The Best Jazz Shows in NYC This Month, January 2014


Winter Jazzfest
It grows and grows. The 10th anniversary Winter Jazzfest spans five nights (Jan. 7-11), nine venues and over 90 bands. There’ll be three standalone concerts and two back-to-back marathons (6pm-4am) with hugely impressive lineups. A quick glimpse reveals the names Gary Bartz, Darcy James Argue, Chris Lightcap, Matthew Shipp, Tim Berne, Aruán Ortiz, Town Hall headliners Robert Glasper and Jason Moran (plus guests), on and on. By now the vast aesthetic range is a given, but the particulars come as a surprise every year. Forced to choose a definitive set, we’d go with Henry Threadgill in his WJF debut. The great alto saxophonist/flutist/composer leads his Ensemble Double-Up in the premiere of “Old Locks and Irregular Verbs,” honoring the late Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris (Jan. 11).

Samuel Blaser Quartet with Ravi Coltrane
Swiss-born, Berlin-based trombonist Samuel Blaser can move from swinging and mellifluous lines to growling multiphonics and abstraction in one solo and make it sound entirely logical. He’s drawn from medieval and Renaissance music on two recent discs, offering improvisational readings of Monteverdi and Machaut. At ShapeShifter Lab (Jan. 2) Blaser turns his attention to clarinet/saxophone master Jimmy Giuffre, who passed in 2008. With renowned saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, pianist Russ Lossing, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Gerald Cleaver on hand to interpret Giuffre’s unclassifiable works, the gig’s a sure bet. SPOKE plus Brass Quintet follows at 9:30pm.

Marcus Strickland, Wayne Escoffery
Two fierce tenor/soprano saxophonists in their 30s are bringing their respective quartets to Smoke for two nights each. Miami native Marcus Strickland (Jan. 2-3), who has lit up bandstands with Roy Haynes, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Dave Douglas and others, has no problem backing up the bravado of his recent album title Triumph of the Heavy, Volume 1 & 2 (Strick Muzik). London-born, New Haven-raised Wayne Escoffery (Jan. 4-5), prized for his work in the Tom Harrell Quintet, Ben Riley’s Monk Legacy Septet and the Mingus Big Band, is readying the spring release of Live at Firehouse 12 (Sunnyside). At Smoke he’ll have some of the very best: pianist David Kikoski, bassist Gerald Cannon and drummer Lewis Nash.

Kurt Rosenwinkel New Quartet
That he came up as a legit bebopper in the ’80s and ’90s is something guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, 43, reminded us with Reflections (Wommusic), his Standards Trio release of 2009. But there’ve always been stirrings of sublimity in Rosenwinkel’s original music. On Star of Jupiter in 2012 he reached an apex of clear and futuristic expression, leading a quartet with formidable pianist Aaron Parks, Standards Trio bassist Eric Revis and drummer Justin Faulkner (the bass-drums engine of the Branford Marsalis Quartet). At Jazz Standard from January 8-12, Rosenwinkel has Parks and Revis in place, with Kendrick Scott (Herbie Hancock, Terence Blanchard) in Faulkner’s stead.

Frank Kimbrough Trio
Pianist Frank Kimbrough has had a notable impact over the last two decades: as cofounder of the (now-dormant) Jazz Composers Collective, as the longtime harmonic anchor of the Maria Schneider Orchestra, and as a leader of the marvelous trio sessions Play, Lullabyeblue and Live at Kitano (Palmetto), among others. At Greenwich House’s Sound It Out series on January 9, when Kimbrough assembles with bassist Masa Kamaguchi and drummer Jeff Hirshfield, it’ll be Play that comes quickest to mind. Kamaguchi and the late Paul Motian were superbly matched on that fine recording, and there’ll likely be echoes of Motian’s sphinxlike aesthetic in what Kimbrough has to offer. Other idiosyncratic masters, such as Herbie Nichols and Andrew Hill, continue to inform Kimbrough’s piano conception and compositional voice. And still there’s that loose and lyrical feel, almost a folk influence, seeping in from his native North Carolina.

