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Saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin | Photo via BRIC Arts Media (screenshot)
 
BRIC Arts Media, probably best known for the long-running popular Celebrate Brooklyn Festival that annually offers up top notch summer concerts in Prospect Park, has built up something of a media empire in downtown Brooklyn. In addition to the festival, they administer the boro’s public access cable TV, curate art shows, run a performance venue, and offer an impressive array of media production courses.
 
Since last year, you can add running an interesting and well-curated jazz festival to the list of activities.
 
2015’s inaugural BRIC JazzFest had saxophonist Kamasi Washington as a headline act in addition to a few other artists who would appear later at the Winter Jazz Fest in January, a programming choice undoubtedly related to WJF promoter Brice Rosenbloom’s presence as one of the BRIC JazzFest curators. It’s a good choice, as Rosenbloom’s built up an excellent track record over the years programming both the WJF and securing acts for Le Poisson Rouge.
 
Location and Logistics
 
This year the BRIC JazzFest expands to a run spanning two weekends starting this weekend with screenings of three classic documentary films on October 8-9 followed by standalone concerts on the 11th and 12th and three “marathon” nights of music from the 13th-15th.
 
All events happen at the BRIC House at 647 Fulton St. in downtown Brooklyn. The Jazz Film marathon, two warmup performances on October 11-12, and the first marathon night of music on the 13th are all free with required ticket reservations. That already puts it as a exceptional value, but even the days with admission (Friday and Saturday’s marathon nights) are worth your time for some performances that should be excellent. Tickets are available separately for either the Friday or Saturday Marathon nights ($25 advance; $30 door) or as a discounted rate ($45) for both nights. Reserving tickets beforehand is recommended, as the events could sell out.
 
Jazz Film Marathon
 
The Jazz film marathon (free admission with RSVP!) features post-screening talkbacks with noted cultural critic, author, and filmmaker Nelson George leading the discussions. Films run over the course of both nights, so it’s possible to see more than one.
 
A Great Day in Harlem (1994) documents the process behind photographer Art Kane’s iconic 1958 picture that captured many central figures in jazz history in front of a Harlem brownstone.
 


 
Jaco (2015), produced by Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo, jumps ahead a few decades to look closely at bassist Jaco Pastorius, a key member of Weather Report and leader in his own right.
 

 
Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser (1988) delves into the life of another jazz great whose approach to the piano and phrasing expanded the possibilities of approaching the instrument. It nicely complements the Jazz Loft Project documentary currently playing at Metrograph Theater that devotes a good section of the film to preparations for Monk’s Town Hall concert. While Robin D.G. Kelley’s Monk bio is a must read on the subject, this will give a quick overview.
 
Director Bert Stern’s Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1959) offers a window into the granddaddy of festivals with its look at the 1958 Newport Jazz Fest. The spectacular cinematography captures many musicians from the golden era of jazz at the top of their careers and in front of live audiences. If you haven’t seen it yet, this is one to cross off the bucket list.
 

 
On Tuesday October 11, the festival warms up with a free concert (RSVP required) by Brooklyn Raga Massive, whose melding of Indian rhythms and jazz carries on the tradition of artists like the Coltranes and John McLaughlin, who’ve looked east for musical inspiration.
 
On Wednesday October 12, Colombian harpist Edmar Castañeda takes the stage in another free concert.
 
BRIC JazzFest Marathon Day 1: Thursday October 13
 
On Thursday, the fest kicks into high gear, with the first “marathon” night of music. The formula is simple and repeated all three nights: concerts happen at 3 different spaces inside BRIC’s massive headquarters and attendees are free to wander between shows and catch different acts as they want. It’s the buffet approach that’s used at many festivals, though in this case all the action’s under the same roof, so it’s theoretically easier to hop between performances if that’s one’s goal.
 
BRIC is offering free tickets for the first marathon evening, thanks to sponsorship from the Mayor’s Office of media and Entertainment. Best to jump on them before they sell out.
 
