ZEALnyc FALL PREVIEW: Jazz and Cabaret
By Dan Ouellette, Senior Editor ZEALnyc, September 11, 2018
In the summer, large-scale spotlight concert events that serve as a multi-cast spectacle are prevalent (most noteworthy from North American outposts like Montreal and Newport), but once Labor Day rolls over it would seem that jazz might take a pause. Not so in New York, the jazz capital of the genre where you can see/hear a variety of the genre’s stripes every night of the week throughout the fall. The following survey, albeit very selective, reveals a burst of creativity, imagination and ultimately passion.
While they are rare as the temp turns down, festivals still pop up in the fall, but the most important ones lie beyond New York City proper—one relatively new and the other old time in all its glory.
Taking a car or train ride across the Hudson drops you off in Newark where NJPAC hosts the James Moody Jazz Festival from November 8-18, honoring the late saxophonist who passed away in 2010. On opening day, the featured act is veteran trumpeter Roy Hargrove and his band paying tribute to Newark’s “First Lady of Jazz,” the founder of jazz radio station WBGO Dorthaan Kirk at the Bethany Jazz Vespers at Bethany Baptist Church. Other acts include singer star Cécile McLorin Salvant performing on November 16 her Ogresse song cycle partly commissioned by NJPAC. Two days later the 7th annual Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition will take place as five finalists share songs in search of this year’s SASSY Award.
While the Moody fest is only six years old, across the continent is the grand three-day Monterey Jazz Festival (September 21-23) which celebrates its 61st birthday—the longest ongoing annual jazz party in the world. There are several stages where the music is free as well as the ticketed main stage featuring Jon Batiste, Norah Jones (in her first Monterey appearance) and many acts supported by Tia Fuller and Ingrid Jensen, the two artists-in-residence this year. The trip to the preeminent festival (some 120 miles south of San Francisco) will cost you a plane ticket and a car rental, but jazz fans who have traveled from far to come here attest to its brilliance in programming and performance.
Back closer to home is the opening performance of Jazz at Lincoln Center’s 31th season with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (September 13-15) revisiting its 2016 10-movement Spaces, a playful exploration of the animal kingdom that includes two dancers, Lil Buck and Jared Grimes. Marsalis takes Spaces on the road where it will touch down at the Monterey fest.
Another three-day run in September features the Yellowjackets, the stellar L.A.-based electro-acoustic quartet at Birdland Jazz Club September 25-29. They’ll be supporting their latest album, Raising Our Voices. In a nod to their previous albums that number close to thirty, the shapeshifting jazz band delivers pockets of buoyance, mystery, tumult, whimsy and even swing. The recording plays out as a multifaceted documentation of how far the band has come to create a unique jazz sound that has evolved since its fusion beginnings with its 1981 eponymous debut. “The band keeps moving forward,” saxophonist Bob Mintzer who joined the group in 1990, told me. “It’s one of the few partnership bands in the last four decades. It’s democratic, laissez-faire and accommodating to everyone in the band to contribute. We’re constantly reinventing ourselves as a reflection of what’s happening in the world.”
Another Birdland feature this fall is a three-week residency of legendary bassist Ron Carter October 6 – November 3. At 81, Carter, who gained fame as the ‘60s Miles Davis quintet bassist, keeps cooking as he presents three of his current bands: the Great Big Band, his quartet featuring Renee Rosnes on piano, and his best group, The Golden Striker Trio, starring original member guitarist Russell Malone. Carter never gives a subpar performance. His music is down the middle, but his striking improvisational direction is out of this world.
Across town, Blue Note holds the honors for extended stretches of creative music at its best. The spotlight is trained on pianist/keyboardist Robert Glasper, a key artist pioneering into the future of jazz. He sets up shop at the club all of October (October 2-28) presenting a varied package of 48 shows in 24 days—from solo piano to his reflective but vibrant all-star band R+R=NOW that released its debut album last year on Blue Note.
Glasper launched his career playing acoustic piano, but quickly opened himself up to electric keyboards, given his spirited connections to the realms of hip-hop, neo-soul and r&b. It was a smart, organic move that enabled the Houston native to develop his unique voice beyond the strictures of mainstream jazz. He has matured into a deeply versatile artist who can play grooving, straightahead tunes with his piano trio or gracefully stretch into the funk-meets-r&b zone on electric keys with his plugged-in group, the Robert Glasper Experiment, which, as its name suggests, is an adventurous, genre-blending machine. R+R=NOW is the new extension of his wide-open vision. He told me last year, “I do things against the grain, totally.”
On October nights when Glasper is not exploring, the virtuosic Hammond B3 organ player and bandleader Cory Henry will set up shop every Monday (October 1, 8, 15, 22, 29) with a variety of his groups. He’ll be doing a solo outing (fueled by B3 music from his The Revival album) as well as letting the hip Funk Apostles band take fire. In that setting Henry sings his way through a gospel-soul-funk journey with touches of jazz in the analog-recorded mix. He’s not only in pivot mode by introducing his intimate vocal power, but he sticks to the Wurlitzer as well hauling out the B3.
And, of course, now in its 14th year, trumpeter Chris Botti settles in for his annual holiday residency (December 10-31) that continues into 2019 (January 1-6). Tepid jazz at times, jagged but tasty in stretches. Expect his buddies like Sting to show up.
Vocalists also bask in the limelight this fall, including youngsters and vets. Jazzmeia Horn plays Le Poisson Rouge on October 17 with her spirited and socially aware music. The winner of the 2013 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocals SASSY Award and the 2015 Thelonious Monk Institute Competition, Horn released her Concord debut last year, A Social Call. She’s already amassing a large fan base, winning this year’s DownBeat Critics Poll for best rising-star female jazz vocalist. Top male vocalist Kurt Elling told me that she’s an important new star not only for her vocals and songs but also for her social bent.
Not yet 30, emerging vocals star Kandace Springs is also attracting star ratings. It was only a few years that the Nashville-based singer performed for a small crowd in New York’s East Village after she was signed by Blue Note Records. Now, in supporting the funky, jazz-cool, and earthen groove on her sophomore album Indigo, Springs is getting the top-tier treatment, playing in a very large room—Sony Hall, on October 28.
The top story of the latest ZEALnyc column, Jazz Notes Intel, the elegant and soulful Luciana Souza returns to her New York roots when she appears at Jazz Standard December 14-16. She’s unveiling her latest release, The Book of Longing, a sumptuously reflective album of poetry she set to music. It is a captivating song cycle of poems Souza wrote along with four darkened gems by iconic troubadour Leonard Cohen from his 2006 poetry collection, Book of Longing (hence her paying tribute to him with her title). “Leonard’s poems are so direct,” she says. “They’re not high-brow. They’re very much in place as to what he wanted to express.”
By this time, the mid-term elections will be settled, though that battle will still be in Souza’s mind focused on her call for inner peace. She told me recently: “[This music] is truth because the music and lyrics are telling about life. It feels like morally we’re in a pit as all we’ve tried to build is being deconstructed right in front of us. I’m hoping the music I make will bring in some stillness in the midst, a time to be honest, to rest, to go inward.”
Other recent showcases by former Jazz Notes Intel subjects of note include master pianist Fred Hersch playing special duo shows with Anat Cohen (October 16-18) and Esperanza Spalding (October 19-21) at Village Vanguard. And in the wake of his brilliant big band album Back to the Sunset, percussionist/drummer/bandleader Dafnis Prieto brings his full orchestra to Zankel Hall on November 10.
Setting up his Jazz Forum outpost Tarrytown upriver in the burbs of Westchester County a little over a year ago, veteran impresario Mark Morganelli and his wife Ellen Prior have exceeded expectations that a venue outside the city would succeed. But it’s been an impressive run for his weekend series, especially given trumpeter/composer Morganelli’s significant history in New York proper, having opened the original Jazz Forum Club in the East Village in 1979 as well as founding the nonprofit Jazz Forum Arts. This fall, the club has an impressive lineup of the top-tier artists who frequent the city, including Christian Sands (11/23-24), Catherine Russell (11/30-12/1), Monty Alexander (12/7-8), Bill Charlap (12/14-15) and Paquito D/Rivera (12/21-22). But the key event will be the 88th birthday celebration of legendary composer/conductor David Amram (11/16-17), who in addition to learning how to improvise on French horn under the guidance of Charlie Parker also created the Jazz Poetry movement with Jack Kerouac in 1957. Expect a remarkable two-night run.
And finally, another birthday: This year marks the 80th birthday of saxophonist/flutist NEA Jazz Master Charles Lloyd, who is enjoying a creative rebirth since signing with Blue Note Records. As The Atlantic magazine noted: “The jazz saxophonist went from 1960s pop stardom to years of self-imposed exile, but he’s now producing some of the best music of his career.” On December 14-15 at Jazz at Lincoln Center, he’ll be supporting his latest outing, Vanished Gardens, with his Marvels band of guitarist Bill Frisell, pedal steel guitarist Greg Leisz, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland. A big plus to the mix is country singer Lucinda Williams—a fellow outlaw.
Cover: Sarah Vaughan; courtesy of Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition.