet; this year you get to see what he does in a different setting altogether. For a deeper dive, see our 2014 show on him or watch this clip from a 2015 quartet performance with bassist Joe Fonda (who’ll also be at WJF) at the 2015 Krakow Jazz Festival for a quick take.


Sun Ra Arkestra directed by Marshall Allen: Judson Memorial Church — Midnight

If you haven’t seen the Sun Ra Arkestra in action, they’re a must see. Even if you have, they’re worth seeing again. They’re still led by saxophonist Marshall Allen, who’s been part of the ensemble since nearly the beginning and assumed conducting and leading duties after the deaths of Sun Ra himself and fellow saxophonist John Gilmore. Don’t be fooled, however: the Arkestra’s far from a novelty or throwback act. The 91-year-old Allen plays with astonishing power and enthusiasm that belies his age and has done an impressive job of honoring the tradition of the Arkestra while giving Ra’s compositions a fresh new spin and looking toward the future — which, of course, is what they’re all about. It helps that Ra was a prolific composer (Allen told us that he still has boxes of new work that he still hasn’t gone through) and the addition of vocalist Tara Middleton’s restored a welcome dimension to their performances, with a voice reminiscent of June Tyson, but fantastic depth and range. For a deeper dive, you can see our 2014 show, or for a quick take, watch this performance from 2015. Here they are live in Poland in 2015.


Julian Lage Trio: Subculture (45 Bleecker St) — 12:20 AM

Julian Lage has gone from a child prodigy on guitar, playing with luminaries such as Carlos Santana (at the age of eight, no less), Pat Metheny, and subject of the documentary film Jules at Eight to being the mature musician he is today. His latest recording (World’s Fair, Modern Lore: 2015) is a solo effort, but the interplay with bassist Scott Colley and drummer Kenny Wollesen should be particularly good. And you have the opportunity to see him solo, too, as he opens for Sunday’s closing show (scroll down for details). We talked to him last December and here’s the same trio in action at the Vermont Jazz Center in 2015.


Sunday Show

Channeling Coltrane: Rova’s Electric Ascension: Le Poisson Rouge 6 PM

If you still haven’t had enough after two marathon days, then why not wrap up the weekend in style with the Rova Saxophone Quartet? Guitarist Julian Lage is scheduled to open for them with a solo set drawing on his World’s Fair release. Rova themselves exemplify the large format free-form type of playing that’s a rare find outside venues like these. Their take on Coltrane’s classic and complex Ascension promises to be an incredibly challenging and exhilarating performance. If that’s you cup of tea, then it’s a must-see set. Here’s the Rova Saxophone Quartet live in 2012.

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 sites (PDF).

And if you still haven’t had enough, Vision Fest promoters Arts for Art have a monthlong “Justice is Compassion” festival running through the next week across town at the Clemente Soto Velez Center that’s definitely worth a look and I’ll profile later.

So that’s it. Again, it’s a lot of acts and I’ve only scratched the surface here, but they’re all really good and different in fun ways. 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 — or see how someone you’ve already seen interprets material this time. Look for a full review after it’s all over and I’ve gotten some sleep.

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. As part of our coverage, we talked to festival director Brice Rosenbloom and two musicians performing — guitarists Julian Lage and James “Blood” Ulmer — to get a variety of perspectives.

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