Archives for posts with tag: James “Blood” Ulmer


This year’s Winter Jazz Fest celebrates its 12th birthday by expanding to 12 different stages in and around Greenwich Village. It’s grown into a mainstay of the New York music scene, providing a welcome respite from the unpredictable depths of winter, joining the longtime summer mainstays the Charlie Parker Jazz Fest and Vision Fest (who are running a parallel festival throughout January this year) along with the newer Blue Note Jazz Festival.

The fest kicked off Wednesday January 13, with a preview show at Le Poisson Rouge and featured an event spearheaded by Mike LeDonne to support the Disability Pride Parade (held for the first time last year) on Thursday. Saxophonist Kamasi Washington, who headlined last October’s BRIC Arts Jazz Fest and whose appropriately titled 3-CD debut The Epic has gotten a lot of great press, broke his ankle and had to have his performance postponed until February 24 at Le Poisson Rouge Webster Hall. I’ve already got it saved on my calendar.

Friday and Saturday the 15th and 16th are again the big days. The Jazz Fest bills them as two “marathon” nights of music and they’re not wrong: this is where the majority of the action will take place. It’s a huge, wonderful spectacle with lots of choices and sets starting as early as 6 PM and as late as 1 AM at some venues for the diehards. As I did last year, I’m going to highlight a few of the acts I’ll be keeping an eye on, with an admitted bias toward musicians featured on our Suga’ in My Bowl radio show since we like to keep long-term tabs on the people we profile. Hopefully that’ll give you a head start as well if you don’t already have favorites you want to catch.

I’ll focus on Friday for this post and Saturday/Sunday in the next post.

Festival Logistics

The festival has several new stages this year, thanks to a new partnership with New School University, which gives some badly needed extra space, although they’re further from the main venues slightly further south in the Village.

To compensate for that, the WJF is adding extra check-in tables at different venues (PDF), which should shorten some of the long lines from previous years, but it’s still best to plan to arrive really early for the sets you want to catch.

In addition to the main check-in areas in the basement of Judson Memorial Church (Thomson St side entrance) and New School University Center (63 5th Ave, bet 13-14 Sts.), there are secondary check-ins at Subculture (45 Bleecker St, off Lafayette) and at WNYC Studios’ Greene Space (43 Charlton St.).

There are several options for tickets, depending what you want to catch. I’d recommend full passes for Friday and Saturday nights as the best bets and an insanely good deal for how much music there is, but you can do either day separately. There’s also a shorter closing event on Sunday that I’d recommend as well — and will cover it in part 2 of our cheat sheet.

Friday Highlights

Quarktet Burnt Plays Ornette, Sunny, and Wayne: Judson Memorial Church 6 PM

Greg Tate’s large ensemble and one of the many permutations of The Burnt Sugar Arkestra earns a leadoff spot at the main stage this year. Expect a lot of excitement, energy, and electronics as they work their way through the catalogs of Ornette Coleman, Sunny Murray, and Wayne Shorter. As a bonus, you’ll also get to Mikel Banks play the freak-a-phone! I have no idea what it is, but it’s gotta be cool. See the embedded YouTube clip (audio only) of their interpretation of Shorter’s “Footprints” will give a little taste of what to expect.

James “Blood” Ulmer: New School Auditorium @ 66 W 12th St. 9 PM

Ulmer’s a solo act here and his set promises to pull deep from the dual wells of the blues and Ornette Coleman’s harmolodics, which Ulmer absorbed during his stint with the late saxophone innovator in the 1970s. Ulmer’s done a lot since then and approaches shows with the wisdom of a veteran who can call up ideas from a widely diverse background. Ulmer lit up the 2014 Vision Fest with his Music Revelation Ensemble and had equally spirited performances in 2015 at The Stone and a rare duo with fellow guitarist Marc Ribot at City Winery. Suga’ in My Bowl profiled Ulmer on January 10 and he promised to be playing the Blues. You listen to the full show on our website and for a quicker take, check out his solo performance at the 2015 Skopje Jazz Festival.

Dr. Lonnie Smith’s Evolution: Judson Memorial Church 9:20 PM

You’ll have an inside track for Hammond B3 organ master Dr. Lonnie Smith’s forthcoming Evolution release if you catch his set. Smith is a veteran of the fabled Blue Note record label in the 1960s and made his name as a sideman on influential albums like Lou Donaldson’s Alligator Boogaloo before striking out on his own illustrious career. While the WJF highlights new and upcoming acts, the ability to see someone like Smith whose still at the top of his game is a definite highlight of the festival. Smith, appropriately, gets a coveted slot on the Judson main stage in prime time. For a much deeper dive, see our show on Dr. Lonnie, or see them in action at the 2015 BRIC Arts Jazz Fest in the embedded video.

