Archives for category: Previews

DOC-NYC-600x400
You might think a film festival is an unusual place for jazz fans – and you might be right – unless the festival in question is DOC NYC. The annual celebration of documentary film usually has several music selections and this year’s no exception. We’re going to pull out a few that jazz fans might want to keep an eye out for, including some unexpected picks. Even if you miss them here, the festival circuit offers a trial run for films and often result in wider release for ones that garner positive reactions.

The festival runs from November 8-15 2018 at several locations in Manhattan and there are several other films that will likely be of interest to documentary fans besides the ones highlighted here, but this post will focus on our primary beat: films of interest to Jazz fans.

It Must Schwing! The Blue Note Story

It Must Schwing! takes a look at the creation and golden era of the iconic Blue Note record label through a biographical look at the co-founders, German immigrants Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff. The film follows the two friends from their first meeting at a concert in Berlin through their flight from Nazi Germany to their separate arrivals in New York and decision to build a record label that would do things differently and be focused on the artists and the music. It’s actually not the only Blue Note film out this year: Sophie Huber’s Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes had it’s debut in the spring at the Tribeca Film Festival. The two films actually complement each other, with some unavoidable overlap. Huber’s film attempts a broader overview and sacrifices some of the historical context for screen time devoted to the current Blue Note, whereas this film ends with the sale of the label in the early 70s and Wolff’s death. Schwing! features extensive archival footage of artists and some timely interviews with people recently deceased, such as Village Vanguard owner Lorraine Gordon.

It Must Schwing! screens at 4 PM on Sat. November 10 at The SVA Theatre on West 23rd St. Details and tickets are here and those wanting a deeper dive can check out our 10/28 radio show featuring an interview with director Eric Friedler, who will also be on hand for the DOC NYC screening.

 

Quincy

 

Quincy takes a sweeping look at the life of Quincy Jones, whose immense legacy as a producer overshadows his work as a musician. Q’s daughter Rashida Jones and Alan Hicks followed him for three years to assemble the film along with interviews of some of the numerous artists whose careers he’s launched or shaped in his six decade career. Quincy is obviously primarily a first person narrative and may fall on the hagiographic end of the spectrum, but when the subject is someone like Jones, one can’t help but get a broad swath of music history along with the story.

While the film’s already streaming on Netflix, the DOC NYC screening offers the opportunity to see it on the big screen and the co-directors are scheduled to attend the screening for a post-screening talk. It’s screening at 8 PM on Thursday November 8 at the SVA Theater and at 10 PM on Saturday November 10 at Cinepolis Chelsea. Again, advance tickets are a must since screenings are likely to sell out.

There are, of course, a lot more films on offer at DOC NYC and likely something else that’ll interest you. Head on over to the DOC NYC website a full list of films.

—-
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.

Advertisements

The annual Vision Fest returns his year for its 23rd 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 Wednesday night opening is already sold out.

The 2018 event is much earlier than usual: running from May 23-29, wrapping up on Memorial Day. It also features a return to Roulette in downtown Brooklyn after 3 years at Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village. 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 Monday May 21 with films at Anthology Film Archives in Manhattan.

As is Vision’s tradition, the opening night on Wednesday May 23 is centered around an artist that Vision bestows with a lifetime achievement award. This year’s honoree is pianist Dave Burrell. As is Vision’s tradition, Burrell will perform in multiple ensembles during the course of the evening.

Burrell’s Harlem Renaissance suite featuring drummer Andrew Cyrille should be worth a look, and emanates from the intersection of his family’s history with the era.

Next up is what promises to be a historic reunion of former bandmates when Burrell joins legendary saxophonist Archie Shepp along with drummer Hamid Drake and bassist William Parker; the latter two are both familiar names to the Vision crowd. Burrell appears on several of Shepp’s classic early 1970s albums, including Live at the Pan African Festival, Blasé, Kwanza, and Attica Blues. Additionally, he’s been a more recent collaborator with Drake and Parker. The set promises to be a memorable one, as Shepp doesn’t gig too often in the US now.

Wednesday night’s closing set promises to be an exceptionally exhilarating ride, with Burrell leading a quintet with dual tenor saxophonists in Kidd Jordan and James Brandon Lewis, bassist William Parker, and drummer Hamid Drake. Jordan and Lewis are at opposite ends of the age spectrum, but both have a free-flowing wide open playing style and with Jordan drawing from the deep wells of the southern Blues for much of his inspiration, the pairing with the rising star Lewis should be special for all involved.

Thursday night kicks off with a panel discussion on the topic of “Creating Safe(r) Spaces in the Performing Arts,” featuring members of the We Have a Voice Collective, who released an open letter on sexism in Jazz.

Electric guitarist Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl ensemble starts Thursday night, followed by Vision veteran Whit Dickey’s trio. The Women With an Axe to Grind ensemble is something not to be overlooked, though. Bassist Jöelle Léandre will be making a rare US appearance and is joined by flutist Nicole Mitchell and violist Melanie Dyer.

Friday night brings pianist Matthew Shipp in different ensembles. Shipp teams up with Daniel Carter on saxophone/trumpet/flute and ever-present bassist William Parker for “Seraphic Light” early in the evening and leads the “Acoustic Ensemble” for the closing set. In between that, drummer Nasheet Waits’s “Equality” ensemble has a set that will be worth catching.

On Saturday, vocalist Fay Victor’s “Mutations for Justice” hits early in the evening. Victor’s freeform vocals are nearly otherworldly at times, creating a sonic palette for improvisations reminiscent of reed instruments. Slightly later, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire joins pianist Kris Davis and drummer/percussionist Tyshawn Sorey for another highly anticipated experimental set. Drummer/percussionist Francisco Mora Catlett draws Saturday night’s cleanup slot with a variation of his long-running Afro-Horn ensemble with trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah as a special guest.

Sunday starts with an afternoon panel discussion moderated by writer Scott Currie, this time for part one on the topic of “The Ongoing Struggle for Cultural Equality in NYC Music Communities” with poet Steve Cannon, pianist Dave Burrell, bassist William Parker, trombonist Craig Harris, Bernadette Speach, and Adam Shatz. Later on, Harris closes out the evening with his “Brown Butterfly” suite.

Memorial Day Monday brings another afternoon panel discussion and continues Sunday’s theme. Mike Heller moderates a panel of bassist Reggie Workman, trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah, saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc, bassist Luke Stewart, drummer Warren Smith, and dancer Patricia Nicholson Parker.

Fly or Die, Trumpeter Jamie Branch’s first release as a leader, gained favorable reviews last year. You get a chance to see her ensemble live in the evening’s first set of music. Slightly later Cooper-Moore gets a solo piano set followed by saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc’s “New World Pygmies.”

Finally, saxophonist Oliver Lake’s big band closes out the entire festival on Monday night. The final festival set is traditionally a large affair and this year should be no different, especially for someone with the compositional skills of Lake. People unfamiliar with Vision might have different ideas of what a big band sounds like, but Lake’s effort here is likely to be one that swings hard while creating multiple spaces for free improvisation and pushes the boundaries.

One unique attribute of Vision is the atmosphere it intentionally creates be breaking down boundaries between audience and musicians and even musicians themselves: it’s not uncommon to see musicians attend on different days simply to watch the other sets as audience members. There’s also a vending area open every night that provides the opportunity to take home some of the music one hears and possibly even get it autographed on the spot.

Vision’s one of the most highly anticipated festivals on our calendar every year at Suga’ in My Bowl radio, and for good reason. It’s a festival of Jazz that intentionally brings one back to the roots of what the music should be about: improvisation, community, and creativity.

