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Words by Hank Williams. Photos by Joyce Jones/SugaBowl Photography. | MAIN PHOTO: (L-R) Antoine Roney, Gerald Cannon, and Ravi Coltrane. Used with Permission. Some Rights Reserved. Creative Commons CC-NC-BY-ND.

Drummer and percussionist Will Calhoun’s musical journey made its latest stop last week at the famed Blue Note club in Greenwich Village for a 3-night midweek run of music focused on the late drum legend Elvin Jones. I caught the early sets on Tuesday and Thursday.

“Celebrating Elvin Jones” as the dates were called was billed as the release event for the CD of the same name, although it has been available since late summer 2017 and has garnered deserved praise from critics – and fans alike, depending how much stake one puts on Amazon’s customer reviews.

The logistics of arranging club dates (and syncing them with Calhoun’s ambitious travel schedule) pushed the event to the current period.

The material has been performed live several times already, though. Calhoun had a set at the 2016 Winter Jazz Festival with much of the current ensemble. This was followed by an August Jazzmobile event in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park, a 3-night September run at Tokyo’s Cotton Club, and fall dates at Scullers in Boston and the San Jose Jazz Festival.

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Will Calhoun

For these Blue Note dates, Calhoun fortified his ensemble with some of the musicians on the CD – saxophonist Antoine Roney and pianist Carlos McKinney – while calling up veteran bassist Gerald Cannon to provide the heartbeat and adding a special guest each night: saxophonist Ravi Coltrane on Tuesday, trumpeter Randy Brecker on Wednesday, and guitarist Russell Malone on Thursday, respectively. The connecting thread is that they have all played with Jones. Calhoun, ironically, is the only one who hasn’t since the two share the same instrument.

Calhoun, however, may be the perfect person to approach the project. “With Will I felt the [same] spirit and looseness that Elvin had,” Cannon said. “It’s a very rare thing in another drummer.” Cannon would know: he held the bass chair in the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine until Jones’s death in 2004. While Cannon had been following Calhoun’s meteoric career with the popular rock band Living Colour, he wasn’t aware of the drummer’s range–and interest in Jazz—until a series of Blue Note dates after Jones’s death. The decision was made to honor the Jazz Machine’s pre-arranged run with someone different in the drum chair each night. Cannon persuaded the drummer’s widow Keiko to allow Calhoun to have a night and he made an impression. “This cat can swing, man,” Cannon thought after the sets.

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Gerald Cannon (left) and Ravi Coltrane

Additionally, Cannon’s the musical director for pianist McCoy Tyner, who he’s played with for 11 years. As such, his insight is even more valuable since John Coltrane’s alumni seem to take many common indelible lessons with them from their time with the band although they’ve followed varied musical paths. “What I’ve learned by playing with McCoy and Elvin is the spiritual aspect of the music,” he told me. “When you play with them, you just feel enlightenment.”

Gerald Cannon: What I’ve learned by playing with McCoy and Elvin is the spiritual aspect of the music

Calhoun, echoing Cannon’s point, described his approach to the music and choice of lineup as “a sacred thing,” carefully choosing musicians who could see the spiritual side of the project and join him on the journey. The investment paid off, as the assembled ensemble treated the work with incredible respect as they worked to form intimacy on the bandstand.

The more one sits with Calhoun’s Elvin Jones project (both the performances and CD), the more one realizes that a lot of thought goes into just about every detail. Hence, the choice of an ensemble was far from simple, though understandably somewhat dictated by logistics and availability.

“I thought about [the lineup] for quite some time and wanted to stick with the guys on the recording for obvious reasons,” Calhoun related over the telephone. “Also, [the musicians] understood my vision and the guys know me personally outside the music.”

Given that, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane was a natural addition. Calhoun wanted him to be a part of the original recording, but it didn’t work out scheduling-wise. “Having Ravi up there is a sonic value and spiritual vibration,” Calhoun said. “There’s another kind of meaning to having Ravi there as well,” as he sees working with Coltrane’s son, (who’s now carved out his own unique voice on the instrument mastered by his famous father) as being the natural closing of the circle.

Similarly, Calhoun had sought out trumpeter Randy Brecker for his earlier Life in this World and Native Lands releases, but clashing schedules scuttled the efforts. Brecker’s commitment to the set was so great that he passed up a tribute to his brother to be at the show.

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Gerald Cannon (left) and Russell Malone

Finally, adding a guitarist to the rotation was a natural move for Calhoun, hence the presence of Russell Malone. “I just like the instrument and freedom of the [guitar as an] instrument,” he revealed. “Elvin played guitar and played with [guitarists] John Paul Bourelly and Jim Hall.” Calhoun plays the 12 string acoustic guitar on “Sarmastah,” one of his own compositions that appears on the release, though wasn’t part of the Blue Note sets.

Not surprisingly, the same reverence and obsessive attention to detail also went into the choice of songs to be played.

The setlist was identical both dates: “EJ Blues,” followed by “Harmonique,” then “Doll of the Bride,” and an electrified version of “A Love Supreme” to close the set. The choice of music wasn’t an easy one, Calhoun confessed. While he wanted to showcase music from the CD (indeed, the first three songs are on the release), not everything from the release could make the cut for the live performance: a necessary concession to the reality of time limits when dealing with club sets, especially when dealing with longer pieces that allow artists to fully stretch out and explore the music, which was the case.

The result, however, was a holistic approach to Jones, going beyond mere replication of his music and performances, but a real attempt to present as full an account of his essence as possible. The choices make sense in that context. “EJ Blues” is a Jones composition; “Harmonique” and, of course, “A Love Supreme” hail from John Coltrane; “Doll of the Bride” is adapted from a traditional Japanese folk song and was a staple of Jones’s own setlists while he helmed the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine.

The rotating guests also served to give the music a distinctly different feel each night as the rest of the ensemble worked around the unique instrumental sound, colors, and approach of each one. Guests, Calhoun said, “take you a little bit out of the norm.”

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Antoine Roney

In “EJ Blues,” for instance, Coltrane and Roney traded sax solos on Tuesday night, with the former opting for soprano saxophone. On Thursday, guitarist Russell Malone’s approach allowed Roney more space to shine while adding subtle colors to the main melody.

“Harmonique” highlighted the different approaches the different guests brought. While the general structure of the song remained the same, subtle changes were pronounced between the nights. Cannon’s bass solo led off each time, though Tuesday’s rendition saw Coltrane and Roney collaborating and smoothing out the edges of the angular melody. On Thursday, Malone subtly added color while Roney more purposefully hit the slightly atonal notes in the intro.

A seemingly simple question to Calhoun about his arrangement of “Doll of the Bride”–which began with an extended drum and percussion solo each time–led to a patient, unexpectedly detailed explanation that can only be highlighted here.

The key characters in the story, however, are the late Senegalese master percussionist Doudou N’Diaye Rose (who appears on the album as a guest on the song) and and Moussa D’Gyue, who owned a shop in Harlem that Calhoun frequented as a teenager. “He was like my uncle,” Calhoun says of D’Gyue, who shared many lessons on Africa, recommended books, and generally fed his intellectual curiousity.

After hours, D’Gyue and a group of West African men would gather in the back around a communal plate of food for a wide-ranging discussion of politics, culture, and whatever else they decided to engage. Eventually they invited him into the fold. “It was my first time witnessing that type of interaction,” Calhoun says.

D’Gyue became a crucial contact much later in Calhoun’s career when he took his mentor along for a series of shows he had booked in Senegal. Calhoun had been trying to get introduced to Rose for years without success and it turned out that D’Gyue knew the master percussionist and was able to arrange a meeting.

Calhoun: The world is my library

All of this leads back to the goal of Calhoun’s “Doll of the Bride” intro, as he sought “to create this almost drive by view of African rhythms:” a broad outline of what one might see, were they fortunate enough to have gone on Calhoun’s journey. Calhoun summed up the inspiration for the song’s arrangement much more succinctly in his on-stage intros, simply saying, “the world is my library.”