Charenee Wade Group: The Music of Gil Scott Heron and Brian Jackson: New School Jazz Building 5th Floor Theater @ 55 W 13th St. 9:40 PM

Vocalist Charenee Wade’s deservedly gotten a lot of positive press for her latest Motéma Records Offering release, a tribute to the music of Gil Scott-Heron and longtime Heron collaborator pianist/keyboardist Brian Jackson. It’s not easy to do covers of well-known work — and they’re often poorly done or add little understanding to the originals. That’s not the case with Wade’s effort. Her turn on Scott-Heron’s question “did you ever turn your sick soul inside out so the world can watch you die?” gives the work a haunting quality and fresh new spin that’s balanced by Stefon Harris’s vibes on the CD. Nikara Warren will be handling vibraphone duties for this set, but bassist Lonnie Plaxico, pianist Brandon McCune, guitarist Dave Stryker, and saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin (who we’ve previously profiled) will be part of the combo and appear on the release. Drummer Darrell Green rounds out the sextet. The preview video of Offering will give you a quick take of what to expect.

René Marie: Zinc Bar 10:20 PM

If you manage to get into Zinc Bar, then you might as well stay around, especially if your tastes run toward vocalists working with the traditional jazz songbook. René Marie’s last effort was a tribute to the iconic Eartha Kitt, whose stage presence had Marie so enamored with Kitt’s work that she broke a promise she had made to resist doing a release of song covers. Marie handled the material just fine and her soulful, soothing vocals might be just the antidote you need on a hectic Friday night. We interviewed her back in 2013 and you can see her in action in the following clip.

Christian McBride: New School Auditorium @ 66 W 12th St. 10:20 PM

If you’re already at the New School for the aforementioned James “Blood” Ulmer show, there’s a strong case for sticking around to see bassist Christian McBride in action. He’s joined here by drummer Nasheet Waits, trumpeter Josh Evans, and saxophonist Marcus Strickland. McBride’s seemingly all over the place these days, either hosting National Public Radio’s “Jazz Night in Ameica” or appearing in various combos. He’s a versatile bassist who’s earned his stripes and, especially with the combo at the WJF, is always someone to look out for. We profiled him in 2011 and had so much fun that we brought him back into the studio to talk about Jazz Fusion. See him in a live session for NPR in the embedded video.

Vijay Iyer Trio: New School Tishman Auditorium 11:20 PM

Pianist Vijay Iyer returns to this year’s festival with his usual trio of bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore. Their last release Break Stuff was deservedly well-reviewed and saw the group pulling their inspiration from hip hop sampling and toying with the idea of “the break” as a theme. We wrote up a short blurb around the video preview (which is fantastic, BTW) and did a full show on Iyer back in 2015. See the band perform “Hood” live at the Portland Jazz Festival.

Nublu Orchestra “We play for you, Butch Morris”: New School Auditorium @ 66 W 12th St. 1 AM

The WJF is sticking to its proud history of keeping the idea of the after hours session alive and sweetening the pot by scheduling a few fiery acts late at night. So it is with the Nublu Orchestra, which takes its name from an unlikely East Village spot that happens to host some seriously experimental jazz acts – the biggest name among them being the Sun Ra Arkestra (who lands @ the WJF on Saturday), harking back to their days at the long lost Five Spot Café. While I haven’t seen them in person, the Nublu Orchestra–with a nod to the late conductor Butch Morris, who casts a wide shadow over avant garde jazz—looks to be an ensemble that’ll push the boundaries of the form itself in the spirit of the Arkestra. With a long subway trip back to The Bronx awaiting me, I’m not sure I can stay up that late, but after watching the following live video of a Butch Morris memorial, I may have to re-evaluate that plan.

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

So that’s it. That’s a lot of acts! But they’re all really good. Find who’s to your liking and take some time to see someone you haven’t—you might become a fan of a new group. Check out part 2 of our cheat sheet for Saturday/Sunday in the next post and I’ll check back in with a full review after it’s all over.

Shameless self-promotion time: if you’re not already a listener, check out our show that airs alternate Sunday nights from 11 PM – 1 AM on WBAI Radio and streams online. As part of our coverage, we talked to festival director Brice Rosenbloom and two musicians performing — guitarists Julian Lage and James “Blood” Ulmer — to get a variety of perspectives.