For a deeper dive into this year’s honoree Dave Burrell, check out our show that aired on May 13 on WBAI. Our May 27 show will focus on trumpeter Freddie Hendrix, who’ll be part of Oliver Lake’s big band on the same night. It will air on WBAI (and stream online) from 11 PM-1 AM on the 27th and be archived on our site afterwards.

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

—-
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

Words by Hank Williams

In New York City this week, it’s cold, wet, gets dark insanely early, and unending service changes lend a Chess-like complexity to late night or weekend subway trips. Such is the state of winter in the Big Apple, but just when we get close to peak Seasonal Affective Disorder, the annual Winter Jazz Fest blows in to give you a reason to rush out and brave the cold for a weekend. 130 reasons, in fact–the number of acts the festival boasts spread across its multi-day span—with some 600-odd musicians making things happen.

The 14th edition of the ever-expanding annual showcase follows a familiar format: two marathon nights of music in venues scattered around the heart of Greenwich Village, with a few standalone opening and closing events – some of which are already sold out—and we’re told that tickets for even the marathon nights are going fast.

As we’ve done for the past few years, we’ll go through a shows with a viewers’ guide to some of our preferred picks, with an admitted lean toward former guests on our Suga in My Bowl radio show.

I’ll point you toward the full schedule for Friday January 12 and Saturday January 13 marathon nights and artist lineup, but hopefully this will help wade through the myriad choices available each night. Obviously, there are several ways to experience the festival. You can either pick and choose key acts, take a more eclectic approach and see what you find, or some combination of the two. It’s all good.

FESTIVAL THEME AND FOCUS

Following the lead of last year’s event, the festival again tackles themes of social justice. This is most clearly addressed through three different talks during the course of the festival.

“Jazz on the Border” will highlight issues around US visa laws and their impact on musicians. Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington moderates the “Jazz and Gender” panel, which includes Angela Davis and pianist Vijay Iyer among the panelists.

“The Long March: a Conversation on Jazz and Protest” on Tuesday the 16th is the only one with an admission fee, but is easily worth the price. Saxophonist Ras Moshe, who’s becoming well known in free and avant garde jazz circles, moderates the talk among saxophonist Archie Shepp, flutist Nicole Mitchell, and pianist Samora Pinderhughes.

The above talk immediately precedes a concert by Nicole Mitchell, who is this year’s resident artist. Mitchell will present a new release, Mandorla Awakening II, a sci-fi themed Afrofuturist composition. She also fronts Maroon Cloud with vocalist Fay Victor on Wednesday the 17th at Le Poisson Rouge.

Mitchell has a couple of appearances during the Friday/Saturday marathon nights. “Art and Anthem for Gwendolyn Brooks” honors the late Chicago poet and features pianist Jason Moran.

If you (understandably) don’t want to wade through the wall of words here, you can just scroll to picks for the first marathon day on Friday or second day on Saturday.

TICKETS AND ADMISSION

WJF has several options available for the standalone shows, marathon nights (either one or both) or full festival passes for the hardcore enthusiasts. The one constant is that we strongly recommend tickets in advance, since even with the expanded venues at the New School, it’s possible to get closed out of nights–and you save some money over buying at the door. The “marathon” nights on Friday the 12th and Saturday the 13th are sold for the entire night only: not for individual shows. They’re still a pretty good deal for how much music you get if you see more than a single show, and there’s likely something to suit almost everyone’s taste. 2-day passes and full festival passes get entrance to the marathon days as well. Separate tickets are available for the opening and closing events, with the exception of events that sell out.

Recommendation: Consider the 2-day marathon pass even if you can only make it for parts both evenings since that saves you even more.

LOCATIONS AND LOGISTICS

The WJF’s heart is still in the center of the Village: with venerable institutions Zinc Bar, The Bitter End, and Le Poisson Rouge returning. The New School continues as a festival sponsor and provides several spaces for the festival in its campus clustered around 13th Street off Fifth Avenue, including some much needed larger venues. All of these are close enough to comfortably (though maybe briskly) walk between for sets. Zinc Bar is small and popular, so be warned that seeing an act scheduled there means getting there very early, and possibly skipping something else in the process. Quite frankly, last year I opined that it needed to be dropped. WJF has simply outgrown the venerable space and it’s unfair to stick artists in there.

On the western frontier of the Village and Tribeca are SOB’s and the Django at the Roxy Hotel.

Nublu’s new(ish) second location at 151 Avenue C, between 9-10 Streets returns this year. It’s a brisk walk or quick bus or L train ride away from the action clustered near the center.

Subculture and Bowery Ballroom are clustered together on the Lower East Side and round out this year’s venues.

Obviously, figuring out what one wants to see also means taking into account the logistics of who’s playing where and getting between venues.

 

 

Photo credit: Winter Jazz Fest (screenshot)

FRIDAY JANUARY 12 HIGHLIGHTS

Adegoke Steve Colson and Iqua Colson 7 PM at New School Tishman Auditorium 63 5th Ave

The Colsons have been playing together since the 70s, with Steve’s piano and Iqua’s vocals taking an innovative look at nearly everything they’ve done. Trombonist Craig Harris joins them this evening in a tribute to the late pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, a co-collaborator in the New York chapter of AACM. It’s a rare opportunity to see them.

Sons of Kemet 7:40 PM at Le Poisson Rouge

Saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings may not be a household name on the US—yet—but he’s been steadily making a name for himself on the UK jazz scene with various groups. He returns following a successful US debut last year with Shabaka and the Ancestors. Sons of Kemet has a bass-heavy sound with a tuba prominently featured in the front line with Hutchings’s free-form playing flying above it. For a deep dive, see our show on him last month.

Fay Victor SoundNoiseFUNK 9 PM New School Jazz Building 5th Floor Theater (55 W 13 St)

Vocalist Fay Victor is another name that you might not know, but you should. Victor came to my attention through the NYC avant garde jazz scene and Vision Festival, where she’s been a staple for years. However, that’s selling her short. Her prodigious vocal talent, songwriting ability, and commitment to the music only became completely clear to me during out recent show with her. In this set, expect a broad approach to the jazz tradition drawing deeply from the Blues. It won’t be a straight ahead set, and that’s a good thing.

James Brandon Lewis’s Unruly Notes 11 PM Zinc Bar

Saxophonist James Brandon Lewis has been steadily woodshedding and the fruits of his labor are becoming clear. His regular trio including bassist Luke Stewart and drummer Warren Trae Crudup have expanded to include electric guitarist Anthony Pirog, who featured prominently on their last release. Here, the concept expands even further with trumpeter Jamie Branch. The band plays hard—though with increasing finesse—buoyed by Crudup’s steady backbeat. Lewis’s style leans toward the avant garde end of the spectrum, but that’s just one of many lenses he uses to approach nearly everything from hip hop to Anton Dvorzak compositions and feed them through the jazz tradition. The most unfortunate thing about this set is the location, which has been way too small for WJF for years now. You’ll have to come very early and probably wait on line for a while, but the set will be so very worth it.

Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition 11:20 PM at Bowery Ballroom

Meanwhile, over on the east side, saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition takes the Bowery stage. True to their name, expect an eastern-inflected take on jazz. It’s a late start time, but a solid backup if you decide that the wait to enter Zinc Bar is too daunting.

SATURDAY JANUARY 13 HIGHLIGHTS

Jazzmeia Horn 7 PM at New School Tishman Auditorium 63 5th Ave

Vocalist Jazzmeia Horn’s fortunes have been rising recently with a Grammy nomination for her debut release A Social Call. Horn’s already moved past where she was at the time of the recording, however. Horn is scarily talented, and enthusiasm to push the limits of her instrument will see her scatting, rapping, and marshalling a range of vocalizations in the space of a single performance. Horn’s an example of a young talent showing a different and fresh approach to jazz that attempts to join standards and the jazz tradition with younger audiences and the pop influence. Commendably, though, she does this without resorting to gimmicks and a refusal to sacrifice the jazz tradition. We’ve got an interview with her cued up for a future show, so stay tuned!

