To Serve and Protect: A Freestyle Series Rumbles On

Speak a blustery underground language and your chances of filling grand halls are nil. No question, dissonance and delirium can be compelling, but they often demand the kind of attention that mainstream listeners just can't muster. It's one of the reasons that bastions of avant action are often in flux, and it's why the music's ever-morphing lingo has become symbolic of resilience.

Guess that means you can call Dee Pop an avant guardian. For the last several years the veteran drummer (Bush Tetras, y'all) has curated the weekly Freestyle Jazz series in various spots around the East Village. What began in the late '90s at Internet Café and developed in the early '00s at CB's Gallery is looking to thrive this spring in the back room of Jimmy's Restaurant, a scruffy little shelter for the music on 7th Street. Driven by an amalgam of experienced outcats and fresh-faced progsters, Freestyle's aesthetic parameters have always been broad. Any given month might find the refined abstractions of the Bauhaus Quartet sharing the schedule with the boisterous brouhaha of Mostly Others Do the Killing .

The continuous search for new spaces has not been unlike the pursuit for groundbreaking musical notions. Pop believes left-of-center sounds take stamina, whether you're presenting them or playing them. Freestyle has no sponsors. "I want the music to sell itself," he says, "and though there have been some rough weeks, it generally does."

Members of Jackalope play by no rules
photo: Shiho Fukada
Members of Jackalope play by no rules

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    As the winter subsides, the series storms on. Saxophonist Sabir Mateen, bassist Jane Wang, and percussionist Warren Smith romp 'n' rumble on March 30. Tenor player Ellery Eskelin goes head-to-head with drummer Gerry Hemingway on May 25. Both groups find singular ways to employ the brusque music's radical past while tweaking some novel iterations. Making sure the series sustains sonic diversity is crucial to its booker, who likes to set the avant vernacular's myriad dialects against each other. Sparking some friction is a good way to keep the lexicon alive. Jim Macnie

    Freestyle Jazz takes place every Thursday night at Jimmy's Restaurant, 43 East 7th Street, 212-982-3006.


    Listings by Jim Macnie


    Anthony Braxton's 12 + 1
    March 16–19

    Iridium, 1650 Bway 212-582-2121

    The AACM's scholarly granddad hasn't lost a whit of his experimental edge. The pointed large ensemble music of this rare NYC visit will be filled with rhythmic variety, decorative dissonance, and a sui generis attitude that should get him over any hump he encounters.


    Italian Jazz Festival
    March 28–April 2

    Birdland 315 W 44th. 212-581-3080

    A recent string of impressive albums finds pianist Enrico Pieranunzi and trumpeter Enrico Rava celebrating not only their own tunes, but the work of high-vis artistes Fellini and Morricone as well. Perfect time to let us see how the stuff works on stage. Several players, including Dado Moroni and Stefano Bollani, participate. But it's Pieranunzi's lithe and lyrical trio with Marc Johnson and Paul Motian that's the must-see evening of this event.


    James Blood Ulmer
    March 28–April 2

    Jazz Standard. 116 E 27th, 212-576-2232

    From urban bluesman to jazz-rock terror, the grumbling guitarist has been many things to many people. His various personas are shown off in a clip of dates that stretch from the sawtooth strings of a solo outing to the harmolodic hoedown of his newly reorganized Odyssey trio to the r&b stomp of Vernon Reid–architected Memphis sessions.


    7th Annual Central Brooklyn Jazz Festival
    March 29–April 30

    Various Venues, centralbrooklynjazz.org

    It starts with Billy Harper's woolly tenor exhortations and ends with James Spaulding blowing out the candles at an Ellington birthday party. In between you'll find big bands saluting Billie and Youth Jazz jamborees. The fest is a great symbol that the music can flourish in the outer boroughs.


    'Highlights in Jazz'
    April 6

    Tribeca Performing Arts Center, 199 Chambers, 212-220-1460

    In this"Ultimate Jam Session" curator Jack Kleinsinger gives a bunch of r&b-flavored mainstreamers the green light to get groovy. Graying participants Fathead Newman, Lew Soloff, Jimmy Cobb, Mulgrew Miller, Steve Turre, and Ernie Watts make middle-of-the-road swing an intriguing spot. The show's dedicated to the late Ray Barretto.


    Grachan Moncur
    April 8–9

    Iridium, 1650 Bway, 212-582-2121

    As last year's Mosaic box reminded, the veteran trombonist had one of Blue Note's most unique ensemble sounds – brooding yet brassy. Like his pal Charles Tolliver, he's back in action and surprisingly vital. A robust new disc of older pieces turns out to be oddly haunting.


    Bill Frisell Quintet
    April 18–30

    Village Vanguard, 178 Seventh Ave South, 212-255-4037

    It's all about variety with Frisell. This band, with the Sex Mob rhythm section, should find him moving away from the wistful prairie vibe of the last few years; they'll bring some eloquent slapdash into the room. Maybe that means the horns of Ron Miles and Greg Tardy will have a fast track to the wild blue yonder.


    Tim Berne's Big Satan
    April 19

    55 Bar, 55 Christopher, 212-939-9883

    Sometimes imploding is just as much fun as exploding. The saxophonist has a terrific way of kicking his kinetics—it makes for myriad types of tension and gives the small combo an orchestral feel. This is especially true when he's working with French guitarist Marc Ducret, Big Satan's in-house devil dog.

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