Guillermo Klein y Los Guachos
Guillermo Klein, now based in Spain, is an Argentine pianist/composer who made a big difference on the New York scene in the ’90s and ’00s. His 11-piece band Los Guachos (roughly, “the homeboys”) persists as a New York institution, returning to the Village Vanguard annually in recent years (they’re on for January 21-26). There is nothing like Klein’s music: it’s lyrical and grooving, rhythmically devious and askew, fearlessly modern but folkloric, drawing from Argentine sources along with jazz, contemporary classical and pop (Klein occasionally sings, with an unvarnished and laid-back delivery). At the Vanguard look for saxophonists Bill McHenry and Chris Cheek, trumpeter/valve trombonist Diego Urcola, electric bassist Fernando Huergo and drummer Jeff Ballard, among other homeboys.

Steve Lehman
Sandwiched between the exciting Stone residencies of Thurston Moore, Uri Caine and Marc Ribot, alto saxophonist and composer Steve Lehman (Jan. 14-19) has a grand opportunity to bring his newest music before the public. He devotes five nights to the Steve Lehman Octet, which is busy conceiving a follow-up to the 2009 landmark Travail, Transformation, and Flow (Pi). There’s talk of microtones, custom-tuned vibraphone, reworkings of Bud Powell and Camp Lo and other good things. The final night features Lehman but not as a leader: he’ll play alto in the “Waves” project, the brainchild of HPrizm (a.k.a. High Priest) from Antipop Consortium. Eyebrow-raising? More so when you add pianist David Virelles and bassist Henry Grimes.

Alternative Guitar Summit
Guitarist, composer, singer and all-around music advocate Joel Harrison has staged this event every year since 2010. The goal? To highlight “alternative,” groundbreaking approaches to one of the world’s most familiar instruments. For the upcoming run at SubCulture (Jan. 17-19) Harrison landed something of a coup: the first musical meeting of Fred Frith and Nels Cline, who’ll share the bill on the second night with slide guitar maestro Dave Tronzo and his trio. Nights one and three are more thematic: first comes “evolving concepts of rhythm,” featuring trios led by Will Bernard, Miles Okazaki, Liberty Ellman and David Gilmore; then a larger cast pays homage to the late Paul Motian in the finale. Talents on the order of Mary Halvorson, Brandon Ross, Ben Monder, the Nels Cline-Julian Lage Duo and Harrison himself will weigh in.

Nate Wooley Quintet
Nate Wooley appears in countless settings on standard and amplified trumpet, working with sound, playing wholly free as well as tightly composed pieces with a sense of individuality and depth. He’s with Thurston Moore at The Stone on January 2, and later brings the Nate Wooley Quintet to the Douglass Street Music Collective (Jan. 27). Save for the absent Dan Peck on tuba, the lineup matches Wooley’s recent Clean Feed release (Sit In) The Throne of Friendship: it’s bass clarinetist/baritone saxophonist Josh Sinton, vibraphonist Matt Moran, bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer Harris Eisenstadt playing music with abstract moments but also strongly stated rhythms and clear, singing melodies (the leadoff track is by Randy Newman). Stick around for the second set, featuring trumpeter Lina Allemano, altoist John O’Gallagher, bassist Michael Bates and drummer Tom Rainey.

Albert “Tootie” Heath/Ethan Iverson/Ben Street
The cover photo of Tootie’s Tempo (Sunnyside) shows drummer Heath, pianist Ethan Iverson (of the Bad Plus) and bassist Ben Street all wearing “Tootie for President” lapel buttons (harking back to Dizzy Gillespie’s tongue-in-cheek campaign of 1964). On one level it’s the trio not taking itself too seriously; on another level it underscores that Heath is as serious as it gets. The youngest of the famed Heath brothers of Philadelphia, 78-year-old Albert Heath has documented his mastery on seminal recordings with John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Wes Montgomery, Herbie Hancock and many more. Now he’s extending his legacy as a leader and mentor, returning to Smalls (Jan. 29-30) with players half his age — intrepid scholars of the tradition in their own right.

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