Archives for posts with tag: WJF Cheat Sheet

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

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WJF2016_Schedule_Cheat_Sheet
 
In this part of the preview, I’ll look at a few select acts on Saturday night (Friday’s picks were in my previous post) and take a quick look at Sunday evening’s show that wraps up the festival.
 
Again, there’s an admitted bias toward musicians featured on our Suga’ in My Bowl radio show since we like to keep long-term tabs on the people we profile. But we think you’ll like them too — or at least should give them a shot.
 
As a reminder, the festival has several new stages this year–at New School University, WNYC Radio’s Greene Space, and elsewhere. The WJF is adding extra check-in tables at different venues (PDF), which should shorten some of the long lines from previous years, but it’s still best to plan to arrive really early for the sets you want to catch. The linked PDF gives a good overview of the logistics and you should take a quick look at it before you leave.
 
With that out of the way, let’s get to the music.
 
Saturday Highlights
 
Ibrahim Maalouf: New School Auditorium @ 66 W 12th St. 7:40 PM

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


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

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


 

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

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

 

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

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


 

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

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


 

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

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

 

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

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


 

Sunday Show

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

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

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

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

So that’s it. Again, it’s a lot of acts and I’ve only scratched the surface here, but they’re all really good and different in fun ways. Find who’s to your liking and take some time to see someone you haven’t — you might become a fan of a new group — or see how someone you’ve already seen interprets material this time. Look for a full review after it’s all over and I’ve gotten some sleep.

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

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

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

WJF2016_Schedule_Cheat_Sheet

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

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