Antonio Sanchez and Migration 7:40 PM at Le Poisson Rouge

Drummer Antonio Sanchez is a busy man. In addition to heading his own migration ensemble, he’s been touring with guitarist Pat Metheny and the occasional gig with vocalist Thana Alexa, who’ll be with him here.

Harriet Tubman Plays Free Jazz 9 PM at New School Tishman Auditorium 63 5th Ave

In what has to be one of the most daring sets of the festival, Harriet Tubman will be taking a crack at riffing off of Ornette Coleman’s masterpiece Free Jazz. Here, the Tubman power trio of electric guitarist Brandon Ross, bassist Melvin Gibbs, and drummer JT Lewis will be joined by the lineup from saxophonist James Brandon Lewis’s Unruly Notes (see above) and saxophonist Darius Jones. It promises to be a wild ride. Gibbs deserves credit for the idea, which will be less a note-for-note recreation of the original than using it as a springboard for Coleman’s harmolodic approach and a modern take at what would happen if two different groups played together at the same time, improvising among themselves and riffing off each other.

Nicholas Peyton’s Afro Caribbean Mixtape 9:20 PM at SOB’s

Trumpeter Peyton’s Mixtape builds on snippets of speeches by Dr. Greg Kimathi Carr, who heads Howard University’s Afro American Studies Department. The recording blends Peyton’s ethereal trumpet lines with remixed snippets of sound. Peyton’s set should lean toward the pop/ electronic end of the spectrum. It’ll be a completely different approach from the maelstrom of the Tubman set. They’ll both be good in different ways.

Rene Marie 10:20 PM at Subculture

On a much different note than much of what I’ve presented, vocalist Rene Marie promises an intense, straight ahead set. Marie’s focus on technique, straight singing, and ballads provide a quieter, more contemplative experience than some of the more raucous acts at WJF. If that’s your speed, then you know where to go.

Sun Ra Arkestra Plays Live Score to Space is the Place 11 PM at New School Tishman Auditorium 63 5th Ave  

You could do much worse than just camp out the entire evening in the cavernous Tishman Auditorium. Like the previous Harriet Tubman set, we find the Arkestra digging back into the archives for inspiration. In this case, it’s a take on the 1974 film starring Sun Ra himself and directed by John Coney with substantial input from Ra. In a nutshell, Ra and the Arkestra return to Earth in their music-powered spaceship to take Black people with them from the decaying planet with “sounds of guns, anger, and frustration” and “see what they can do on a planet all of their own.” With touches of sci-fi, soul, and a hint of Blaxploitation, it’s the expected wild ride, with music and appearances from the Arkestra weaved through several scenes. It’s not clear how the current Arkestra will approach the task, though Arkestra veterans Marshall Allen and Danny Ray Thompson were part of the original production and will be in the house along with newer members. Whatever happens, it’ll be a way-out adventure.

Jamaladeen Tacuma Brotherzone 1 AM at Subculture

You’ll have to stay up really late for this set, but if you do, you’ll be treated to a funky set from the alum of Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time band that, in his words draws on the “sounds of soul, funk, jazz, rock, ambient poetics and the vibrations of life.” As a special treat, Abiodun Oyewole from The Last Poets will lay down some of his poetry.

SUNDAY JANUARY 14 HIGHLIGHT

Ravi Coltrane Presents Universal Consciousness: Melodic Meditations of Alice Coltrane 7 PM at Le Poisson Rouge

If you haven’t had enough already–or skip one of the marathon days–then there’s a single concert on offer Sunday night, but it’s a good one. In this separate ticketed event, saxophonist Coltrane presents some of his mother Alice’s music. Coltrane will build on the Indian-influenced sound of Alice’s later work, especially Translinear Light (2004).

MONDAY JANUARY 15 HIGHLIGHT

A Tribute to Geri Allen 8 PM at New School Tishman Auditorium 63 5th Ave  

Drummer Geri Allen has assembled a stunning cast to pay tribute to the late Geri Allen, who died last year. The concert is a fundraiser for the Geri Allen estate, so tickets are separate, but it’ll be a memorable event for a pianist who left a big mark on the music and left us way too soon.

That’s just scratching the surface of the festival, but hopefully there are a few ideas here for starters. I’ll be at many of the shows highlighted, though admit to still making up my mind. The good news is that there’s enough here that it’s hard to go wrong and even if a set doesn’t live up to expectations, there’s another one that’s bound to more than make up for it. See you on the other side. I’ll be back with a festival review.

If you missed them, see our preview shows with saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, vocalist Fay Victor, and a tribute to late pianist Geri Allen.

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

Words by Hank Williams. Photos © Joyce Jones/SugaBowl Photography. | MAIN PHOTO: The Sun Ra Arkestra’s Marshall Allen @ Vision Fest. Used with Permission. Some Rights Reserved. Creative Commons CC-NC-BY-ND.

Over here in Suga in My Bowl headquarters, we’re gearing up for the 2018 Winter Jazz Festival (preview coming!), an annual gathering that brings an enormous amount of music to New York in January, with the centerpiece being two “Marathon” nights of music—this year on the 12 and 13.

This post, however, is about two scrappy festivals that might get lost in the shuffle, which would be a shame because you’d miss lots of good music.

The Nublu Jazz Festival’s been running since 2009 with an impressive roster of artists—originally in their postage stamp-sized East Village space at 62 Avenue C, which has been supplemented by a new, larger spot on the second floor of 151 Ave C, where this year’s activity will happen while the former space closes temporarily for a makeover.

The festival runs until December 17th. The selection of acts is strong and thoughtfully chosen. As with many festivals, it leans more toward the free/avant garde/ experimental (choose your preferred adjective) end of the scale, though it can be argued that that’s the corner of jazz that needs this sort of exposure.

With that out of the way, here are a few highlights of particular interest to listeners of our radio show. You can also just jump directly to the full schedule.

Trombonist Craig Harris makes an appearance on the 16th. Later that night, The Sun Ra Arkestra led by saxophonist Marshall Allen returns to Earth with two sets. They’ve also just been added to the bill at the Winter Jazzfest in January after a satisfying set at this year’s BRIC Arts Jazz Festival. To make what could be a long discussion short: go see the Arkestra if you can. Yes, there are some kitschy aspects to their shows, but it’s all in good fun. The 93-year-old Allen still has serious chops and no problems hitting the upper register of the sax or pulling out the EVI (which he’s become a master at as well) to liven things up. The setlists are a fascinating blend of favorites from the Sun Ra songbook, standards, and even the occasional Blues tune thrown in for good measure. Additionally, vocalist Tara Middleton has embraced her role as the Arkestra’s main vocalist and, along with other younger members, are invigorating the ensemble while carrying on the important traditions.

Meanwhile, slightly further downtown at the Clemente Soto Velez Center at 107 Suffolk St, Arts for Art, the nonprofit artist-centered organization responsible for the annual late spring Vision Fest, comes roaring back with a series spanning more than a month.

“Justice is Compassion: Action is Power” runs from December 7- January 12 in Clemente’s Abrazo Interno Gallery and features a surprisingly strong lineup of musicians working primarily in the free/avant grade mode, including many familiar names from Vision.

With sets nearly every night, there’s too much to mention here, but you can browse the full schedule and here are a few highlights.

The incredibly prolific bassist William Parker is part of several sets in the show. On December 21, he’s there with saxophonist Dave Sewelson and drummer Marvin Bugalu Smith. The next night, he’s back with saxophonist Andrew Lamb and joined by trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah. If you missed Parker’s “Songs for a Free World” suite earlier this year, there’s a chance to catch a version of it on January 10.