Calhoun began both nights on the Senegalese bongo drum, eventually moving to the drum kit while Cannon kept time with a heartbeat-like bass rhythm. Cannon, who’s also an accomplished visual artist, compared working Calhoun’s rhythm section to “doing a collaborative painting.”

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Calhoun

Calhoun wanted to “start out with a more traditional approach,” hence the use of his hands. As the solo built, Calhoun eventually enlisted nearly every form of input possible, working the sticks, mallets, brushes, and even his bare hands on different drum surfaces in an attempt to replicate what he’d listened to and learned: a deceptively difficult task. “The Senegalese rhythms are quite difficult to play on the drum kit,” Calhoun explained to me later.

But it all came back to Jones even before the solo ended. “Elvin’s drumming has a bit of Congolese and West African style,” he pointed out, hence Calhoun’s meshing of different approaches and specific rhythmic patterns.

On Thursday night, McKinney’s melodic solo on “Doll of the Bride” slowed the song’s intensity before building to a fierce percussive assault of his own on the piano, which gave way to Malone’s solo on the guitar. Calhoun said that Malone’s “tone is a bit darker than the pop tone and works great with the melodies” they were playing.

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Carlos McKinney

As with the other songs, each musician was given plenty of space to solo and collaboratively build the piece. Malone’s shift from improvisation back to the song’s melody signaled Roney to return to the stage for his turn in the spotlight and Cannon’s solo built off his delicately plucking out the melody on the strings as the rest of the bandstand and audience quieted to listen to one of the more contemplative and intimate moments in a night often filled with the type of explosive fire Jones himself is usually associated with. Cannon told me that one thing he’s learned from extensive work with Elvin Jones and now McCoy Tyner “is how important [his] role is as a bass player in order to be flexible and solid at the same time.”

Time was running short on both nights, which left space for only a very abbreviated rendition of “A Love Supreme” as a finale, which Calhoun playfully (and accurately) described onstage as “an uptown, electronic, Bronx version.”

The Senegalese bongo was again Calhoun’s chosen tool to start the song, which seamlessly morphed into Cannon’s delivery of the famous bass line, which invited Roney and McKinney into the mixture and the piece ended with a shimmery piano flourish.

And that was it.

The end of Thursday’s set had a slightly bittersweet feel as it was the final night and there was only one more set to go before the end of the short run.

Gerald Cannon: I haven’t played these tunes since Elvin died

“It was a little emotional for me,” Cannon confided. “I haven’t played these tunes since Elvin died.”

The intimacy and familiarity with the material developed over several sets on successive nights seemed to really bring the ensemble together. Cannon mentioned several times how much fun it was, pointing out that the comfort level had reached the point where he felt as if he could really explore, adding that “Will’s a great bandleader.” That’s high praise from someone with Cannon’s experience.

The next steps of this project are unclear since it’s just one of many projects all of the musicians juggle. Cannon has several scattered spring dates at the Blue Note with McCoy Tyner along with other gigs. Coltrane has his own work as a leader, including a week in February at the Jazz Standard. Brecker, Roney, and McKinney have commitments as well.

Calhoun heads out for another global tour to support the release of Living Colour’s new Synesthesia release and will somehow squeeze in time for work on film scores, his visual art collaboration, and (one of my favorite projects) a live recording date with guitarist Melvin Gibbs and bassist Vernon Reid for the Zig Zag power trio that performed at the 2017 Winter Jazz Fest and has had a few other dates over the past two years.

Calhoun’s committed to continuing work on the Elvin Jones project and more dates, but admits that “it’s been a little challenging,” pointing out that “there’s not a lot of money involved,” a constant refrain and reality of working in jazz now.

Calhoun: I want to honor the music and play it in an arena where it’s respected

Not surprisingly, it’s more than just the logistics of finances. ”I want to honor the music and play it in an arena where it’s respected,” Calhoun said. “Being an artist, you have a few important decisions to make” and one is artistic integrity and honoring the work. Fans will just have to keep their eyes on Calhoun’s tour schedule for more dates. Calhoun says that there’s one guaranteed stop, though.

“Of course, I have to play in Detroit because that’s where the Jones brothers are from.”
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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. Find him on Twitter @streetgriot

Joyce Jones is the executive producer and host of Suga’ in My Bowl. She is a graphic designer and her photos have been published in Black Renaissance Noir.

IMG_2052Guitarist Vernon Reid clarified one thing at the beginning of the night’s set: he wanted the group everyone was about to experience to be known as WMV: the first initials of the members’ names, rather than the “Vernon Reid Power Trio” that had drawn people to the Iridium. This decision was in deference to a more egalitarian vision of the collaboration between three longtime friends and musical accomplices. Or, he said, you could call them the Zig Zag Power Trio.

The name may have to be settled later on, but all of that seemed less important than the music, which certainly is starting to gel between Reid, drummer/percussionist Will Calhoun, and electric bassist Melvin Gibbs in their raucous, high-energy ensemble.

I reviewed their last appearance at Iridium back in the spring, and was impressed enough to be eagerly anticipating a return appearance–which Reid promised was forthcoming – and finally happened last Friday for two sets.

The trio has to be a difficult project to pull together, especially since all of the members have such busy and diverse schedules: Reid and Calhoun are Living Colour bandmates in the middle of a tour. Calhoun is stepping into the role of a leader in his own right in the jazz world and has just wrapped up an album in tribute to the late drum legend Elvin Jones, and Gibbs plays with Harriet Tubman, which is also putting finishing touches on a release (due at the end of 2016 I’m told). These are only highlights of the artists’ main projects: to list all of their work would take way more space and research than there’s time for right now. The point is that these folks are seriously busy, and that’s part of what makes this collaboration so special.

This set felt slightly tighter than the Iridium date in the spring, which was not necessarily a bad thing. The spring set had more of the feel of sitting in on a dress rehearsal. To be clear, the music itself was at a high level both times. In the latest date, there were fewer inside jokes flowing, but the essence of what makes this group fantastic was intact, which is the high level of musical (and personal) respect between the musicians involved, trust, and sense of timing that’s the sign of a collective that’s working. That’s no small thing. The music industry is rife with stories of people who hate each other off the bandstand, but somehow manage to make things work long enough to get paid for the gig. That’s definitely not the case here. These musicians like and trust each other a lot and that’s expressed in the music.

The set started with a nod to the Blues (a recurring theme for this group) via their cover of guitarist Junior Kimbrough’s “Sad Days”. Here, Kimbrough’s work, transplanted from its Mississippi Hill Country juke joint roots, was turned up a notch (and rendered in a different key, according to Reid) into a searing electric rocker.

This was followed by a reverb-heavy soulful ballad that had Calhoun switching between drumsticks and mallets that referenced another key influence on the group: the late drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson. Reid simply said that “none of the things that have happened [to them as a collective], would’ve happened without him.” He explained in slightly greater detail in an interview on the Iridium’s blog that Jackson “was a real connection” between Gibbs and himself, as both of whom were bandmates in Jackson’s groups and drew his lessons firsthand, while Calhoun was heavily influenced by his musical ideas as a young player.

Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” seamlessly fit into the set, with Reid purposefully bending the original’s plaintive saxophone melody and using it as a launchpad for the the group’s high energy collective improvisation.

The Jazz standard “King Tut Strut” had a brief call-and-answer between Reid and Calhoun and climaxed with a cymbal-crashing flourish by Calhoun that even a broken drumstick couldn’t interrupt. Reid wrapped the infectious repeated phrase at the center of the the song around his guitar and turned it to perfection.

The set ended, appropriately enough, with Ronald Shannon Jackson’s “Street Priest” and space was created for one of Calhoun’s trademark thundering drum solos that started on electronics before being finished on the drum set. While some drum solos are a formality, Calhoun’s are narratives in themselves, with clear progression and the type of engagement that showcases just one of his talents on the instrument. I’ve written about his incredible versatility on the drum kit before (and he’s equally adept on a range of percussion instruments), but Calhoun is an artist who can say a lot with percussion instruments.

