Top 10 Must-See Acts At Winter Jazzfest 2011


Without a guide, Winter Jazzfest can make you pretty crazy. On Friday and Saturday night, five venues — Le Poisson Rouge, Zinc Bar, Kenny’s Castaways, Sullivan Hall, and the Bitter End — will feature a total of 68 short sets (new performers take the stage every hour) by long-running groups, brand-new ensembles, and even a solo set or two, all for the low all-access ticket price of $25 per day or $35 for a two-day pass. The music can kick off as early as 5:45 p.m., and the closing performance, by trumpeter David Weiss’s Point of Departure quintet, will end after 3 a.m. Here are ten groups you should try to catch.

Mike Pride’s From Bacteria To Boys
Kenny’s Castaways, Friday, 6 p.m.
The first group of the festival is this quartet led by drummer Pride and featuring alto saxophonist Darius Jones; their music combines groove-based but forward-looking jazz with modern r&b (Pride cops to a major R. Kelly influence). Their CD Betweenwhile received rave reviews last year.

Respect Sextet
Le Poisson Rouge, Friday, 6:15 p.m.
This long-running collective (formed in 2001) released a 2009 CD, Sirius Respect, that explored compositions by Sun Ra and Stockhausen, but their own music features plenty of romping, joyous swing alongside forbiddingly intellectual improvisations.

Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth
Kenny’s Castaways, Friday, 11 p.m.
Bigmouth is a medium-sized band (Jeff Lederer and Chris Cheek on saxophones, Craig Taborn on keyboards, Lightcap on bass, and Gerald Cleaver on drums) that plays hard-grooving compositions that take sudden left turns into sharp dissonance, but always bring it back home.

Matana Roberts
Zinc Bar, Friday, 11:30 p.m.
Born in Chicago, saxophonist/composer Matana Roberts is one of the few female members of that city’s AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians). She’ll be performing solo, but don’t let that keep you away — she’s a thoughtful and creative improviser.

Marcus Strickland Quartet
Zinc Bar, Friday, 1:30 a.m.
Tenor saxophonist Strickland, whose brother E.J. is his drummer, will be adding pianist David Bryant to the trio seen in the clip above — the music will probably still be swinging, casual-listener-friendly (but not dumbed-down) post-bop.

Vernon Reid’s Artificial Afrika
Le Poisson Rouge, Saturday, 6:15 p.m.
The Living Colour/Decoding Society guitarist, accompanied by vocalist Akim Funk Buddha and DJ/percussionist Leon Lamont, premieres a new multimedia work exploring media and pop-cultural versions of Africa and African-Americans through film clips, live music, and more. Hopefully it’ll be more rock than rant.

Tineke Postma Quartet
Zinc Bar, Saturday, 8:30 p.m.
This Dutch group, led by female saxophonist Postma, plays slow-burning, almost chamber-music-style jazz, but that’s exactly the kind of music that reveals hidden depths if you listen carefully, so don’t miss them. After all, they’re unlikely to be back anytime soon.

Steve Coleman & Five Elements
Le Poisson Rouge, Saturday, 11:15 p.m.
The shadow of saxophonist/composer Steve Coleman looms over the current generation of jazz musicians: Pianist Vijay Iyer, saxophonists Rudresh Mahanthappa and Steve Lehman, and drummer Tyshawn Sorey have either worked with Coleman or count him as a major influence. His intricate melodies and off-kilter grooves can be heard to great effect with the current lineup of this long-running band. Pay particular attention to trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson.

Kenny’s Castaways, Saturday, 2 a.m.
This long-running duo (keyboardist/noisemaker Matt Mottel and drummer Kevin Shea) have a goofy, shambling approach to combining free jazz, skronky noise, and No Wave art-thrash that rarely fails to entertain.

Amir ElSaffar
The Bitter End, Saturday, 11:45 p.m.
This Iraqi-American trumpeter released Radif Suite, a tremendous collaboration with Iranian-American saxophonist Hafez Modirzadeh, in 2009. This performance, though, will reunite him with Indian-American saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa and the band that played on ElSaffar’s 2007 release, Two Rivers, an album that combined traditional Iraqi maqam melodies with heavy free-jazz grooves. The music blends Arabic tonalities with Western swing (no, not like Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys), creating something unique and fascinating.