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

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


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 return to the air this week with our final preview of the 2016 Winter Jazz Fest featuring guitarist James “Blood” Ulmer!. You can see him on January 15 the New School University’s auditorium as part of the the Winter Jazz Festival. Now let’s take a look at some upcoming gigs.
Pianist Vijay Iyer is at The Stone on the 13th with Matana Roberts and also leads a trio at this year’s Winter Jazz Fest.
Guitarist Julian Lage is at Cornelia Street Café on the 13th and at the Winter Jazz Fest’s closing event on the 17th.
Saxophonist Tia Fuller leads a quartet at Smoke from January 13-14.
Also at Smoke is saxophonist Billy Harper, who leads a quintet from the 15-17.
Pianist Onaje Allen Gumbs leads a trio at BAM Café from January 13-15.
Vocalist Kurt Elling is at Birdland performing songs from his Passion World release from January 13-16.
Saxophonist Gary Bartz leads a quartet at the new Cassandra’s Jazz Club and Gallery in Harlem from January 13-16 and 22-23rd.
Vocalists Lizz Wright and Dee Dee Bridgewater are at BB King’s on January 15.
Low brass specialist on tuba Joe Daley is at Terra Blues with Hazmat Modine on the 16th.
The Harlem Jazz Parlor Festival hosts trombonist Craig Harris on January 16 and low brass specialist Joe Daley on the 18.
Saxophonist Ravi Coltrane will be at the John Coltrane House in Dix Hills, LI on the 20th.
Vocalist René Marie is at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Dizzy’s Club from January 21-24.
Saxophonist Gary Bartz is at the Blue Note on the 25 with legendary pianist McCoy Tyner. They’re also there on February 1, 15, and March 1. Tyner’s been less public lately, so it’s a good idea to catch one of these dates and see the last remaining member of Coltrane’s band in action.
Also at the Blue Note is legendary drummer Roy Haynes from January 26-27.
Drummer Craig Haynes has an Indiegogo crowd funding campaign to support making a CD and DVD of his band’s performance at the 2016 Dakar Goree Jazz Festival.
We wrap this week with two jazz festivals:
Annual Vision Fest producers Arts for Art’s nearly monthlong “Justice is Compassion” festival continues at Clemente Soto Velez Center until January 24 with drummer Hamid Drake, dancer Patricia Nicholson Parker, bassist William Parker and many more.
The annual Winter Jazz Fest blows back into town this week from the 13-17 with so many past, present (and future) Suga’ guests that it needs its own coverage. Head on over to our annual cheat sheet for a full preview.
That’s all for now. Suga’ in My Bowl is back on WBAI‘s airwaves on January 10th. 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 Hunter and Lehman Colleges and The City College of New York.

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Poet Steve Dalachinsky opened Vision Fest 19’s second day on Thursday, June 12th. Dalachinsky’s a Vision stalwart and fittingly gave tribute to Amiri Baraka, as all poets and many other performers are this year. “Amiri was a person who should’ve been with us forever”, Dalachinsky said as he reflected on his relationship with Baraka. Dalachinsky dedicated one of his own poems, “Saga of the Outlaws #3”, to Baraka.

Dalachinsky’s work shares some lineage with Baraka’s, with influences of jazz and the free flowing verse of the beats and broadly eclectic references that force one to listen deeply. Although he’s read with musicians before, Dalachinsky read solo this time, inviting listeners to delve deep into the words and connections they invoked and taking in the improvisational rhythms of the words themselves and his delivery.

The Wimberly Harlem Ensemble then took the stage. Wimberly mixed African dance with instruments. Sabir Mateen, now living in Italy, returned to play Vision, armed with flute and sax. Meanwhile, Michael Wimberly tirelessly worked the stage, playing balafon, oud, and several percussive instruments. Larry Roland (bass) and Nioka Workman (cello) ably held down the rhythm section. Diane Harvey-Salaam and Souleyman Bodolo added and important dance and theatrical element to their composition titled “Signs and Rituals”.

In a break from the music, visual artist Jeff Schlanger was presented with a lifetime achievement award. “I’ve tried to be the quietest man in the room for 19 years”, Schlanger said, and this is usually the case, though his art speaks volumes. Schlanger probably spoke more than he has in the entire time he’s been at Vision Fest, but in keeping with the spirit of the entire festival this year, gave important historical context from his memory of being a longtime participant in the music scene.