Reid says that more shows are in the offing and added that there are thoughts of recording a release when prompted. Both of those things—like the exact name of the group—are works in progress. Stay tuned. The end result will be well worth your attention.
 
Will Calhoun is at Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park for a free outdoor performance as part of the Jazzmobile series on August 12th. He also appears with Living Colour on the 17th in a special acoustic set at City Winery or, at the Afropunk Fest in Brooklyn on the 28th.
 
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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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Words by Hank Williams | Photos by Joyce Jones. Creative Commons CC-NC-BY-ND. Main Photo: Will Calhoun working the drum kit.
 
It would be inaccurate to call the opening of Will Calhoun’s first collaborative visual art show at the Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education gallery a homecoming because the Bronx native never really left. Nevertheless, the reception and performance had that sort of feel, as it drew family members, friends, and even former schoolmates to the South Bronx location on Friday April 22nd.
 
Calhoun, known to many as the drummer for the resurgent rock band Living Colour, has fashioned a solid career for himself as a jazz bandleader (with an eagerly anticipated album of Elvin Jones songs on Motéma Records due this summer) and side projects ranging from Jungle Funk with vocalist Vinx and Living Colour bandmate Doug Wimbish to his collaboration with fellow Living Colour bandmate Vernon Reid as part of the latter’s Power Trio.
 
Calhoun has long had an interest in visual art, however, and said that he began exploring photography about ten years ago. Indeed, his Native Lands CD came packaged with a DVD documenting a decade of his travels.
 
All of the above has happened while the busy family man (his teenage son is a regular presence at New York area shows) has spent a fair amount of his time in between projects doing research on the African continent and its musical musical traditions — many of which are incorporated into his work in one way or another.
 
Given that history, the trip to a seemingly unlikely spot on the sixth floor gallery perched atop a Bronx school makes sense. Christine Licata, Casita Maria’s Performing and Visual Arts Director, said that they came to know Calhoun through his music over a series of Latin Jazz concerts presented in the area by the Blitz collective, featuring Calhoun and acclaimed pianist Arturo O’Farrill. Showing Calhoun’s visual art was a perfect fit for the gallery, given his Bronx roots, musical connections, the organization’s goals, and the connection with the attached school. Licata referred to art as a “tool to open up the way youth see the world.”
 
The process of creating the pieces in the current show came from a collaboration with the Los Angeles-based SceneFour visual art team, which has done similar collaborations with several other musicians. After recording videos of him drumming with lighted sticks, the resulting canvases were created from his actual movements. “What you see” on the canvases, said Calhoun, “is a map of me playing.” He also suggested that the project adds a different way of seeing himself as an artist. He’s used to capturing the audio of his work, but seeing and interpreting the movements offers a fresh look at his artistry and way to appreciate the physicality of drumming.
 

 
The result is 11 limited edition pieces that convert the sense of rhythm, motion, color, and excitement that Calhoun’s music creates. Ethel, for instance, is generated from Calhoun’s movements playing the wave drum and is inspired buy his sister, who dances ballet and African dance. The piece emphasizes vertical, rather than horizontal movements, and the swirling lines tracing his hand movements suggest the movements of a dancer. Calhoun revealed that it’s one of the more popular pieces.
 
My Own Free Will, on the other hand, has Calhoun seated at the drum kit, working his magic and was meant to convey the total improvisation both rhythmically and visually. Calhoun’s face and silhouette are visible in the center of the canvas, his calm visage in contrast to the swirling blue lines from his drumsticks. The title is a play on both his first name and the idea of an artist’s freedom of expression and the risks involved in creativity and pushing the boundaries of your work. To be successful as an artist, “you can’t be afraid to fail”, said Calhoun, and “you can’t be afraid to make mistakes”. The canvas effectively conveys the tension between the competing demands of an artist: the quest for hitting the right note or getting the pleasing balance of visuals and pushing the boundaries of how far out one can go before failing.
 
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My Own Free Will. Will Calhoun/SceneFour. Hank Williams Photo
 
In Sundance, vibrant swirl of yellow on the white background is punctuated by bold splashes of contrasting orange and black highlights in the center of the piece. It conveys the feeling suggested in the title of brightness, light, and sunshine with a playful quality.
 
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Sundance. Will Calhoun/SceneFour. Joyce Jones Photo
 
Calhoun demonstrated part of his end of the composition process in a solo performance of three pieces that evening. He introduced one song with the promise of playing “a little bit of Bronx music for y’all”, a pledge faithfully delivered with a rendition of hip hop-inspired break beats. Another piece, clearly inspired by his North and West African travels began with seamless alternation between drumsticks and brushes. A stint on the wave drum and synthesizer transformed Calhoun into a multidisciplinary DJ, the resulting beats recorded as the base for his accompaniment on the drum kit. A final piece had Calhoun switch to the special drumsticks with embedded LED lights, resulting in a Technicolor and sonic whirlwind.
 

 
When asked how it felt to have his first show open in the Bronx, Calhoun replied that “it feels amazing because that’s where I’m from”. “What you’re seeing is my life’s work”.
 


 
For a deeper dive into Calhoun, see Joyce Jones’s 2013 interview with him on the Suga’ in My Bowl show.
 
AZA is on display until July 21, 2016 at the Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education. Will Calhoun’s next effort as a leader is a a tribute to drummer Elvin Jones, scheduled for a summer 2016 release. Calhoun will be appearing at New York’s Blue Note jazz club as a guest with pianist McCoy Tyner on Tuesday April 26. He’ll also be at City Winery on June 1st and 8th for acoustic sets with Living Colour as part of their world tour for their new release, SHADE, tentatively scheduled for fall 2016.
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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.
 
Joyce Jones is the executive producer and host of Suga’ in My Bowl. She is a graphic designer and her photos have been published in Black Renaissance Noir.

Words by Hank Williams | Photos by Joyce Jones & Hank Williams

The annual Vision Fest returns his year for its 24th edition and as usual provides a week full of avant garde jazz, dance, poetry, and visual art all under the same roof and available for the same admission fee. Single day passes are available and it’s probably a good idea to grab them in advance since the individual evenings can sell out. It’s worth considering a full festival pass, which gets you entrance to all six nights.

The 2019 event moves back to a more traditional calendar slot, running from June 11-16 and returns to Roulette in downtown Brooklyn. Roulette’s extremely easy to access, though: it’s one long block from the Atlantic Avenue subways and LIRR station.

The festival officially started on Sunday June 9 with film screenings at Anthology Film Archives in Manhattan.

This post will highlight a few key performances to look forward to, but you can (and should) look at the full schedule since it’s not possible to focus on every performance there in a single post and one of the wonderful things about the festival are the sets that take you by surprise.

Andrew Cyrille | Joyce Jones/Sugabowl Photography

As is Vision’s tradition, the opening night on Tuesday June 11 is centered around an artist that Vision bestows with a lifetime achievement award. This year’s honoree is drummer Andrew Cyrille. As is Vision’s tradition, Cyrille will perform in multiple ensembles during the course of the evening with collaborators chosen by the honoree. Cyrille’s going for quantity this time and will be part of eight different ensembles throughout the evening.

Cyrille’s Haitian Fascination ensemble starts off the night, and here he’s joined by poet Quincy Troupe. Later on is a duet with saxophonist and frequent Vision participant saxophonist Kidd Jordan. Jordan’s wide-open, bluesy style should mesh well and will push the limits as both are consummate improvisors. Following that, drummer Milford Graves joins Cyrille for another duo that recalls the conversation between them in a live performance captured on their 1974 Dialogue of the Drums release.

In the second half of the evening, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and guitarist Brandon Ross join Cyrille for a trio. But one of the highlights of the night not to be missed is Cyrille’s duo with saxophonist Peter Brötzmann. Again, it reunites collaborators from an old recording, this time recalling the 1982 Andrew Cyrille Meets Peter Brötzmann release. Brötzmann rarely plays in the US these days, so any opportunity to see him is worth it.

