Week before Christmas, NYC listening beyond jazz

Richard Bona introduces his Mandekan Cubano project at the Jazz Standard, Dec. 27 through New Year’s Eve — as I detail in my new CityArts-New York column. But from now through December 24 there’s other strong, new music to check out in, especially at Roulette in Brooklyn.

Tonight (Dec. 15) and tomorrow (Dec. 16), trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith celebrates his 70th birthday. First night with his Golden Quartet, his trio Mbira (which has put out the spare, penetrating album Dark Lady of the Sonnets) and String Quartet Plus with vocalist Thomas Buckner. Second night with that Golden Quartet (Angelika Sanchez, piano; John Lindberg, bass; Pheeroan akLaff, drums) and his Silver Orchestra. Smith — out of the deep blues and the AACM, currently teaching at California Institute of the Arts — has a compellingly rich trumpet tone and the rare range to go from near-complete abstraction to credible expansions on the electric music of Miles Davis (though he’s not doing that here).

(Also tonight, at the Jazz Gallery, drummer Tomas Fujiwara‘s The Hookup features guitarist Mary Halvorson and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson — mature young innovators who prove “jazz” is only “dead” if you believe it’s frozen in 1959. Saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum’s NY Hieroglyphics large ensemble is there on Dec. 16; cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum‘s Sextet celebrates the release of Apparent Distance, its new album on Dec. 17; Tony Malaby, perhaps NYC’s busiest under-valued tenor saxophonist, leads his nonet Novela with drummer John Hollenbeck on Dec. 18).

(And, Dec. 15 – 17: World premiere of “Vidas Perfectas” the Spanish-language version of Robert Ashley‘s opera “Perfect Lives,” the dryly and wryly hilarious story of a bank heist, now set on the Tex-Mex border, enacted by my friend and colleague Ned Sublette, Cuban pianist Elio Villafranca, music produced by Peter Gordon — at Irondale in Brooklyn).

At Roulette on Saturday, Dec. 17 — Eric Dolphy’s masterpiece Out To Lunch and other rare compositions by the revered inside/outside saxophonist-bass clarinetist-flutist are brought to life by all-star individualists comprising trumpeter Russ Johnson’s Quintet: alto saxist Roy Nathanson, pianist Myra Melford, bassist Brad Jones and drummer George Schuller. I heard this program two years ago at Merkin Concert Hall, and blogged about it being “in the zone.” This ensemble performed this program last week in New Haven. It is not slavish in reprising Dolphy, but it is appropriate, accurate and so continues to push the boundaries defined by expectation.

On Dec. 21, experimental intermediast Phill Niblock holds his annual Solstice Concert at Roulette — and if anyone can bring light to the darkest days of the year, Niblock can. The last time I heard him, at a Bang on a Can festival, his unique construction of digitally-processed monolithic microtonal drones seemed to fill the auditorium with sonic luminosity. Niblock explains, “What I am doing with my music is to produce something without rhythm or melody, by using many microtones that cause movements very, very slowly.” Usually I find minimalism very, very boring, but Phill’s is not that.

Dec. 22: Pianist Bob Gluck, who has been doing deep research on Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi band and the dawn of electric jazz in general, makes a rare trio appearance at the Gershwin Hotel with his trio, celebrating the release of their new album Returning.

And on Christmas eve, Dec. 24, tzadik John Zorn hosts and his Aleph Trio performs a nittlenach benefit for the Sixth Street Synagogue’s Center For Jewish Arts and Literacy, with
upbeat percussionist Cyro Baptista’s Banquet of the Spirits playing Zorn’s compositions from Masada Book II, Rashanim meets Hasidic New Wave’s Rabbi Greg and Frank London, and The Ayn Sof Arkestra and Bigger Band with Jake Marmer of Jazz Talmud.

There’s much more happening — thanks to everyone who’s invited me to their gigs. I’m getting to some, not all . . .


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