Drummer Francisco Mora Catlett brings a version of his AfroHorn ensemble for the early set on December 16 and has trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah joining him. It will be a rare chance to catch a very solid group that got stuck in a comically small space at last year’s Winter Jazz Fest.

One nice thing about Arts for Art is that they remember those who’ve passed on. Pianist Connie Crothers and poet Amiri Baraka will both be honored as part of the series. December 19-20 will feature several different sets dedicated to Crothers, while Baraka gets the focus on January 2-3.

Poet/vocalist (and Baraka’s widow—and frequent collaborator) Amina Baraka fronts drummer John Pietaro’s Red Microphone ensemble on the 2nd. Baraka will read several of her own poems with accompaniment by the group which includes saxophonist Ras Moshe. On January 3, saxophonist James Brandon Lewis brings a version of his Heroes are Gang Leaders ensemble for what promises to be a high energy set.

Both festivals showcase the type of innovative music that’s on offer beyond the jazz mainstream and do so in low-key settings and with affordable admission prices. So bundle up and see some live music this winter: once you get inside the vibe will keep you warm.

—-

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

It’s that time of year again: time for New York’s weeklong avantjazz blowout run by the scrappy nonprofit Arts for Art organization. While larger, bigger festivals have crashed and burned over the years,  the Vision Festival just keeps rolling on, getting better every year and setting a high bar for improvised music.

For 2017, the festival returns to the historic Judson Memorial Church with nightly concerts from May 29-June 3, with an all-day conference at Columbia University on Thursday June 1 and a new series of after-hours midnight sets  at the cozy Nublu on Ave C. This is all in addition to the usual well-managed mayhem at the Judson mothership where you can casually run into visual artists like Jeff Schlanger, furiously sketching and translating the sound to lines, shapes, and color or the musicians themselves, who often hang out to see other sets. There’s also the marketplace in Judson’s basement, where you can grab a drink, or buy some music (and probably get it signed by at least one of the musicians).

Although Vision’s focus is avant garde jazz and poetry, the scope and variety shows how broad a spectrum there is even within that category. There are acoustic acts, ones that experiment with various electronic instruments and other electronics, duos, trios, big bands, the occasional solo act, with the most common thread being a fierce allegiance to Wayne Shorter’s definition of jazz as challenge– “I dare you”–to which Vision’s artists respond “challenge accepted.”

With that said, I’ll walk through a few highlights (with an admitted slight bias to former Suga’ in My Bowl guests) of acts I’m looking forward to. With those caveats admitted up front, I’ll say that one of the great pleasures of Vision is learning about someone new or getting blown away by the set of someone you’d heard or seen before and not appreciated. So while this guide is meant to point to a few highlights, leave yourself open to listening to a few new things. Some might hit; others might not, but that’s the way it goes with challenges and taking risks. When they pay off, however, they pay off big time.

Monday May 29

Pianist and multi-instrumentalist Cooper-Moore is the focus of tonight’s sets and recipient of this year’s lifetime achievement award from Vision. Cooper-Moore is featured in three ensembles over the course of the evening: In Order to Survive, Digital Primitives, and Black Host. Sandwiched between the sets is poet Carl Hancock Rux, who takes the stage at 9 PM with DJ Hamilton Kirby. Rux’s storytelling skills are phenomenal, as is his grasp of music. Expect a highly lyrical, deeply captivating set.

William Parker’s “In Order to Survive” is appearing in just one of its numerous permutations this evening, but here the quartet of bassist Parker, saxophonist Rob Brown, drummer Hamid Drake, and Cooper-Moore on piano joins some of the most frequent collaborators in the ensemble. It also fuses a quartet that thoroughly embraces the philosophy of free improvisation, which makes it somewhat difficult to predict exactly where things will go, but it’s sure to be one of the highlights of the evening and the festival itself. See the video on the Vision page for an idea of that to expect.

“Digital Primitives”, on the other hand, joins Cooper-Moore with Assif Tsahar (tenor sax), Chad Taylor (drums, m’bira), and Brian Price (tenor sax). Here, Cooper-Moore’s weapons of choice will be his hand-crafted instruments, which promises a much different interpretation of free jazz. Check out the video on the Vision page for a sample of their work.

The evening’s closing set promises that “Black Host”  will “bring forth original compositions that blend modern jazz, free music, psych, post-punk and electrified noise with painstaking detail and heady abandon. A reverb-drenched and incisive stew of rhapsodic piano, searing alto and fractured guitar over rhythms that are alternately chunky and airy, rendered with a tremendous live energy.” Cooper-Moore returns to piano for this set and one can expect a high energy climax to end the evening. Again, Vision’s page has a video.

For a much deeper dive into Cooper-Moore, check out Suga in My Bowl’s show focused on his career.

Tuesday May 30

Yoshiko Chuma’s “School of Hard Knocks” shows a different end of the Vision spectrum, combining dancers, visual projections and music to kick off the evening’s festivities. The “Jazz and Poetry Choir Collective,” on the other hand, fulfills Vision’s longstanding practice of centering experimental poetry and music collaborations.

Drummer Tomas Fujiwara’s ‘Double Trio” teams him up with frequent collaborator, guitarist Mary Halvorson. Halvorson’s own career is starting to take off and her work with fellow electric guitarist Marc Ribot always produces brilliant exchanges of exciting improvised work.

Closing out the evening are “TRIO3,” who make a welcome return to the Vision Fest. This time, the core veteran trio of saxophonist Oliver Lake, bassist Reggie Workman, and drummer Andrew Cyrille are joined by Marc Cary on piano and Ayana Workman, who’ll read text from “Suite for Courage.” TRIO3 is always worth catching and will likely be playing some music from their just-released Visiting Texture album. See Vision’s page for a video of them in action.

Wednesday May 31

The trio of Whit Dickey (drums), Mat Maneri (viola), and Matthew Shipp (piano) combines three Vision regulars, but for the first time in this specific combination, according to Vision organizer Patricia Nicholson Parker. In a later set, violinist Jason Kao Hwang’s “Burning Bridge” brings tuba player Joe Daley back in a medium-sized ensemble. Poet Tracie Morris returns to Vision after a long hiatus accompanied by guitarist Marvin Sewell for a short set that promises a set rooted in Morris’s bluesy spoken word.

Saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist Charles Gayle also makes a return, joined by Vision stalwart William Parker on bass and
Michael TA Thompson on drums for the closing set. It’s a rare treat to get to see Gayle, and you should do so. Vision’s page has a video from 3 years ago, when he received a lifetime achievement award. For a much deeper dive into Gayle, I’ll send you to the Suga’ archives again, where we discussed Gayle’s career in a Vision preview.

Thursday June 1

If you’re a hardcore Vision fan and attending several (all?) nights, you might be running a little ragged by now, but Thursday’s not a night to skip.

First, however, if you’re on vacation or can manage a day off from work, then head to Columbia University for a free Vision Fest-focused conference titled “The Sound of Resistance.” Academics, including Ingrid Monson (Freedom Sounds: Civil Rights Call out to Jazz and Africa; Saying Something: Jazz Improvisation and Interaction) and Fred Moten (In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition) will be joined by Cooper-Moore, Patricia Nicholson Parker, and many others to go deeper into the state of improvised music, politics, and culture.

Head back to Judson in the evening for Odean Pope’s “Saxophone Choir”, which starts things off at Judson with a 7 PM set. Poet Jesus Papoleto Melendez follows with a short set (which will hopefully include his poem for Oscar Lopez Rivera).

Flutist Nicole Mitchell’s “Artifacts Trio” gets tasked with batting cleanup this evening and will be easily up to the task. Mitchell had a memorable part in last year’s ensemble with bassist Henry Grimes and drummer Chad Taylor and this year helms her own trio with two other members of the legendary Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians collective: cellist Tomeka Reid and drummer Mike Reed. Vision’s page has an audio sample and you can listen to our March 2017 show with Mitchell for a deeper dive into her work.

Friday June 2

“Dream Book” joins Vision veterans Joe McPhee (sax, trumpet) and Daniel Carter (sax, trumpet, flute) with a capable ensemble in tribute to late bassist Dominic Duval and saxophonist Ornette Coleman.

Later in the evening, pianist Dave Burrell leads a quartet that should provide lots of fireworks and interesting interaction. William Parker joins in on bass with drummer William Hooker and the first appearance this year of saxophonist Kidd Jordan. Jordan’s saxophone style has evolved into an impressive mix of free-form eclecticism, as he seamlessly moves between upper register squeals  and more open free-form blowing. But for Jordan, it always seems to revert to the roots of the music in the Blues and what he referred to as the “Holy ghost” in Joyce Jones’s interview in our last show.

Saturday June 3

Vision has a tradition of closing with big blowout performances and this year looks to hold true to form. “Postitive Knowledge” with Oluyemi Thomas (bass clarinet, soprano sax) and Ijeoma Thomas (voice poetry, percussion) should provide a spiritually grounded (and spirited) opening set–especially when accompanied by special Guest Andrew Cyrille on drums.

Later in the evening, David Murray (tenor sax, bass clarinet) leads a unique trio with percussionist Kahil El’Zabar and
Gerry Eastman on bass and guitar. Murray’s well known for his “Class Struggle” ensembles, but Murray promises an experience different from any of his previous Vision appearances. He writes in introduction that “Kahil and I have broken ground by composing extremely memorable songs which he leads and I answer vocally, which is something I rarely do. His infectious enthusiastic spirit always takes my horns to another level.” For a deeper dive into Murray, I’ll point you to our 2014 show with him.

William Parker and saxophonist Oliver Lake are tasked with co-leading the closing set with “Songs for a Free World,” featuring choreography by Patricia Nicholson Parker and a vast assemblage of vocalists and musicians marshalled to bring their swirling vision (pun unintentional) to life. It promises to be an incredibly moving set to end the festival.

If you can stay up late, head over to the postage-stamp sized Nublu for the midnight set with “Heroes are Gang Leaders,” featuring an expanded version of saxophonist James Brandon Lewis’s trio with vocalists and spoken word artists (including the incomparable Thomas Sayers Ellis) joining JBL’s normal collaborators Luke Stewart on electric bass and  Warren Trae Crudup on drums. Last year, Lewis’s trio was one of the revelations of the festival for me and put his work squarely on my radar with their hard-hitting style and inspired energetic playing.

I’ll be reporting daily dispatches throughout the festival including photos from Suga’ in My Bowl host and executive producer Joyce Jones. We also have tentative plans to try some video shorts this year during the festival. Check back for all of it.

—-
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

Grimes and Ribot

Words by Hank Williams. Photo by Joyce Jones/SugaBowl Photography. | 2016 Vision Fest honoree bassist/violinist Henry Grimes and guitarist Marc Ribot. Used with Permission. Some Rights Reserved. Creative Commons CC-NC-BY-ND.

While New York is still gripped in the throes of winter, two announcements offer some hope and a reminder that there is light at the end of the dark seasonal tunnel. Two mainstays of the summer jazz season, the Vision Festival and Blue Note Jazz Festival, have released save the date announcements for May 29-June 5 and June 1-30, respectively.

vision_22__small_logoVision Fest has become somewhat of the elder in the New York City festival scene with its 22nd annual run planned for this year at Judson Memorial Church and shows no signs of slowing down. It’s a week-long showcase with Free Jazz at the center but with interconnecting segments of visual art, movement, and poetry paying homage to the loft jazz scene salons of years past.

It’s focused highly on the art itself and provides a home for the type of musicians one won’t see elsewhere. Each night features a thoughtfully curated mix of ensembles and styles ranging from solo to big bands; electric to  acoustic; and everything in between.

While definitely catering to the advanced listener, Vision is far from inaccessible: the Sun Ra Arkestra led by the remarkably spry nonagenarian sax and EVI master Marshall Allen frequently appear. While rightfully known for way-out Afrocentric costumes, space references, and frenetic, whirling, big band sound that can sometimes be described as orchestrated chaos — the Arkestra is also a perennial crowd favorite with their hard swinging songbook that will challenge anyone who thinks jazz isn’t dance music anymore.

On the other end of the spectrum, several years ago German sax heavy hitter Peter Brotzmann’s group Full Blast nearly cleared the room. During the sound check, drummer Michael Wertmuller signaled the engineers to boost the volume until it maxed out. Heavy metal fans would’ve been at home during that memorable set. Brotzmann’s working out the details of a North America tour this spring, so with any luck he’ll make an appearance at Vision.

In short, one never knows exactly what to expect in a particular night at Vision, which is part of the fun and although there are mainstays who appear perennially, there’s always at least one revelation and the unexpected pairings of even familiar musicians can incite magical moments. Last year, saxophonist James Brandon Lewis’s Trio left a lasting impression with their highly charged set foregrounded by Lewis’s virtuosic sax playing, drummer Warren Trae Crudup’s hard, funk-inflected drumming, Luke Stewart’s electric bass and their general infectious energy.

Each year, Vision gives a lifetime achievement award to a significant artist and has them lead several ensembles on one night. This year’s honoree is pianist/composer Cooper-Moore.

blue_note_jazzfest_boxThe Blue Note Jazz Fest, on the other hand, takes a different approach. Although featuring several events at the namesake jazz club, the festival spreads out among various venues throughout Manhattan for the month and last year even encompassed free Summerstage shows in Central Park by legendary pianist McCoy Tyner and up-and-coming saxophonist Kamasi Washington. In other performances, pianist Robert Glasper and vocalist Al Jarreau (in what might have been his last NYC appearance) were on the bill, as was the pop vocalist Bilal.

The Blue Note Fest definitely aims at a broader audience and provides a lot more chances to catch a show or convince a friend who’s not into jazz to give it a try — and, possibly, get hooked.

Of course, these aren’t the only summer festivals and there should be announcements from the Summerstage and Jazzmobile series, Charlie Parker Jazz Fest, MoMA’s Summergarden, and the numerous smaller festivals and shows, but we now have a glimpse at the two anchors that kick of the summer season.

Full schedules for both are still being finalized, but for now we can save the dates and think ahead to long, music filled summer evenings ahead. Head on over to the Arts for Art and Blue Note Jazz Fest sites to keep up to date.

Disclaimer: WBAI Radio was a media sponsor for the 2016 Vision Festival.

See our coverage of the 2016 Vision Festival.

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

francisco_mora_catlett_suga_cover
Photo: Francisco Mora Catlett, one of many performers at Justice is Compassion: Not a Police State.| Joyce Jones. Some Rights Reserved. Creative Commons CC-NC-BY-ND.
 
Words by Hank Williams
 
We’ve been spending lots of time lately covering the 2017 Winter Jazz Fest—with good reason, I’d argue, since it’s an annual blowout of experimental music. With WJF almost a wrap for this year, it’s time to turn to other venues to get your musical fix.
 
Fortunately, Arts for Art, best known for their annual Vision Fest which has become a mainstay of the avant garde music scene, is firing back with a series of their own. And–in true Arts for Art fashion—are operating on the principle that more is better (which in their case is usually true) and sponsoring a 3-week festival of their own. “Justice is Compassion: Not a Police State” is the latest incarnation of their long running Evolving music series that rolls around this time of year.
 
As with everything Arts for Art does, politics is front and center with the festival and deeply ingrained, not something tacked on at the last minute.
 

Justice is Compassion also stays true to another Arts for Art trait: while it centers the music, it gives time to dance, poetry, and visual art

Justice is Compassion also stays true to another Arts for Art trait: while it centers the music, it gives time to dance, poetry, and visual art as well. Jo Wood-Brown’s “Oasis Paintings” are on display throughout the festival and there are poetry sets on various days by Jesus Papoleto Melendez, Patricia Spears-Jones, David Mills, Yuko Otomo, and Steve Dalachinsky. Dance fans can look to Patricia Nicholson Parker and Miriam Parker, who’ll both be performing in separate sets.
 
All of this happens in Clemente Soto Velez Center, at 107 Suffolk St, just off Houston on the Lower East Side.
 
There are way too many musicians and sets to name here, with events nearly every night until January 22nd, but the personnel will be familiar to those who know Vision Fest. If you’re not, that’s fine, too, but expect a wide variety of artists–both young and old—and some who should be much better known than they are, like the incredibly prolific bassist William Parker, who’s a mainstay of the avant garde, and fellow bassist Henry Grimes, who’s been a key person on the scene since his reappearance on the avant garde jazz landscape a decade ago.
 
We’re looking forward to drummer/percussionist Francisco Mora- Catlett’s set on January 19, leading his AfroHORN ensemble.
 
The closing night on January 22nd features a finale helmed by Henry Grimes with what looks to be a wide assortment of artists from the fest and promises to be a freewheeling jam session and the type of blowout usually reserved for the last day of the summer’s Vision Fest. It’s titled “Heal and Resist”, which is an excellent note to go forward on in uncertain times.
 
See the entire schedule at the Arts for Art website.
—-
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

wjf_2107_header_suga_cheat_sheet
Words by Hank Williams
 
This week, the Winter Jazz Fest is blowing back into town. The 13th edition of the ever-expanding annual showcase follows a familiar format: two marathon nights of music in venues scattered around the heart of Greenwich Village, with a few standalone opening and closing events – some of which are already sold out — and we’re told that tickets for even the marathon nights are going fast.

As we’ve done for the past few years, we’ll go through a shows with a viewers’ guide to some of our preferred picks, with an admitted lean toward former guests on the Suga in My Bowl radio show. Speaking of our show (shameless self-promotion time): you can catch our coverage featuring talks with pianist David Virelles and WJF promoter Brice Rosenbloom or drummer/percussionist Francisco Mora Catlett and trombonist Craig Harris.

I’ll point you toward the full schedule and artist lineup, but hopefully this will help wade through the myriad choices available each night. Obviously, there are several ways to experience the festival. You can either pick and choose key acts, take a more eclectic approach and see what you find, or some combination of the two. It’s all good.

FESTIVAL THEME AND FOCUS

This year’s theme is social justice and support of the broader discussion around Black Lives Matter, a theme that festival organizer Brice Rosenbloom notes came from the artists themselves: so many of them submitted proposals along those lines that it made sense to simply make the official festival theme reflect their work.
 
Andrew Cyrille 2017 WJF Resident Artist Andrew Cyrille | Photo credit: Joyce Jones
 
Other festival highlights are programming around groundbreaking pianist Thelonious Monk as 2017 marks the centennial of his birth and the selection of drummer/percussionist Andrew Cyrille as this year’s artist in residence. In addition to playing at the festival, Cyrille will be in conversation about his career and jazz on Saturday the 8th at 1 PM at The New School where he teaches. There are several other talks as well and you can browse the entire schedule to see what’s on offer.

If you (understandably) don’t want to wade through the wall of words here, you can jump directly to Thursday’s concert, picks for the first marathon day on Friday, second day on Saturday, or the Sunday-Tuesday sets.

TICKETS AND ADMISSION

WJF has several options available for the standalone shows, marathon nights (either one or both) or full festival passes for the hardcore enthusiasts. The one constant is that we strongly recommend getting tickets in advance, since even with the expanded venues at the New School, it’s possible to get closed out of nights. The “marathon” nights on Friday the 6th and Saturday the 7th are sold for the entire night only: not for individual shows. They’re still a pretty good deal for how much music you get if you see more than a single show, and there’s likely something to suit almost everyone’s taste. 2-day passes and full festival passes get entrance to the marathon days as well. Separate tickets are necessary for the opening and closing events, with the exception of events that sell out, such as Pharaoh Sanders’ show on Thursday the 5th.

LOCATIONS AND LOGISTICS

The WJF’s heart is still in the center of the Village: with venerable institutions Zinc Bar, The Bitter End, and Le Poisson Rouge returning. Gone is the historic Judson Memorial Church, which has served as a check-in location and performance venue for the past two years. The New School continues as a festival sponsor and provides several spaces for the festival in its campus clustered around 13th Street off Fifth Avenue, including some much needed larger venues. All of these are close enough to comfortably (though maybe briskly) walk between for sets. Zinc Bar is small and popular, so be warned that seeing an act scheduled there means getting there very early, and possibly skipping something else in the process.

On the western frontier of the Village and Tribeca are SOB’s and the Django at the Roxy Hotel.

Nublu, the East Village mainstay, serves up their new satellite location at 151 Avenue C, between 9-10 Streets. It’s a brisk walk or quick bus or L train ride away from the action clustered near the center.

Bowery Electric, Subculture, and Bowery Ballroom are clustered together on the Lower East Side and round out this year’s venues.

Obviously, figuring out what one wants to see also means taking into account the logistics of who’s playing where and getting between venues.

wjf_2017_map

Photo credit: Winter Jazz Fest (screenshot)
 

THURSDAY JANUARY 5

The festival kicks off with the returning Jazz Legends for Disability Pride benefit concert at the Quaker Friends Meeting Hall. It’s the brainchild of pianist/organist Mike LeDonne, whose made it his mission. There’s a solid lineup on offer, including veteran pianist Harold Mabern.
 
Pharaoh Sanders | Joyce Jones Photo
Pharaoh Sanders | Joyce Jones Photo
 
Our pick for the night, however is the concert with saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders, with Shabaka and the Ancestors as opening act. Unfortunately, tickets are sold out, but it’s worth following the event’s Facebook page for possible last minute ticket releases or a wait list.

If you have tickets (or are willing to go the standby route), there’s the possibility of an extremely inspired and definitely memorable show by a jazz legend who’s earned his stripes and still plays with incredible intensity at times considering his age and the demands of his instrument.

Sanders is known for his early career work with Sun Ra, his appearances on John Coltrane’s later albums, followed by work with Alice Coltrane and his own solo career work. His signature style seemed to pick up where Coltrane left off with avant garde pieces of an epic scale and unrestrained playing that saw him push the limits of the instrument.

Sanders’s current playing has mellowed somewhat, but still shows the sings of his virtuosity and incredible command of the saxophone

Sanders’s current playing has mellowed somewhat, but still shows the sings of his virtuosity and incredible command of the saxophone, whether he’s going through his own work or covers of other artists. Not surprisingly, Coltrane covers appear regularly on his set list, but you might hear anything from the Blues (BB King’s “Every Day I Sing the Blues”) to versions of his own work, including “You’ve Got To Have Freedom” and crowd favorite “The Creator Has a Master Plan”. Last year, his performance at the Red Bull Music Academy’s “Night of Spiritual Jazz” seemed to inspire Sanders to pull out all the stops, including a searing version of Coltrane’s “Olé”, which matched anything he’s done recently. For a deeper dive see our show with him.