Henry Grimes (left) and Marc Ribot at the 2016 Vision Fest. | Joyce Jones/Sugabowl Photography

Wednesday night kicks off with the return of guitarist Marc Ribot, who leads a quartet here along with drummer Chad Taylor–a frequent collaborator who was part of Ribot’s trio with bassist Henry Grimes. Nick Dunston (b) and Jay Rodriguez (sax, flute) round out the ensemble. Ribot’s set should be an evolution of his work with the Spiritual Unity ensembles and be a highly experimental, energetic show.

Later on Wednesday night, the stage gets turned over to poetry as Edwin Torres and Fred Moten’s words are accompanied by Brandon Lopez (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums). It should be on the more experimental, “out” end of the spectrum, but that’s one hallmark of Vision: not only does it give space to poets, but it gives them prime time slots, doesn’t relegate them to a secondary stage (which there hasn’t been for several years now), and doesn’t shy away from performances that may be conceptually difficult.

                                            (L-R) Kidd Jordan, Michael Bisio, Hamid Drake | Joyce Jones/Sugabowl Photography

Saxophonist Kidd Jordan earns the closing slot on Wednesday night. Here, he’s joined by frequent Vision collaborators in bassist William Parker and drummer Hamid Drake along with pianist Joel Futterman in a tribute set dedicated to the late AACM member Alvin Fielder. This is another attribute of Vision: the constant reminders of those who’ve passed on and the commitment to continue their legacy through new and revisited work. Jordan’s set should be one of the highlights of the festival, though. While Jordan’s work fits in with the avant garde slant of the festival, it draws equally deeply from the blues and sacred music. One of the most impressive things is his ability to move seamlessly between points of inspiration and create improvised free-form narratives. Parker and Drake are perfect partners here as both have the flexibility to respond to whatever Jordan does and create moods of their own for Jordan to answer.

Melvin Gibbs at the 2016 Vision Fest | Joyce Jones/Sugabowl Photography

Thursday night again features a full night of performances, bookended by two particularly worth paying attention to. The God Particle ensemble brings together Melvin Gibbs (electric bass), Stephon Alexander (sax, laptop, EWI), James Brandon Lewis (sax), Luke Stewart (bass), Marc Cary (piano, synth), Graham Haynes (tpt), Will Calhoun (d), and David Pleasant (d, body perc). Gibbs’s ensemble builds on his interest in physics and collaborative work with Alexander, who’s a theoretical physicist and author of The Jazz of Physics. Their description probably sums up the set best: “God Particle will premiere a new work, Ogodo, the Cosmic Fabric, which examines the similarities between theoretical physics and African cosmology in relation to the concept of the “cosmic fabric” of space-time.”

To close Thursday evening, saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc leads Alto Gladness, featuring a trio of saxophonists along with William Parker (b) and Gerald Cleaver (d) in a tribute to Cecil Taylor that looks to be loud, boisterous fun.

Friday begins the first of a trio of afternoon panel discussions, held at 3 PM before the evening’s main performances start. This afternoon’s focus will be on Race and Gender in music and how it reflects economics and available resources for artists.

Later on Friday night, the duo of bassist William Parker and pianist Matthew Shipp hits, in what they say is their first duo appearance in the US in a decade. Expect intense and nuanced conversation between the two from this intimate set.

Saturday starts off with another rountable discussion (this time at 1 PM) on Practical Concerns of FreeJazz Artists). A large panel takes on a range of issues including housing, funding opportunities, education, and performance opportunities.

James Brandon Lewis at the 2016 Vision Festival | Hank Williams

Saturday night features a solid lineup as well, with several acts worth seeing. Saxophonist James Brandon Lewis’s Unruly Quintet takes the stage at 9:30 PM. The lineup is the same one as the critically acclaimed Unruly Manifesto released earlier this year: Luke Stewart (b), Warren “Trae” Crudup (d), Anthony Pirog (elec guitar), and Jaimie Branch (tpt). Pirog and Branch add depth to the already tight, hard-hitting trio that played Vision in 2016 and made a big impression with their raw energy and Lewis’s incredible honesty. Lewis brings the same raw power and finesse to the stage and the colors and textures Pirog and Branch add to the mix promise an extremely enjoyable and challenging set of music.

Douglas R. Ewart closes out Saturday night with a set that should be a little less high energy than the previous one, but still extremely satisfying as well, with bassist Luke Stewart returning and guitarist Brandon Ross joining the cast to pay tribute to Joseph Jarman.

Sunday starts with the final afternoon panel discussion on Understanding and Achieving Cultural Equity at 3 PM followed by several strong closing night sets. Heroes are Gang Leaders, led by James Brandon Lewis and poet Thomas Sayers Ellis, takes the work of the late poet, writer, music critic, and Vision performer Amiri Baraka as a starting point for their own combination of words and music that serves as a fitting follow-up to Baraka’s own Blue Ark ensembles that graced the Vision stage many times in the past.

Pianist D.D. Jackson draws the honor of closing out the entire festival on Sunday night with a band formed in tribute to the late saxophonist Hamiett Bluiett.

That’s a lot–and it still just scratches the surface of what’s on offer at Vision. Again, it’s worth jumping to the full schedule to see everyone scheduled to perform.

For a deeper dive into this year’s honoree Andrew Cyrille, check out our show that aired on June 4 on WBAI, which was actually the first of two parts. We’ve also previously profiled several of the artists highlighted in this piece.

Constants of the festival are the open atmosphere, where artists mingle before and after sets and outside the venue and the vending area with releases from the artists you’ve just heard–often on small or obscure labels–that you can likely have autographed on the spot to taker home and all sorts of other related things.

With as much change as there is every year in the arts scene and the continuing reports of either the resurgence or death of jazz (depending who you read), the Vision Festival endures as a reassuring institution that’s seemed to survive by keeping true to its roots and taking real ethical and artistic principles that it sticks to no matter what. For an impressive 24 years, that’s been the secret to success, if only by sheer force of will, lots of community support, and tons of behind-the-scenes and often donated labor that substitutes for corporate underwriting. But the above is simply an embodiment of the festival’s name: it creates one vision of what we might want the artistic world to look like and a template for bringing it closer to fruition.

We’ll also check back in with a review and photos after Vision wraps up.

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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. Find him on Twitter @streetgriot

Now that the dust has settled on the holiday and New Year’s festivities, it’s time to refocus on music and what’s become a refreshingly busy season in New York for jazz and improvised/creative music.

The Winter Jazz Fest returns for its 15th year in 2019 with the usual staggering array of sets, stages, and ancillary events. Not to be outdone, however, Arts for Art–the scrappy organizers best known for the annual Vision Fest (already scheduled for June 11-16 2019: save the dates)–have fired back with a week of events of their own from the 16-21 at Nublu, which will be covered in a later post. Right now’s a good time to look at WJF’s first “mini marathon” day and a few of the standalone events next week. Look for a deep dive into the marathon days on the 11-12th in our annual Cheat Sheet early next week.

Winter Jazz runs from January 4-12 2019 at a series of venues scattered around its traditional nucleus of Greenwich Village. The traditional “marathon nights” are on the 11th and 12th and it’s best to reserve tickets for them early since they might sell out due to festival’s popularity.

WJF dubs Saturday January 5th as a “mini marathon” with a range of acts in multiple venues. Me’shell Ndegeocello’s this year’s artist-in-residence and has multiple appearances at the fest, including at 7:50 on Saturday at Le Poisson Rouge. I’m particularly looking forward to the Zig Zag Power Trio, which has a 12:20 AM (technically Sunday morning) show at the Bitter End. The trio of Living Colour alums Vernon Reid and Will Calhoun teamed up with bassist Melvin Gibbs put out a fantastic release last year that got nowhere near the attention it should have, but will certainly have a high energy mix of free improvisation pulled from their various influences of jazz, blues, and rock on offer. I’ve written about them here and here, so I’ll send you to those write-ups.

