These are the best jazz shows in NYC in December.
Saxophonist Joe Lovano takes up residency at the Stone for six nights (Dec. 3-8) to mark his 60th birthday. Though he’s been with a major label for over 20 years, Lovano came of age in small indie venues like this, and he’s never stopped being part of the community of improvisers. He’ll make that clear in a duo night with drummer and philosopher-king Milford Graves; a summit with pianist Kenny Werner and drummer Andrew Cyrille; an appearance by the Village Rhythm Band (with guitarist Liberty Ellman); an encounter with the Super Sonix trio from Cleveland, Lovano’s hometown; two sets of “loft ensemble improvisations”; and a “saxophone explosion” with mystery guests.
Cuban-born pianist David (that’s Dah-VEED) Virelles made a splash in 2012 with Continuum (Pi), a thrilling abstract take on Afro-Cuban music and hard-hitting New York jazz. For sheer piano skills Virelles has been snapped up by David Binney, Chris Potter, Tomasz Stanko, Jonathan Finlayson and other bandleaders. But the Continuum project resumes on December 6 & 7 at the Jazz Gallery, which commissioned a new Virelles work titled Threefold. Bassist Ben Street, drummer Eric McPherson and percussionist/Yoruba vocal master Román Díaz all have a hand in the premiere.
Ben Monder Solo
You’d fully expect music from a distant planet to sound something like Ben Monder, a guitarist of huge technical reach and harmonic imagination. Monder has a reclusive vibe though he’s appeared on countless recordings and sideman gigs about town. His albums are too few, though this year’s Hydra (Sunnyside) reestablishes him as a composer-magician of high rank. With bands, or in duo with vocal innovator Theo Bleckmann, Monder’s eerie electric-fingerstyle parts can go by in a blur. When he plays alone at Greenwich House Music School (Dec. 7), you’ll hear every mystifying detail.
Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band
Drummer Brian Blade has brought an explosiveness, a sense of physical unrestrained joy, to the music of the Wayne Shorter Quartet for nearly 15 years. All the while he’s led the Fellowship Band to great heights, combining jazz virtuosity with rhythms and melodies that can be disarmingly simple, even heartbreaking. His recent singer-songwriter record, Mama Rosa (Verve), revealed a lot about how his mind works, regardless of genre. The Fellowship returns to the Village Vanguard December 10-15.
Harish Raghavan Group
Born near Chicago, 31-year-old bassist Harish Raghavan has gained serious cred in the jazz world with Eric Harland’s Voyager band, Vijay Iyer’s trio, Kurt Elling’s group, Ambrose Akinmusire’s quintet and more. He’s riveting to watch, a picture of control and total commitment. At Smalls on December 11 & 12 he’ll push forward as a leader, and there’s every reason to expect music of consequence with Harland on drums, Logan Richardson on alto, Fabian Almazan on piano and Matthew Stevens on guitar.
Now vs. Now
Jason Lindner is a bebop-schooled pianist and visionary big band composer, but you have to hear him on multi-keyboards with Now vs. Now to get the full picture. For several years Lindner played with Meshell Ndegeocello, who produced the trio’s 2009 debut. Earth Analog, the follow-up, is awash in Wurlitzer and Moog textures, tightened by drummer Mark Guiliana’s insanely intricate beats, anchored by bassist Panagiotis Andreou’s huge mutant low notes and occasional vocals (catch him five minutes into this clip). Lindner and crew bring their “analog art rock” sound to Rockwood Music Hall on December 4.
George Coleman New Octet
The tenor saxophonist and Memphis native, now 78, helped define an era with his appearances on Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage, Miles Davis’ Seven Steps to Heaven and more. Though Wayne Shorter replaced him in Miles’ historic quintet, Coleman remains an influential figure, a hard-bop survivor from one of jazz’s most fertile periods. At Jazz Standard (Dec. 11-15) he’ll revisit an octet sound he debuted in the mid ’70s and revived in 2000 on Danger High Voltage (Two & Four). There’ll be trumpet (Jeremy Pelt), five saxophones (including Coleman disciple Eric Alexander) and a rhythm section featuring another survivor: piano great Harold Mabern.
You haven’t heard vocal jazz until you’ve heard Sheila Jordan, possibly the hippest 85-year-old in the world. She can lay into the blues, reinvent a ballad, scat bebop lines and tell impromptu stories like a freestyle rapper. Her up-from-nothing bio is remarkable — just listen to her sing it — and in light of that, her recognition as a 2012 NEA Jazz Master was all the more triumphant. At Cornelia Street Café on December 14 she’ll appear with bassist and longtime duo partner Cameron Brown and take everyone to school. Pianist Alan Broadbent joins as well.
Darius Jones Quartet
Alto saxophonist Darius Jones lights up another Tuesday night (Dec. 17) in the Konceptions at Korzo series, curated by piano maestro James Carney. In jazz parlance Jones is an “outcat,” a post-Albert Ayler player with a big wail of a sound and a deep otherworldly blues feel. His quartet will feature the players from Book of Mæ’bul: Another Kind of Sunrise (Aum Fidelity): pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Ches Smith. The second set belongs to Circle Wide, an exceptional quintet led by drummer George Schuller (son of the renowned Gunther Schuller).
Lotte Anker/Craig Taborn/Gerald Cleaver
Pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Gerald Cleaver, kindred spirits dating back to late ’80s Detroit, are practically mind-melded by now, blazing improvisatory trails in a number of different bands. One of them, this trio with Danish tenor/soprano/alto saxophonist Lotte Anker, has conceived free improvisation of a purposeful but wrenching sort on the albums Triptych (Leo) and Live at the Loft (ILK). They reconvene at Ibeam on December 20 on the strength of this year’s fiery ILK disc Floating Islands.