FRIDAY JANUARY 6

Pianist/vocalist Amina Claudine Myers takes the stage at 6:40 PM at New School’s 12th Street Auditorium. Myers is comfortable playing both highly improvised music as well as more straight ahead jazz. With a solo performance scheduled, we’d expect a lyrical, melodic set from Myers. For a deeper dive into her work see our show and interview with her.

Meanwhile, trombonist Craig Harris takes the stage at 7 PM around the corner in the appropriately expansive New School Tishman Auditorium for an epic work he titled “Breathe” in a clear nod to the late Eric Garner, who was choked to death by the NYPD. Harris put out a call last fall for musicians to collaborate with him on the work and the response was overwhelming and resulted in an electrifying performance that you can catch a version of. The 23-person ensemble includes Dick Griffin and Joe Daley (trombones).

In Tribeca at SOB’s at 7 PM, Brooklyn Raga Massive’s Coltrane Tribute is worth a look. Coltrane began looking toward the East–both spiritually and musically—and BRM looks at ‘Trane from the opposite direction, with an Indian-inflected look at Coltrane’s work with a heavy does of improvisation that’s the basis for both musical traditions. Pianist/keyboardist Marc Cary and harpist Brandee Younger join the collective this time for what should be a particularly raucous set of music.

Back at New School’s Tishman Auditorium at 8:20 PM, drummer Andrew Cyrille and saxophonist Bill McHenry take the stage. The two collaborated on the 2016 Proximity (Sunnyside) release, which should be a good guide for their set. The interplay between the two creates a very intimate space that lets them go between far-out avant garde playing, and more introspective, contemplative work.

Following that set, Songs of Freedom takes the Tishman Auditorium stage at 9:40 PM with vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater offering her take on the festival theme. One could do worse than simply camping out in that venue for the evening.
 
David Murray
David Murray at the 2016 WJF | Photo credit: Hank Williams
 
Around the corner, saxophonist David Murray leads his Class Struggle ensemble at New School’s 12th Street Auditorium at 10:40 PM. Murray was a featured performer at last year’s WJF, where he was workshopping some new material along with existing pieces. Expect a hard-hitting set from the ensemble here from the versatile Murray, who is as comfortable playing “out” as he is swinging hard. Here he is at the Vision Fest a few years ago.


 
There’s a tough call for the late set, so I’ll present both possibilities. At 12:20 AM at SOB’s, guitarist Vernon Reid’s Zig Zag Trio with drummer/percussionist Will Calhoun and bassist Melvin Gibbs promises a memorable set for fans of fusion or rock, which is to be expected from a trio with members drawn from Living Colour and Harriet Tubman. However, they’re equally influenced by the work of the late drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson and the electric blues as well. I’ll point you to my write-ups from their winter and summer shows last year at Iridium for more details, but it’s a show not to be missed. There are plans for a recording session this spring, but until then, you’ll have to settle for catching them live. Here they are in a live show last year.


 
Closer to the center of the action, a quartet anchored by the incredibly prolific bassist William Parker, who leads one of the many permutations of his In Order to Survive ensemble with frequent collaorator drummer/percussionist Hamid Drake, go onstage at New School’s 12th Street Auditorium in the slightly earlier midnight slot. Expect a highly avant garde, improvised set from the quartet, who are all vets of Arts for Art’s Vision Fest. You can go to our show with Drake for a deeper look at his work or see the video of them raising the roof at the 2012 Vision Fest.

SATURDAY JANUARY 7

Drummer Jaimeo Brown’s Transcendence kicks off the evening set at SOB’s. Their 2016 Worksongs (Motéma) release was a stunning example of Jazz, hip hop, Blues, and pop done right. The release mixed classic prison worksongs with sampled/ looped sounds and the improvisation of Brown’s ensemble laid on top of it all. This set is one that should appeal to listeners who lean more toward the pop and hip hop end of the spectrum, while possibly drawing in a few who can appreciate thoughtful contemporary reworkings of the classics. What they do is easy to mess up and difficult to do right. Transcendence nailed the balance with this one.


 
If your tastes swing more to the avant garde and electric end of the scale, then consider guitarist Mary Halvorson Octet’s 7 PM set at The New School’s 5th Floor Theater. Halvorson’s been gigging around New York City for a while now and is starting to emerge as a leader in her own right. (A recent profile by NPR’s Joel Rose should help her cause too.) The group features an ensemble of emerging young players who work together on various projects. Halvorson’s enticing electric guitar combined with Susan Alcorn’s steel pedal guitar should yield yet another highly experimental, innovative set. It’s one of WJF’s smaller spaces, so the hot tip is to get there early.

Saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings and the Ancestors are at Le Poisson Rouge at 7:40 PM. If you didn’t get a ticket for Thursday’s show, then you have another shot to catch them.

At 8:40 PM, there are two groups going head to head that you might consider. Saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and pianist David Virelles team up for a duo at New School’s Tishman Auditorium. Expect a melodic set from the duo with contemplative passages and occasional bursts of fire.

Also on tap in the 8:40 PM slot is percussionist Adam Rudolph’s Moving Pictures who are at Subculture. The ensemble includes incredibly versatile drummer/percussionist Hamid Drake and Graham Haynes on cornet.

In a different direction, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington leads Social Science at SOB’s in the 9:20 PM set. Carrington’s no stranger to the WJF, having previously performed with David Murray and Geri Allen. This time, Carrington’s teamed up with keyboards, vocals, and a DJ, so we expect a set that’ll lean in the pop direction.

Later on in the evening, Zinc Bar hosts two sets featuring current and former members of the Sun Ra Arkestra at 10:20 and 11:40 PM under the “OUT OF RA” banner. George Burton’s Quintet has the earlier set, while drummer/percussionist Francisco Mora Catlett’s AfroHORN Superband has the later set. An expanded AfroHORN features poet Abiodun Oyewole whose probably best known for his work with The Last Poets and fellow Arkestra alum Ahmed Abdullah on trumpet. Look for extremely improvisational free-form sets with both groups using the concepts of the Arkestra as springboards for their own work. The issue with both of them will likely be getting into Zinc, since it’s one of the smallest WJF spaces and known for lines. Seeing either of these groups might mean sacrificing an earlier set or a dinner break to line up.


 
If the above doesn’t work out, then a solid backup plan for the 10:20 PM set is another performance by WJF artist-in-residence Andrew Cyrille, this time with Haitian Fascination at the spacious New School 12th Street Auditorium.

Marc Ribot and the Young Philadelphians: It’s an idea that seems too crazy to work, but work indeed it does

Yet another pick (and probably where I’ll end up) is the 10:40 PM set at SOB’s with guitarist Marc Ribot and the Young Philadelphians. The group—one of many different combinations Ribot is involved with—reworks classic 1970s hits from the disco era into improvisational masterpieces with a dual electric guitar attack by Ribot and Mary Halvorson with backing by bassist Jamaladeen Tacuma and drummer G. Calvin Weston and a string section. It’s an idea that seems too crazy to work, but work indeed it does. Weston and Tacuma are alums of Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time ensembles, so there’s a healthy does of harmolodics as well. They brought the house down the last two times they appeared at WJF with their high energy level is high and infectiously good grooves.


 

If you can manage to stay up late again, harpist Brandee Younger leads a trio at Nublu that’s worth a look. Last year, Younger’s WJF set was dedicated to the late Jazz harp pioneer Dorothy Ashby, whose work had a large influence on her. This year, you’ll probably still hear some Ashby, but some Alice Coltrane and some of her own compositions are likely on tap as well.

SUNDAY-TUESDAY SETS

If all that weren’t enough already, the WJF has standalone sets on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday with separate admission for each. Sunday, the show goes on the road to Littlefield in Brooklyn and is all about Monk, with 12 different musicians interpreting his Solo Monk album. Marc Ribot, Andrew Cyrille, David Virelles, and Hamid Drake are some of the ones tasked with interpreting Monk’s angular stylings.