Zinc Bar’s Saturday line-up features the Dave Liebman Group at 8 PM and saxophonist Tia Fuller presents work from her 2018 Diamond Cut album at 10:40 PM. One word of caution, though: Zinc’s a very small venue and gets packed quickly, so be prepared to get there very early.

This is just a sample of all the Saturday night shows; head over to the full schedule for the rest.

With Winter Jazz Fest’s continued popularity and expansion, they’ve also introduced several smaller standalone shows during the week.

Sunday January 6th features several acts at Le Poission Rouge with a return by festival regular guitarist Marc Ribot, who presents work from his 2018 Songs of Resistance release; pianist Samora Pinderhughes’s Transformations Suite; and Toshi Reagon’s annual Word*Rock*Sword event, dedicated to women’s lives.

Monday January 7th features several more sets at Le Poission Rouge, with The Bad Plus, Terri Lyne Carrington‘s Social Science, and Terrence Blanchard’s E-Collective taking the stage. Here, Blanchard does a follow-up to his performance at last fall’s BRIC Jazz Fest, which was one of the best shows I saw all year. Blanchard’s sweeping cinematic arrangements meld together almost seamlessly with nods to late career Miles Davis. Charles Altura’s stirring electric guitar work helps bind the collage together.

On Wednesday January 9th, you’ll have to head to Brooklyn Steel, but will be rewarded by a performance by Medeski, Martin, and Wood, who routinely sell out shows when they appear in New York nowadays and sound as good as they ever have.

On Thursday January 10th, you have a choice between Ndegeocello, who graces the stage of Nublu’s larger space at 151 Avenue C and Gary Bartz, who’s doing a 50th anniversary tribute of his Another Earth album at Le Poisson Rouge with saxophonist Pharoah Sanders.

Here, Sanders and Bartz get the chance to recreate some of the magic of a half-century ago. Both are still strong players and still in good form, if shaped by long careers. Sanders last graced the WJF stage two years ago in a phenomenal performance that saw Sanders call fellow saxophonist Ravi Coltrane to the stage for a stirring rendition of John Coltrane’s Olé.

Trumpeter Charles Tolliver–who celebrated a milestone of his own last year with the 50th anniversary of Paperman–also rejoins Bartz for the performance.

It promises to be an inspired performance and one not to be missed. Be sure to tune in to our show this Sunday for more Wintter Jazz coverage when Joyce Jones interviews saxophonist Marcus Strickland on Suga’ in My Bowl at 11 PM on WBAI Radio and streaming online.
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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 Lehman College.

DSC_0136Words by Hank Williams. Photos by Joyce Jones/SugaBowl Photography. | MAIN PHOTO: Jamaladeen Tacuma of the Young Philadelphians. Used with Permission. Some Rights Reserved. Creative Commons CC-NC-BY-ND.

The 13th edition of the annual Winter Jazz Fest officially wrapped up Tuesday night, bringing to an end a six-day extravaganza of music with a performance by the Liberation Music Orchestra closing the year’s festivities.

The festival clustered, as usual, around several different venues scattered throughout Greenwich Village. The historic center has been near Le Poisson Rouge and Zinc Bar on Bleecker Street. For the second year in a row, The New School provided several performance spaces, which are a welcome addition to the ever-expanding event. Smaller clusters of venues in both the East and West Village rounded out the list and had festival goers crawling between the different spots, adding somewhat of a logistical challenge to festival goers intent on seeing multiple acts.

The 2017 edition ran from January 5-10, with most the performances scheduled on the “marathon nights” Friday and Saturday the 7th and 8th.

This year also saw the addition of a festival theme: social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement. According to festival organizer Brice Rosenbloom, inspiration for the theme came from the musicians themselves since so many sent proposals for performances that addressed the topic in one way or another. A festival-related Tumblr feed collected artists’ statements on contemporary political issues and an official festival statement explicitly staked out the political turf in the program guide, affirming that it “explicitly supports social and racial justice by presenting socially engaged artists who have urgent and beautiful messages to share.” In a nod to history, the statement also noted that “[p]rotest and resistance are central to jazz’s existence from its beginnings as the music of marginalized black Americans.”

Other touchstones were the celebration of pianist Thelonious Monk’s 100th birthday, which was officially acknowledged with an event on Sunday the 9th, with a dozen musicians, including guitarist Marc Ribot, pianist David Virelles, and drummers Hamid Drake and Andrew Cyrille interpreting Monk’s Solo Monk album in a variety of combos.

Lastly, Andrew Cyrille was this year’s artist in residence and the subject of an interview by a former student of his: fellow drummer Jonathan Blake. Cyrille also had several performances, including leading Haitian Fascination; a duo with saxophonist Bill McHenry; and a solo performance.

The official festival kickoff on Thursday evening started with two events in different venues. For the third year in a row, the festival hosted a Disability Pride benefit concert featuring several musicians raising funds to support the organization that works to instill a sense of pride in disabled people and create wider awareness for the issues they face. The brainchild of pianist Mike LeDonne, the organization’s key event is a summertime parade.

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Shabaka and the Ancestors

Thursday night also featured a concert at Le Poisson Rouge linking two generations of saxophonists: London-based Shabaka Hutchings, who opened the evening with his new group Shabaka and the Ancestors; followed by the legendary Pharaoh Sanders. The concert sold out early and left potential attendees scrambling for tickets; a sign that it should have been held in one of the festival’s larger venues, which is something that the organizers need to consider in the future since space concerns have dogged the festival as its popularity has risen.

The show was Hutchings’s first US appearance and the first of two performances, as they had a repeat appearance on Saturday night in the same space.

Hutchings’s Saturday performance was a fiery one before a crowd that again filled the space. Buoyed by Siyabonga Mthembu’s ethereal poetic vocals and Ariel Zomonsky’s frenetic, expressive bass, the group got the audience dancing—at least those who had enough space to do so. At the end of the set, Hutchings expressed gratitude for their embrace by the US audience. Hopefully we won’t need to wait long for their return.

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Pharaoh Sanders

In Sanders’s set, he again showed why he’s rightfully earned a solid place in jazz history and is still worth seeing, as he’s capable of playing with an astonishing combination of finesse and sheer, room-clearing power when he sees fit. Sanders’s current shows can involve a wide range of material and vary according to his mood and who accompanies him. A 2016 appearance at Dizzy’s saw a somewhat subdued, contemplative Sanders, while a spring set at the Red Bull Music Academy’s “Night of Spiritual Jazz” featuring the impressive lineup of Sanders, the Sun Ra Arkestra, and Kamasi Washington (another show that, frustratingly, sold out quickly, though was simulcast online) brought a Sanders who seemed inspired by the occasion and performed a stunning cover of John Coltrane’s “Olé”. Which one would appear at the festival?

It was the latter Sanders who took the stage. Sanders, buoyed by longtime pianist William Henderson, bassist Dezron Douglas, and drummer Jonathan Blake, had the backup he needed for an inspiring set and he delivered. Vocalist Tony Hewitt came onstage for a pleasantly mellow take of “The Creator Has a Master Plan”, though one without some of the edge and soul of the Leon Thomas original.

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Ravi Coltrane (left) and Pharaoh Sanders

The highlight of the set, however, was the performance of “Olé”, which had the touching addition of Ravi Coltrane, who Sanders spotted in the audience and called to the stage. Coltrane, prepared with soprano saxophone brilliantly played off Sanders’s sax while Henderson and Douglas’s rhythm section dutifully kept things in check as the dueling saxes explored. It was indeed a performance for the ages and a fittingly symbolic closing of the circle as they expertly worked through a composition of one of Sanders’s key mentors with the addition of Coltrane’s son, now a leader in his own right who’s also found his own voice as a player. It was the aural equivalent of seeing three generations of sax masters.

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Craig Harris

On Saturday night, trombonist Craig Harris found himself at the front of the stage and armed with sheet music and conducting duties instead of his instrument. His role was melding a cohesive sound from a collection of the roughly 3 dozen musicians and artists who answered his call last fall to “make[e] a sonic statement in response to current injustices inflicted on African American people”.

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Craig Harris’ Breathe fills the stage

“Breathe” had its premiere in October, 2015 and is a stunning multidisciplinary work of art. An expansive big band was accompanied by performance poet and multi-instrumentalist Ngoma Hill and a slide show by Bill Toles projected on a screen above the stage.

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Saxophonist Ras Moshe (left) and Ngoma Hill.

Hill read excerpts from his works “Blacktastik Funk Suite,” “Keep Calm,” “Cerebral Calisthenics,” and “I Need a Poem.” The words, images, and swirling sounds created an immersive experience that the audience into the interconnected suite.

Later, in the New School’s 12th Street auditorium, saxophonist David Murray’s set directly engaged the festival theme. Leading a version of his Class Struggle ensemble, Murray’s expressive sax playing was outstanding. Murray closed the set with a nod to the late Amiri Baraka, who he collaborated with on album releases and plays. “Class Struggle in Music” titled after one of Baraka’s famous poems, began with riffs of “Amazing Grace,” a fitting homage to the longtime activist writer.

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Zig Zag Trio.

Over in the West Village, the Zig Zag Trio of electric guitarist Vernon Reid, electric bassist Melvin Gibbs, and drummer Will Calhoun closed out the evening at SOB’s and provided one of the festival’s highlights. With two members drawn from the rock group Living Colour (Reid and Calhoun) and their common background in the Brooklyn based Black Rock Coalition, an electrifying set was a foregone conclusion.

According to Gibbs, Zig Zag resuscitates a combination that hadn’t played together since the 1990s and grew out of Reid’s curation of a series at the Iridium club. Reid thought it would be good for the three friends to play together again, thus the birth of the current trio roughly two years ago.

The vibe was similar to what it’s been in the previous shows: more like a jam session than an actual set. But with musicians like these who have been playing together for so long, the communication between them makes the process seem fluid and organic.

While the obvious connection is their rock heritage, ties to various musical forms are just as deep, which is reflected in their playing and the song selection. The late drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson is a major influence, as is the Blues, and the late avant garde jazz guitar mad scientist Sonny Sharrock. Reid and Gibbs are both alumni of Jackson’s band. Reid explained from the stage that they “always play a couple of Jackson’s pieces because Ronald changed our lives.”

The set started with a cover of bluesman Junior Kimbrough’s “I Love Ya’ Baby”.

That was followed one of the hardest rocking covers of Pharaoh Sanders’ “Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt” ever done. The infectious melody of the original soon fell away to Reid’s virtuosic improvisations on guitar, backed by Calhoun’s wide-open hard-hitting drumming. Gibbs, meanwhile was somehow able to resist the allure of going totally out with his band mates in the mayhem and kept a steady bass line that formed the heart of the piece. The trio created space for one of Calhoun’s stage-rattling drum solos near the end before the final statement of the theme.

There was a deeper meaning behind nearly every song in the set and that was true of “Upper Egypt.” It was one of the songs in Sonny Sharrock’s setlist and Gibbs played it several times with Sharrock’s band before he had deeply listened to the original. The song’s choice was both a tribute to Sharrock and a nod to Sanders, whose set opened the festival.

The trio gave a nod to Monk’s centennial with a cover of “Epistrophy” which was subjected to a similar treatment after a slight false start.

Gibbs was tasked with starting off the next piece: a cover of “King Tut Strut” that was the contribution of Will Calhoun. Again, his steadying rhythm at the center held things together for Reid to explore. Halfway through, the roles switched and Gibbs’s steady hand was rewarded with time to explore on his own while Reid temporarily assumed the rhythm duties. When Calhoun’s turn to solo came, the master drummer showed why his latest release as a leader is a tribute to the late drum great Elvin Jones. Like Jones, Calhoun plays with volume — but also impeccable finesse — and has the uncanny ability to create solos with narratives that can go on seemingly forever and still sound fresh.

Elements of the blues, jazz, rock, rhythm and blues, and West African traditions all comfortably fit—and peacefully coexist—within the framework of the Zig Zag Trio.

The set was easily one of the hardest rocking ones of the festival, yet, if one looks closer, underscores the range of the players and the Black musical tradition that they draw from. Elements of the blues, jazz, rock, rhythm and blues, and West African traditions all comfortably fit—and peacefully coexist—within the framework of the Zig Zag Trio. It’s the type of project that could only succeed with players this proficient and with the level of comfort and trust they have in each other, which is clear on stage.

A live recording session is planned sometime for the spring at Woodstock Studios, though has to be shoehorned between Reid and Calhoun’s busy Living Colour tour schedule and Calhoun’s own dates as a leader for his Elvin Jones tribute. Additional live dates are probably on hold until fall 2017, but they’re well worth looking out for.

Saturday night tested the stamina of festival goers with persistent snowfall extending halfway through the evening. While it didn’t pile up too much, it was enough to make things slippery, walking slow going, and shuttling between locations a bit of a slog.

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Jaimeo Brown and Transcendence

Fortunately, Jaimeo Brown and Transcendence braved the weather and took the stage at SOB’s for their early set with a stunning multimedia collage.

Brown’s released two thematically similar CDs: Transcendence and Work Songs.

Work Songs is an audio collage combining actual sampled work songs that was a very successful release and critically acclaimed. While the samples form the base of the audio collage, they function as a vehicle for Brown and his collaborators to improvise around, not a crutch as they might elsewhere.

Live, the content was even more powerful than expected. Brown and company presented a multimedia spectacle, with video and some of the sampled sounds from both releases accompanied by Jaleel Shaw’s sax solos, Brown’s drumming, and Chris Sholar’s electric guitar work.

“Be So Glad” from Work Songs started the set. Shaw’s soaring sax solos that melted into the audio collage and seemed to float at times with the addition of a touch of reverb while a continuously shifting photo stream played in the background.

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D.C. Focus and Transcendence

The addition of D.C. Focus’s dancing halfway through the set complemented the larger narrative in Transcendence of the African American experience as a complex journey of grit, struggle, pain and joy: sometimes juxtaposed or simultaneous. While popping, locking, and even crawling as a counterpoint to the music in front of the band, Focus seemed to amplify the intensity of the performance.

Musically, Brown’s work defies simple categorization (as if those were even simple to begin with) between hip hop, blues, work songs, electric blues, and jazz as they all blurred together. The result though was–as promised—a set that felt truly transcendental.

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The Young Philadelphians

Saturday night also marked the return of Marc Ribot and the Young Philadelphians to the festival. 2017 was their third appearance and showed how far the ensemble has come, as this time they came to the stage with a world tour under their belts and a CD release culled from live shows in Tokyo.

The Young Philadelphians could only be the brainchild of someone like Ribot. The group reworks classic 1970s disco and soul tunes through the lens of electric guitar leads Ribot and Mary Halvorson with backing from two alums of late saxophonist Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time bands: electric bassist Jamaladeen Tacuma and drummer G. Calvin Weston. The entire cast of characters is then melded with a string section—Joanna Mattley (viola), Amy Bateman (violin), and Jeremy Harmon (cello)—in this case. As I said in my preview, it’s an idea that seems too crazy to work, but indeed it does.

Ribot, Tacuma, and Weston are steeped in Coleman’s signature Harmolodic musical approach while Halvorson adds coloring touches and density and the strings replicate their role in the original songs while their lushness acts in counterpoint to the sharpness of the guitars.

The Philly soul classic “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)”–known to many as the theme song from the TV show Soul Train –exemplifies the Young Philadelphians’ approach. The song began with a long introduction before the statement of the familiar melody. A signal from Ribot marked the spot for a Weston drum solo followed by a string section solo before the mayhem resumed.

Ribot strips the lyrics to their bare essence, delivering them like chants. “Let’s get it on! It’s time to get down” takes on a different meaning in the current climate and given the festival theme. Instead of the joyous invitation to party, they seem more like marching orders for the audience.

The Ohio Players’ high octane “Love Rollercoaster” followed immediately and provided ample space for a string solo in the middle followed by a Tacuma bass solo and a call-response section between bass and drums.

The disco hit “Fly Robin Fly” from the unlikely German group Silver Convention was next. Like most tunes in their repertoire, it took a sweet, innocuous pop song exploded it, then re-assembled into a full tapestry. The chant-like lyrics “Fly, robin, fly/ Way up to the sky!” were treated as a call and response by the band members and the sparse lyrics of the original are the perfect platform the Young Philadelphians’ treatment. Halfway though, the song broke down into a free-for-all with strings and guitars all improvising before re-assembling for the end.

“Love TKO” began as an antidote to the above, and remains a ballad with funked – up bass lines, though eventually that even succumbed at the end of the song to Ribot and Halvorson’s excursions.

An extended, melodious intro to “Do the Hustle” emphasized the lushness of the strings before Ribot’s angular interpretation of the theme, reliably set off, as usual, by Halvorson’s looping improvisation. The song ended with a majestic-sounding restatement of the intro theme, closing with a final cymbal clash by Weston.

“Love Epidemic” read as yet another command for the times. If there was ever a time it was needed the time is right now. Almost deliberately, the song preserved more of the original lyrics than others: “There won’t be no need for medication /There won’t be no discrimination/ All we need is your participation / Then we’ll be united as a nation!” sent out a corresponding call to “It’s time to get down”: if indeed it’s time to fight, then the love epidemic might be what we want to fight for.

Much of the Young Philadelphians’ appeal comes from their successful reworking of bygone hits, but with a sense of the larger than life, nearly epic scope of the 1970s soul era

If you were old enough to remember the original songs, they had one meaning that reached back to the memory bank. If not, it didn’t matter to the nearly packed crowd of various ages because they rock hard enough to move the crowd. Much of the Young Philadelphians’ appeal comes from their successful reworking of bygone hits, but with a sense of the larger than life, nearly epic scope of the 1970s soul era; one that’s best captured by live instrumentation and embrace of the outrageous, sometimes over-the-top performance style of the originals. Here, that’s transformed into avant garde improvisation.

The one disappointment of the festival was missing the performance of the AfroHORN Superband, led by drummer/ percussionist Francisco Mora Catlett. While a press pass got me into Zinc Bar ahead of a few others on line, I gave up and walked out. Packed to the gills, Zinc made an inhospitable place to hear the music: assuming you could even get close enough to the back room to do so. Actually seeing the performance was out of the question, as was taking any sort of notes.

Quite frankly, the festival needs to drop Zinc as a venue and has needed to for several years since lines outside the small space are routine. One can understand the possible reluctance: after all, Zinc presents jazz several nights a week throughout the year, not just when the big crowds are out, which is an ongoing commitment to the music. Unfortunately, Winter Jazz has simply gotten too big for it, and it’s time to move on.

The 2017 Winter Jazz Fest still must be looked at as a resounding success. The quality and variety of acts it attracts is top notch, the audience support is enthusiastic, as evidenced by the sold-out events and solid crowds even on the second marathon night with sketchy weather, and organization has improved every year.

How deeply the festival ingests and repeats this year’s commitment to social justice remains to be seen–the late spring-summer Vision Fest has that as an embedded part of its DNA—but the willingness to read and react to artists’ own messages says quite a lot. Nevertheless the Winter Jazz Fest still boldly forges ahead artistically and creatively year after year with a finely curated collection of artists who push and stretch the boundaries of jazz while staying firmly rooted in the musical traditions.
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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. Find him on Twitter @streetgriot

The Vernon Reid Power Trio at work at Iridium

The Vernon Reid Power Trio at work at Iridium


Words by Hank Williams | Photos by Joyce Jones. Creative Commons CC-NC-BY-ND.
 
Guitarist Vernon Reid began the set of his “Power Trio” at Manhattan’s Iridium club on Saturday March 12 by explaining that it was the first time that particular combination of musicians had played together in 20 years. That didn’t mean that they were unfamiliar with each other—on the contrary—they were indeed so familiar with each other that the set had the feel of a jam session more than anything else as inside jokes floated around and musicians finished each other’s sentences. This was a good thing and set the tone for an intimate night of intense music.
 
Reid and drummer Will Calhoun have been official on-and-off bandmates in Living Colour for decades now in addition to sharing numerous stages for smaller projects, such as this one. The connection between Reid and bassist Melvin Gibbs is incredibly deep as well, as both are alumni of the late drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson’s Decoding Society band and the Punk Funk All Stars. All three are members of the Brooklyn-based Black Rock Coalition.
Guitarist Vernon Reid

Guitarist Vernon Reid


 
All of this is to say that to hear them playing means hearing a group of musicians so incredibly in sync with each other that verbal communication is secondary to the musical connection that happens on stage and emanates from deep listening and reacting to each other.
 
The second overarching theme of the evening was the legacy of drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson, whose songs provided the base for several of their explorations.
 
Indeed, the trio began the set with one of Jackson’s songs, with Reid setting the tone on guitar, backed by Gibbs’ distinctive distorted bass lines and Calhoun’s drumming.
 
Next came an innovative cover of Miles Davis’ version of “Freedom Jazz Dance”, which was perfectly suited to their treatment, as Reid stretched the familiar melody to the limits. The song finished with a back-and-forth between Reid and Gibbs, backed by Calhoun’s heavy foot on the bass drum.
 
There was also a song dedicated to the late percussionist Nana Vasconcelos, who Reid described as “a magician” who would “recreate the [feeling of] the rain forest” when he played. It began, appropriately, with a solo by Calhoun on an enormous mbira.
Drummer Will Calhoun on mbira

Drummer Will Calhoun on mbira


 
Gibbs jokingly introduced a cover of the blues standard “I Ain’t Superstitious” with the rejoinder that they were now going to play some American music. Reid’s capable romp through Willie Dixon’s classic lyrics proved that he can carry a tune as well as play a guitar like a man possessed. It also showed the range of the players as Reid and Calhoun effortlessly sunk into the blues rhythms, then exited just as quickly as the song ended in a glorious haze of distortion.
Bassist Melvin Gibbs

Bassist Melvin Gibbs


 
The set finished, appropriately enough, with a cover of Ronald Shannon Jackson’s “Street Priest”, led off by one of Calhoun’s trademark thundering drum solos.
Drummer Will Calhoun

Drummer Will Calhoun


 
Iridium’s bio of Reid accurately predicted the night’s set, noting that he’s “done a great deal to undermine stereotypical expectations of what music Black artists ought to play; his rampant eclecticism encompasses everything from hard rock and punk to funk, R&B and avant-garde jazz, and his anarchic, lightning-fast solos have become something of a hallmark”. And the group indeed delivered on pretty much all counts, with diasporic nods to Nana Vasconcelos and Africa thrown into the mix as well.
 
The early set drew an audience that nearly filled Iridium and was rewarded with a strong performance. Reid has curated an occasional series of guitar-based shows at iridium and promised a return engagement for Saturday night’s lineup, though had no definite date for the latter. Let’s hope that comes to fruition and if you missed this set, you’d be well advised to keep an eye out for the next one. Here’s hoping that the incredibly busy schedules of all three don’t result in another 20-year wait.
 
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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.
 
Joyce Jones is the executive producer and host of Suga’ in My Bowl. She is a graphic designer and her photos have been published in Black Renaissance Noir.

bandstand_picPhoto Credit: Hank Williams

Welcome to Suga in My Bowl radio‘s weekly feature, On The Bandstand, where we collect upcoming NYC area shows from current and past guests of our show that ran for 12 years in various time slots on NYC’s WBAI-FM radio. Our audio archives are available on line for free!

The 2020 Winter Jazz Fest has wrapped up. Check back this week for our coverage and stay tuned for our normal weekly listings, event coverage, and possible new projects!

Feeling like hibernating until the weather clears up? The documentary film I Called Him Morgan is streaming on Netflix. See our review for details. The documentary film Chasing Trane is also on Netflix and we reviewed that too.

Drummer Antonio Sanchez brings Migration with vocalist Thana Alexa to the Blue Note from January 28-29.

Pianist Vijay Iyer is at the Jazz Standard solo on January 29 and with a trio from January 30- February 1.

Pianist Marc Cary’s Harlem Sessions series settles back into a weekly Thursday schedule at Smoke on January 30 and February 6.

Saxophonist René McLean is at Zinc Bar on January 31 with percussionist Baba Neil Clarke and drummer Will Calhoun as part of the VTY Jazz Series. They head to Brooklyn’s Sista’s Place for a Randy Weston Tribute on February 8, 2020.

Trumpeter Keyon Harrold is at the Apollo Theater for a Miles Davis celebration on February 1.

Saxophonist Ravi Coltrane leads a quartet at the Jazz Standard from February 4-9.

Percussionist Steve Kroon leads a Latin Jazz Sextet at Smoke on February 5.

Vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater is at the Blue Note from February 5-8.

Trumpeter Eddie Henderson leads a quintet with saxophonist Donald Harrison at Smoke from February 6-9.

Tubist Joe Daley is at Terra Blues with Hazmat Modine on February 15 and 29.

Looking further ahead, Vision Fest Promoters Arts for Art is hosting a special event on March 4 at the Town Hall. The Sun Ra Arkestra led by Marshall Allen joins Bassist William Parker who returns with his Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield suite.

That’s all for now. We’ll have another edition of “On the Bandstand” online next Sunday with a fresh set of listings.

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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 Lehman College. Find him on Twitter @streetgriot

bandstand_picPhoto Credit: Hank Williams

Welcome to Suga in My Bowl radio‘s weekly feature, On The Bandstand, where we collect upcoming NYC area shows from current and past Suga’ guests. We’re online weekly and on the air on NYC’s WBAI-FM radio alternate Sunday nights from 11 PM -1 AM. Keep up with us via Facebook, the blog here, or our main website, or Twitter and we’ll keep track of the schedule for you.

We’re off this week, but will be back next week. If you missed last week’s show with drummer Billy Hart, head over to our archives to listen to that and nearly a decade of shows. You can see him as part of the 2019 Winter Jazz Fest at Le Poisson Rouge on January 12 and he’ll be at Dizzy’s Club with The Cookers the last week of January. We have more festival details coming at the bottom of the segment, but before that we have more listings for you this week.

Pianist David Virelles wraps up a run at the  Village Vanguard with Chris Potter on December 31.

Jake Meginsky’s documentary film Milford Graves Full Mantis ends a run at Time and Space Limited in Hudson NY on January 1. See our review for more details on the film.

Pianist Harold Mabern leads a quartet at Smoke to celebrate the release of his Iron Man album through January 2.

Pianist Marc Cary’s Harlem Sessions series continues with a switch to late Friday night sets at Smoke on January 4 and 11.

Tubist Joe Daley is at Terra Blues with Hazmat Modine on January 5 and 19.

Vocalist Catherine Russell is at City Winery on January 7 and the Mohonk Mountain House in new Paltz NY for Jazz on the Mountain from January 12-14.

Drummer Andrew Cyrille is at the Zürcher Gallery for a solo performance on January 9.

Drummer Francisco Mora Catlett leads AfroHORN at Brooklyn’s Sistas’ Place on January 12.

Trumpeter Freddie Hendrix is at Zinc Bar on January 16.

The 2019 Winter Jazz Fest blows back into town from January 4-12 and the full schedule’s been announced! Shows are scheduled at various venues in downtown Manhattan with marathon nights of music on the 5, 11, and 12 and individual events and talks on other nights. Look for our usual on-air programming in our upcoming shows and right here–with our annual Cheat Sheet preview and more. The mini marathon night on January 5 will have the Zig Zag Power Trio with Melvin Gibbs and Will Calhoun at The Bitter End, bassist Richard Bona at Le Poisson Rouge, Tia Fuller at Zinc Bar, and Nels Cline at Nublu among many other acts. You can see the full schedule at the Winter Jazz Fest website.

Save the date(s): the 2019 Vision Fest will honor former Suga’ guest Andrew Cyrille and returns to Roulette in downtown Brooklyn from June 11-16. Full lineups will be announced later and we’ll get you details and full coverage as the date nears and the weather warms up.

That’s all for now. Suga’ in My Bowl will be back on WBAI‘s airwaves on Sunday January 6. We also have a schedule change and will be moving to a weekly Tuesday night schedule at 10 PM starting January 8. We’ll also have another edition of “On the Bandstand” online next Sunday with a fresh set of listings.

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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 Lehman College. Find him on Twitter @streetgriot

bandstand_picPhoto Credit: Hank Williams

Welcome to Suga in My Bowl radio‘s weekly feature, On The Bandstand, where we collect upcoming NYC area shows from current and past Suga’ guests. We’re online weekly and on the air on NYC’s WBAI-FM radio alternate Sunday nights from 11 PM -1 AM. Keep up with us via Facebook, the blog here, or our main website, or Twitter and we’ll keep track of the schedule for you.

This week’s guest is drummer Billy Hart. You can see him as part of the 2019 Winter Jazz Fest at Le Poisson Rouge on January 12 and he’ll be at Dizzy’s Club with The Cookers the last week of January. We have more festival details coming at the bottom of the segment, but before that we have more listings for you this week.

Pianist Barry Harris leads a trio at Dizzy’s Club on December 24.

Pianist David Virelles is at the  Village Vanguard with Chris Potter from December 25-31.

Jake Meginsky’s documentary film Milford Graves Full Mantis is showing at Time and Space Limited in Hudson NY through January 1. See our review for more details on the film.

Pianist Marc Cary’s Harlem Sessions series continues with a switch to late Friday night sets at Smoke on December 28 and January 4.

Pianist Harold Mabern leads a quartet at Smoke to celebrate the release of his Iron Man album from December 27 to January 2.

Bassist Alex Blake is at Harlem’s Greater Calvary Baptist Church with Jay Rodriguez for a lunchtime set as part of the Harlem Jazz Boxxx series on December 28.

Trombonist and seashellist Steve Turre is at Jazz Forum Arts in Tarrytown NY on December 28 and 29.

Guitarist Nels Cline is at Sony Hall in Manhattan on December 29.

Tubist Joe Daley is at Terra Blues with Hazmat Modine on January 5 and 19.

Vocalist Catherine Russell is at City Winery on January 7 and the Mohonk Mountain House in new Paltz NY for Jazz on the Mountain from January 12-14.

Drummer Andrew Cyrille is at the Zürcher Gallery for a solo performance on January 9.

The 2019 Winter Jazz Fest blows back into town from January 4-12 and the full schedule’s been announced! Shows are scheduled at various venues in downtown Manhattan with marathon nights of music on the 5, 11, and 12 and individual events and talks on other nights. Look for our usual on-air programming in our upcoming shows and right here–with our annual Cheat Sheet preview and more. The mini marathon night on January 5 will have the Zig Zag Power Trio with Melvin Gibbs and Will Calhoun at The Bitter End, bassist Richard Bona at Le Poisson Rouge, Tia Fuller at Zinc Bar, and Nels Cline at Nublu among many other acts. You can see the full schedule at the Winter Jazz Fest website.

Save the date(s): the 2019 Vision Fest will honor former Suga’ guest Andrew Cyrille and returns to Roulette in downtown Brooklyn from June 11-16. Full lineups will be announced later and we’ll get you details and full coverage as the date nears and the weather warms up.

That’s all for now. Suga’ in My Bowl will be back on WBAI‘s airwaves on Sunday January 6. We also have a schedule change and will be moving to a weekly Tuesday night schedule at 10 PM starting January 8. We’ll also have another edition of “On the Bandstand” online next Sunday with a fresh set of listings.

—-
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 Lehman College. Find him on Twitter @streetgriot

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