“I’ve tried to be the quietest man in the room for 19 years”—Visual Jeff Schlanger

Schlanger, who goes by the moniker musicWitness®, recalled being at the first Vision Fest on Lafayette Street and spoke to the centrality of dance and movement in Vision. He also recalled many artists who have made their transition: poets Amiri Baraka, Louis Reyes Rivera, and Sekou Sundiata; all of whom were performers at past Vision Fests.

Schlanger is omnipresent at the Festival, quietly composing his vibrant drawings in front of the stage, improvising just as the musicians are and drawing inspiration from what happens a few feet in front of him. For the past several years, his work has been projected as a backdrop during the performances. His body of work is large enough that what one sees usually reflects what is going on onstage at the time. Schlanger’s work exhibits the same feeling of freeform dynamism that one hears in the performances at Vision. You can see a clip of his process in the following clip.

I’ve seen emerging electric guitarist Mary Halvorson several times, and always feel good about the future of the music when I see her perform. She was joined by Susan Alcorn on steel pedal guitar this evening and the duo did an excellent job of playing off of each other, with Alcorn providing a good counterpoint to Halvorson’s richly textured, brooding, work.

The final set of the evening featured a trio of Vision Fest regulars: saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, drummer Hamid Drake, and bassist William Parker. It’s always a treat to hear Brötzmann, as his playing is electrifying and when joined by the solid rhythm section of Drake and Parker, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be a powerful, earth-shaking performance.

Brötzmann, who was given a lifetime achievement award in 2011 at Vision Festival 16, fits the Vision ethos well. While he’s known in this context as a musician, he’s an accomplished visual artist and designer as well, having done several solo art shows in Europe, a few of which can be seen on his website.

Drake started the set solo, with a remembrance of Roy Campbell and Amiri Baraka. Parker and, finally Brötzmann then joined him on the alto sax. The set started slowly with a long solo by Drake, who was joined by Parker.

The quiet and introspective feel eventually gave way to Brötzmann’s familiar high register squeals as he pushed the sax to its limits. Drake and Parker easily kept up and kept pushing Brötzmann ahead.

On Friday, June 13th, saxophonist Jameel Moondoc’s quintet devoted its set to another departed Vision stalwart, trumpeter Roy Campbell, Jr, who died in January 2014. Moondoc, trombonist Steve Swell, and drummer Newman Taylor Baker all appeared on Campbell’s last CD, See You on the Other Side (2013). Nathan Breedlove (trumpet) and Hilliard Green (bass) rounded out the quintet.

The quintet’s renditions of Campbell compositions “Charmain” and “Thanks to the Creator” provided the individual members ample room to stretch out, while bringing out the best in the songs’ melodies.

Electric guitarist James Blood Ulmer’s Music Revelation Ensemble Revisited capped off Friday night with a blistering instrumental set. Each Vision Fest illuminates at least one group that stands out from the rest, and Ulmer’s ensemble did so this year. Ulmer’s far from a newcomer and is well established in the blues scene, but may not be the first thing people think about in the context of free jazz, but fit brilliantly into the format.

Ulmer promised a retrospective of 20 years of his work, guided by guitar harmolodics, fittingly drawing a connection to the great saxophonist Ornette Coleman, who he joined in a rare NYC concert himself not too far away in Brooklyn this week. Calvin Rochester’s powerful drumming was the perfect counterpoint to Ulmer’s blues-inflected guitar on the first few songs, with Calvin “The Truth” Jones (bass) rounding out the rhythm section.

Near the end of the set Ulmer gave Rochester a chance to let loose, and he more than rose to the occasion with a blistering solo that showed (not that there was any doubt) that he had plenty to say in addition to being an excellent foil for Ulmer and providing color throughout the set.

Ulmer, sharply dressed in a yellow suit, looked the quintessential bluesman, though perfectly grasped the ethos of Vision, drawing from deep in the well of the blues, yet playing out and connecting it all to the jazz tradition. That’s a tall order, but the Music Revelation Ensemble Revisited delivered in style, sending us off into the cool night with their songs still in our heads.

Do you have any favorite moments? Add your thoughts in the comments!

You can see the Vision Fest 19 magazine with full days’ lineups, interviews, and more on Issuu here.

All photos courtesy of Joyce Jones and used with permission. Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 licensed.

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 producer and host for Suga’ in My Bowl on WBAI Radio and a graphic artist.

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