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.”
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.
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
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’
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.
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
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
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.
Joe Lovano and Hank Jones
Tuesday, April 25–30
Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Bway at 60th, 212-258-9595
Proving the most eloquent improvisers can trounce intergenerational differences, the saxophonist and pianist have turned heads with their quartet work for the past two years. Here’s their alone-together moment, and methinks it might be as sublime as most of the city’s jazz fans are hoping.
Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis
Thursday, May 4–6
Rose Hall, 60th and Bway, 212-258-9800
The “New Orleans: Congo Square” show finds Marsalis and pals celebrating the historic marketplace adjacent to the French Quarter where drummers were royalty. Blowing through charts by Jelly Roll Morton, Joe Robichaux, and Sam Morgan, the LCJO also make room for a Ghanaian hand percussionist.
Omer Avital Birthday Celebration
Jazz Gallery, 290 Hudson, 212-242-1063
One of the feistiest personalities on the local jazz scene, the Israeli bassist has been making his music soar since returning to action around the start of the year. Thick horn lines ride the gallop of the rhythm section in a keenly constructed musical world that sounds wonderfully loose.