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David Murray at the Winter Jazz Fest | Hank Williams Photo
 
With that out of the way, let’s look at a few highlights. Saxophonist David Murray’s been on our radar since we featured him on our show. Murray’s Infinity Quartet reprises an electrifying set from the 2015 Winter Jazz Fest and is an opportunity to see a versatile player with roots in the avant/free jazz scene. Murray’s Be My Monster Love release featured Macy Gray and Gregory Porter and he spent a fair amount of time workshopping the material with poet and vocalist Saul Williams. While it’s not clear if they’ll have a guest vocalist here, Murray’s set is one to keep an eye on.
 

 
An under-the-radar pick for the evening is vocalist Inyang Bassey. Bassey did an excellent job of warming up the stage for Marc Ribot and the Young Philadelphians earlier this year. Bassey’s soulful voice coupled with her excellent range and vocal control make her one of the acts on my must-see list for this year’s fest and I’m especially eager to see her applying her talent in the jazz genre.
 
BRIC JazzFest Marathon Day 2: Friday October 14
 
The marathon continues on Friday and Saturday (combination tickets are available for $45) with a similar format to Thursday with multiple acts in separate rooms and the complete schedule is here.
 
Saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin has been building a well deserved reputation. Here, we see her leading the Soulsquad, which Suga in My Bowl host Joyce Jones describes as “a super funky party band.” With this set, the lack of seating should be the least of your worries. It’s also a good set for friends who might not be into jazz, per se.
 
Pianist Eddie Palmieri’s Latin Jazz Septet is the headline act for the evening, with the set scheduled to kick off at 10:45 PM.
 
BRIC JazzFest Marathon Day 3: Saturday October 15
 
The fest comes to a roaring conclusion on Saturday evening. The full schedule’s here, but here are a few highlights.
 
Guitarist Julian Lage leads a trio with bassist Scott Colley and drummer Kenny Wollesen. When we talked to Lage, he had just finished his World’s Fair release of solo guitar and he performed several pieces from it at the 2016 Winter Jazz Fest. He’s now back in a trio setting and Colley and Wollesen should meld well with Lage’s style. Expect a laid-back but swinging set that should be a change of pace from some of the other acts at the festival.
 

 
One can never be quite sure what pianist/keyboardist Marc Cary will do because of his broad range of interests and influences. When we talked to him in 2015, the Washington DC native was delving into the Go Go genre that came from his hometown after having finished a tribute album to the late Abbey Lincoln, whose band Cary was in. Here, he won’t be with his usual Focus Trio, but will be paired with trumpeter Maurice “Mobetta” Brown.
 
Electric guitarist Marc Ribot is a must see for the final night and is here with a trio with bassist Henry Grimes and drummer Chad Taylor. The trio’s Spiritual Unity (2005) release pays homage to the late saxophonist Albert Ayler (who Grimes played with) and their Live at the Village Vanguard release includes another Ayler classic (“Bells”) while giving a nod to John Coltrane (“Sun Ship” and “Amen”).
 
Although this should give somewhat of a sense of what’s in store for the evening, it’s made more complex by the trio’s range of influences and they can easily decide to go into the Blues. Ribot’s incredibly adventurous explorations on electric guitar are nicely complemented here by Grimes’s acoustic bass and violin, which can swing, keep time, or join in the all out frenzied avant ruckus. All of it’s held together by Taylor behind the drum kit.
 
All three musicians have several diverse projects (indeed, when we talked to Ribot, one difficulty was in addressing the myriad consecutive groups he’s a part of), so it’s not all the time that you can catch them together. Expect their set to lean toward the avant garde side of things. That may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but beyond that, this is a set by a group of seasoned musicians whose musical connection runs deep and should present a master class in collective improvisation.
 

 
Check back with us for review coverage when it’s all done.
 
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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.

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