Monday and Tuesday finds WJF back in the Village at Le Poission Rouge. Andrew Cyrille has a solo set on Monday.

On Tuesday, WJF goes out swinging hard with the Liberation Music Orchestra, led this time by pianist Geri Allen. The LMO was a project of the late bassist Charlie Haden and took an explicitly political tone in its work. Like the Sun Ra Arkestra, it’s being kept alive by its members (and is usually helmed by pianist Carla Bley). Expect a rousing set to close out the festival.

We’ll be wrapping up our radio coverage of this year’s event on Sunday January 8 at 11 PM on WBAI Radio (99.5 FM or streaming online) with a preview of the Liberation Music Orchestra’s performance and an interview with Joe Daley.

Are you planning to go? Who are you looking forward to seeing? Let us 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.

bric_lakecia-copy
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.
 
d_murray_sat_wjf15
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.
 
—-
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.

Vision21
 
Suga’ in My Bowl host Joyce Jones and I refer to the annual Vision Fest as the high holy days of jazz and we’re only half-kidding. The festival has managed to outlast competing fests with much deeper pockets and big name corporate sponsors behind them while still managing the delicate balancing act between being a smaller artist-focused event willing to take risks and keeping up with the times and technology. So while you can now buy tickets online and follow their various social media feeds, Vision is unafraid to feature poets in prime time slots or book quirky acts. It’s all part of the scene and that’s why we’ve been going for several years now and have featured numerous performers as guests on the show. In full disclosure, WBAI Radio returns as a media sponsor this year and happily so: it fits the station’s vibe fairly well.
 
Suga’ in My Bowl previewed this year’s festival in our last show, interviewing festival organizer Patricia Nicholson Parker for a “big picture” view, along with pianist Geri Allen (in her first time Vision appearance), guitarist Marc Ribot, drummer Andrew Cyrille and composer/vocalist Lisa Sokolof all speaking on the influence and importance of bassist Henry Grimes. If you missed that, be sure to catch WBAI producer Basir Mchawi’s Education at the Crossroads show on Thursday June 9 st 7 PM EST, where Patricia Nicholson Parker will be giving an update.
 
Vision started on Sunday June 5th with 3 classic films celebrating the 60th year of the Sun Ra Arkestra at Anthology Film Archives. While none of the film’s are new, provided a good opportunity to see John Coney/Sun Ra’s Space is the Place, The Magic Sun, or Robert Mugge’s Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise again. Mugge’s documentary has aged well and does about as good a job as anyone could of giving a broad overview of Ra himself and the Arkestra. Coney’s film, on the other hand, is pure fun: a sci-fi/Blaxploitation mashup that’s the ultimate fan experience.
 
Vision settles in for the week at Judson Memorial Church from the 7-12 with nightly performances highlighting the career of bassist Henry Grimes. It retains its usual informal atmosphere and you’re likely to see musicians hanging out and checking out other sets. Everything happens in the main upstairs space, while the basement houses a marketplace and food vendors. It’s a good place to pick up some of the music you’ll hear over the course of the week and you can usually even get your CD autographed, too!
 
Tuesday night is all about this year’s Vision honoree: bassist/violinist Henry Grimes. Grimes leads two groups over the course of the evening and participates in a third. Pianist Geri Allen and drummer Andrew Cyrille join Grimes for the first set, while the final set of the night features a Grimes-led septet as an expended version of Marc Ribot’s trio with Grimes and drummer Chad Taylor, whose collaboration was captured in the 2014 Live at the Village Vanguard release.
 
Grimes’s story is a remarkable one. He was in high demand in the 1960s, especially in the free jazz scene, where he played with notables like Sunny Murray, Sonny Rollins, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, and Cecil Taylor — to name only a few. Grimes suddenly dropped out of the music scene after getting stuck in Los Angeles with a broken bass he had no money to repair before being rediscovered. Bassist William Parker sent Grimes one of his basses and Grimes practiced feverishly to prepare for his reemergence on the jazz scene. Appropriately enough, his big return to New York was punctuated by a performance at the 2003 Vision Fest and he’s been a regular ever since.
 

 
Wednesday night has poet Quincy Troupe (who we talked to in May for a Miles Davis birthday show) given his own slot to read some of his work in prime time. Pianist Connie Crothers then leads a trio as a lead-in to the night’s closing act: the Sun Ra Arkestra led by the 92 year old saxophonist Marshall Allen.
 
While the Arkestra can be wildly uneven in the quality of their performances, they’ve been solid lately, including at last year’s Vision where they closed an evening with a phenomenal show, at the Winter Jazz Fest earlier this year, where they brought the house down with a midnight set at Judson Memorial Church, and an inspired performance at a Red Bull Music Academy-sponsored “Night of Spiritual Jazz” earlier this year. Much of what I wrote for their Winter Jazz Fest date still applies, including the vitality that vocalist Tara Middleton has brought to the ensemble. I’d add that the Arkestra is actually a perfect intro for people new to jazz and while they have showmanship and performance honed to a science, their level of performance lately has been high. Fortunately, you won’t have to stay up all night to see the Arkestra do their thing this time, since the scheduled descent to Earth is at a relatively early 9:40 PM.
 

 
Thursday night’s lineup starts with multi-instrumentalist Bill Cole, who leads his “UnTempered Ensemble” featuring saxophonist Ras Moshe–who channels the spirit of John Coltrane with nearly every breath he takes–followed by Vision veteran saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc’s ensemble and a first Vision appearance by poet Tonya Foster.
 
Trombonist Steve Swell leads a trio as a lead-in for the night’s closing set with drummer/percussionist Hamid Drake (who we profiled in 2014) backed by an all-star cast of saxophonist Kidd Jordan, pianist Cooper-Moore, and bassist Michael Bisio.
 
Friday night’s lineup has early sets of ensembles led by drummer William Hooker and pianist Cooper-Moore before a closing set with pianist Michele Rosewoman’s “New Yor-Uba” ensemble. We profiled Rosewoman in 2013, for the CD release of her New Yor-Uba project. Look for an inspired spiritual set from Rosewoman, as she blends Yoruba songs with jazz improvisation and expect a special touch of freedom for the Vision crowd.
 

 
Saturday night’s lineup highlights saxophonist Hamiett Bluiett and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, each leading ensembles. Bluiett wrapped up last year’s Vision on the last night leading a rousing performance with a cast so large that it spilled off the stage and needed to commandeer space on the floor to accommodate everyone. It was a grand vision (pun unintentional) of swirling sounds that captured much of what the festival is about. The enormity of the sound produced nearly shook the building at times. Expect a slightly less magisterial treatment this year, as he “only” leads a quartet, however, with solid backing from pianist DD Jackson and drummer Hamid Drake, expect a wild ride.
 
Sunday night’s lineup has saxophonist Kidd Jordan’s ensemble given the duties of closing out the festival: an honor Jordan’s been tasked with before and handled brilliantly.
 
I can only scratch the surface here while keeping this a readable length (and may have failed in the latter already). Check the full schedule to see all the acts with our preliminary recommendations in mind. My ultimate recommendation is to show up, watch, listen, and just get lost in the atmosphere. I always walk away from Vision blown away by someone I was vaguely aware of beforehand, but that’s the magic of this festival.
 
We wrap our coverage with a show interviewing drummer Andrew Cyrille on Sunday June 12 from 11 PM – 1 AM EST on WBAI. If you scoot home quickly after the Kidd Jordan set, you’ll be able to catch the tail end before calling it a night and wrapping it all up until this time next year. If you miss it, not to worry: we archive shows on our website.
 
—-
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.

%d bloggers like this: