The Best Jazz Shows in June

Blue Note Jazz Festival, Helen Sung Quartet, and more lead a great month for live jazz

The Best Jazz Shows in June
Eliseo Cardona
Bass head: How low can Michael Formanek go?

Vision Festival 19

June 11–15, Roulette

The Vision Festival has made a custom of honoring a particular avant-garde jazz musician for Lifetime Achievement each year. Now it's the turn of uncompromising saxophonist (and pianist, and bassist) 75-year-old Charles Gayle, who fills the entire first night with a trio, quartet, and an 11-piece unit called the Vision Artist Orchestra. Sets also on tap from Peter Brötzmann, James "Blood" Ulmer, Matthew Shipp, Nicole Mitchell, TarBaby, and more, plus a promising slate of duos (Mary Halvorson and Susan Alcorn, Fay Victor and Tyshawn Sorey, Angelica Sanchez and Omar Tamez). There'll also be a film tribute to Jeff Schlanger, whose "MusicWitness" paintings, created in real time during every Vision set, have come to be inseparable from the event itself.

Blue Note Jazz Festival

June 1–30, various venues

When a jazz festival books Aretha Franklin, Michael Bolton, and Michael McDonald, one can understand jazz purists getting a slight case of the willies. But the Blue Note Jazz Festival deserves props for balancing mega-names with probing artists along the lines of José James, Kris Bowers, Jon Batiste, and Marcus Strickland. Bouncing between well over a dozen venues all month long, the fest can definitely point to some coups, including a night of Questlove with Bobby McFerrin (June 13) and the U.S. premiere of the Children of the Light Trio, Wayne Shorter's trailblazing quartet without Shorter (June 17–22).

Jack DeJohnette Trio

June 2, ShapeShifter Lab

Drummer-composer Jack DeJohnette, 71, has played unabashed swing around the world for three decades with Keith Jarrett, the pianist he came up with in the '60s in bands led by Charles Lloyd and Miles Davis. But DeJohnette's own music with Special Edition and other units may be his greatest gift — an elusive and absorbing catalog often drawing on the venturesome spirit of Chicago's AACM, where he got his start. Tonight, DeJohnette takes another turn, joining saxophone marvel Ravi Coltrane and electric bass shredder Matthew Garrison for a trio gig that could tilt the Earth's axis (or at least Brooklyn's). That Ravi is the son of John Coltrane and Matthew the son of Coltrane's bassist, Jimmy Garrison, adds a certain historical weight.

Helen Sung Quartet

June 6–7, Smoke

Houston native Helen Sung can outswing just about any pianist working today, as she'll demonstrate with a formidable quintet (trumpeter Alex Norris, saxophonist John Ellis, bassist Boris Kozlov, and drummer Donald Edwards). After several solid releases for Fresh Sound, Sunnyside, and SteepleChase, Sung landed at Concord this year and brought forward Anthem for a New Day, her most vibrant effort to date — splashed with Fender Rhodes, propelled by lyrical discovery — showcasing Sung's own tunes as well as readings of Monk, Ellington, Chick Corea, and Stanley Cowell. On the bandstand, this material can go in any and all directions.

Red Hook Jazz Festival

June 8 and 15, Urban Meadow

The lineup seems to get better every year at the Red Hook Jazz Festival, held on two successive Sundays at the Urban Meadow. These bands have widely varying instrumentation but a shared independent spirit, an ethic as purposeful and rigorous as it is experimental. Day one belongs to Azares (featuring vocalist Jean Carla Rodea and drummer Gerald Cleaver), plus ensembles led by Ralph Alessi, Amanda Monaco, Harris Eisenstadt, and Ted Daniel. Day two features a quartet called the Museum Band of Teeth and Respect, along with Tim Berne's DECAY, the Welf Dorr Unit, George Coleman's Rivington Project, and Gene Ess's Fractal Attraction.

Michael Formanek

June 12–14, Cornelia Street Café

The veteran bassist, a linchpin of Tim Berne's Bloodcount and many other bands, has shown tremendous versatility over the years, favoring a fairly experimental sound. In 2010 he gained new visibility as a leader with the ECM release The Rub and Small Change, followed in 2012 by Small Places. Formanek builds on that momentum in a three-night stint at the Cornelia Street Café.

Lana Is

June 11, SEEDS

Multitalented Croatian singer-songwriter Lana Cencic performs as Lana Is, bringing a theatrical sensibility and a jazz-influenced intricacy to the fore as she partners with musicians as heavy as bassist Eivind Opsvik. You can also hear Is with a vocal trio bringing otherworldly sounds to drummer Dan Weiss's epic large ensemble effort Fourteen (Pi). On June 11 at SEEDS, a home in Prospect Heights doubling as an improvised music salon, she'll sing and play keyboard alongside Nate Wood on guitar, Jesske Hume on bass, and Peter Kronreif on drums. Also catch her at Rockwood Stage 1 on June 26.

Yosvany Terry and Afro-Cuban Roots: Ye-Dé-Gbé

June 12–15, Jazz Standard

Alto saxophonist Yosvany Terry has made it a mission to bring musical concepts from his native Cuba into contact with the most advanced and forward-thinking New York jazz (not unlike Miguel Zenón has done with the jíbaro and plena traditions of Puerto Rico). Terry has outdone himself with New Throned King for Gonzalo Rubalcaba's 5Passion label, shining a light on the Arará culture of Matanzas, Cuba. For four nights at the Jazz Standard he'll conjure this rhythmically intense and hypnotic sound with pianist Osmany Paredes, bassist Yunior Terry, drummer Justin Brown, and two incredible singing percussionists, Pedrito Martinez and Román Díaz.

Bill McHenry

June 24–29, Village Vanguard

Tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry has gained wisdom playing with the likes of Paul Motian and trumpeter John McNeil, though his newer partnership with drum sage Andrew Cyrille, documented on 2012's La Peur du Vide (Sunnyside), seems every bit as fruitful. Cyrille is a sculptor of the beat, ideally suited for McHenry's wry, elliptical phrase-making. They return to the Village Vanguard for five nights: first it's the Peur du Vide band with pianist Orrin Evans and bassist Eric Revis; then a McHenry-Cyrille duo night; then two nights with Cyrille, guitarist Ben Monder, and bassist Reid Anderson (the lineup from Roses and Ghosts of the Sun, sans Motian); and finally a quartet with pianist David Bryant and bassist Jonathan Michel.

Sam Newsome and Ethan Iverson

June 29, Greenwich House

Sam Newsome has brought a rare level of mastery and sonic imagination to the soprano saxophone. Few would dare to record the instrument wholly unaccompanied, as he's done since 2008 on Monk Abstractions, Blue Soliloquy, and The Art of the Soprano, Vol. 1 (all self-released). For sheer depth of knowledge and improvisational daring, it's hard to think of a better duo match than pianist Ethan Iverson — co-leader of The Bad Plus, must-read blogger and critic, and, like Newsome, one of Monk's most creative present-day disciples. They'll do their magic at Greenwich House's Sound It Out series on June 29. (Iverson also plays Birdland with the Billy Hart Quartet on June 3–8.)

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