In lieu of JVC Jazz festivals

Did you miss the “festivity” of June jazz concerts in major Manhattan venues — or did you find ways of coping without them? There’s so much fine music — jazz and beyond — in nearby festive settings, many of them out-of-doors, that the absence of a 38-year-old institution doesn’t seem to have made much stir. Perhaps you didn’t even notice? 

Here’s my most recent City Arts – NYC report on how George Wein responded to his perennial presence in New York City’s jazz summer being suspended, upcoming classic jazz alternatives in Kent, CT, Katonah NY and Tanglewood, MA — plus notes on promising “world music” events coming up free in Central Park, Battery Park, Prospect Park and the late August Charlie Parker fest, uptown and downtown.

I was thrilled to hear the daringly improvisational but highly groovy electric bass lines of Maestro Melvin Gibbs undergird his Elevated Entity free at the Prospect Park bandshell in a Celebrate Brooklyn! concert last week. I heard good things there about the previous David Rudder performance (audience estimated as 80% Brooklyn’s West Indian population) and the David Byrne show which opened the season (“27,000 people, the police didn’t even have a report of anyone being sick” according to publicist Blake Zidell).  I partook of VIP seating privileges but the sight lines and sound were fine for everyone everywhere, including the lawns. Best of all was the music: this the peak Afro-Caribbean-rock-funk-jazz ensemble outings I’ve enjoyed in, oh, the past five years.
Guitarist Vernon Reid was inspired to launch two harmonically far-reaching solos that establish him once and for all as way past any of the more commercial idolized gtr gdz, riding out his own twists on the live-wire Hendrix/Mahavishnu line — but he couldn’t have done it without Gibbs’ super-low fluid and propulsive bottom, the space-jam beds and fills provided by keyboardist Bernie Worrell, the solid in-the-pocket drummer of J.T. Lewis and an Afro-Latin percussionist. Amayo, a loose-limbed cheerleader-type singer with dramatically painted face (best known with the Brooklyn band Antibalas) served as front man, with a guest rapper on two early tunes, and he was fine, but it was the instrumental work that raised this set to its heights, well above the levels of complexity and instantaneous engagement that headliner Fema Kuti attained with his big touring Afro-pop show. This set didn’t have the Brazilian nuances producer Arto Lindsay brought to Elevated Entity’s excellent record Ancients Speak, which has a more extended cast. Just proving Elevated Entity is a concept, not a fixed act.  If all the Celebrate Brooklyn! shows are this good, why go elsewhere, farther? Check the series’ complete summer schedule.
  • However on Sunday July 5 at Central Park Summerstage, free, 3 pm to 7 pm,  women singers of Africa including Mali’s Oumou Sangare, the Paris-born Les Nubians and 25-year-old Nigerian Asa.
  • And I enthusiastically recommend the “Steppin’ Off The Corner” take-off-on-Miles gig Wed. July 8 free, 7 to 9 pm — a River to River festival event at Rockefeller Park, Battery Park City, 7 pm  featuring Ingrid Jensen, trumpet; Steve Gorn, bansuri flute;  South Asian-American saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa; Badal Roy, tablas; Michael Henderson, electric bass; Kenny Wessel, electric guitar and Mike Clark, drums and on the basis of having heard some of these folks wail on this material at Merkin Hall and Iridium in May. Free.
  • (also that night, 7 pm to 10 pm at Summerstage, “electronic and danceable sounds from Argentina and Brazil, presented in association with the Latin Alternative Music Conference” — Juana Molina, Curumin and El G (ZZK). Free.)
  • Saturday, July 11 from 3 pm to 7 pm, Central Park Summerstage: “internationally renowned, high-energy Argentine sensations Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, with opening support from alternative hip hop via Puerto Rico Eric Bobo.” Free.

  • Thurs July 16, Wagner Park Battery Park City, 6 pm, free: Junior Mack, is a smooth voiced singer and well-informed guitarist with a large repertoire and a lot of heart, leads his Blues Band, seldom playing NYC outside of the Bleeker St. bar Terra Blues.
  • July 18 is the can’t miss concert by King Sunny Ade at Prospect Park again (gates for seating open at 1 pm, music runs from 2 to 9 pm); the Nigerian ju-ju guitarist and smoothie headlines a day-long Africa fest with (from the pr) “South Africa’s Freshly Ground; The Mandingo Ambassadors, from NYC by way of Guinea, Senegalese drum troupe Cheikh M’Baye & Sing Sing, Brooklyn-born, Ghanaian vocalist Abena Koomson and whirling traditional Egyptian dancer Yasser Darwish.” Free.
  • Next day, Sun July 19 Summerstage strikes back with Ivory Coast’s Alpha Blondy and political reggaeist Lee “Scratch” Perry, 3 to 7 pm, free. 
  • Thurs July 23, 5:30 pm, George Gustav Heye Center of the National Museum of the American Indian (Bowling Green, Old Customs House) — The Bannaba Project, Kuna people of Panama (advertising: “pre-Columbia roots, Caribbean rhythms”), free (River-to-River fest event). 
  • Wed. July 29 7 pm,  Wagner Park, Battery Place and West St. — Quimbombo, “groove-oriented Cuban son,” free (River-to-River fest). 
  • Thurs, July 30, 6:30 pm, Celebrate Brooklyn! Prospect Park — throaty reggae singer Burning Spear and  Naomi Shelton & The Gospel Queens, free.
  • Monday, August 03, 2009,  7:30 pm to 10:00 pm Central Park SummerStage — banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck and kora master Toumani Diabaté perform, ” followed by a screening of the documentary tracing Fleck’s journey through Africa in search of the origins of the banjo.” Suggested donation $5.
  • Sat., August 29 and Sunday, Aug 30 — both days starting at 3 p.m. — free — in Marcus Garvey Park (Harlem) and Tompkins Sq. Park (East Village, respectively — the Charlie Paker Jazz Festival. Swing-to-bop-modernist tenor saxophone-flutist Frank Wess, from-the-’60s alto saxist Gary Bartz and emerging pianist Aaron Parks are attractions in Harlem, post-bop pianist Cedar Walton, Papo Vasquez Pirates Troubadores — almost a boogaloo band — and unclassifiable singer Pyeng Threadgill star downtown.  
Also see the August dates for Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors — I notice that Iraqi trumpeter Amir ElSaffar’s Two Rivers Large is co-billed with
pianist Dave Brubeck’s band and guest oudist Simon Shaheen on Wed., Aug 5 at Damrosch Park bandshell, 7:30 pm, free. A steal at that price.
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