Now in its 14th year, the Winter Jazz Fest kicks off this week with over 130 acts across eight days and 12 venues, its biggest and most diverse lineup yet. There’s Blue Note recording artist José James debuting a new project inspired by Bill Withers, Ravi Coltrane paying homage to his mother Alice Coltrane with an evening inspired by devotional and spiritual music on Sunday the 14th, a soundclash between Deerhoof and trumpet great Wadada Leo Smith and four different performances from the Fest’s artist-in-resident, Chicago based composer, flutist and educator Nicole Mitchell, including a rare set of her critically lauded Mandorla Awakening II project. There’s also the Winter Jazzfest Talks with figures including Archie Shepp, Angela Davis, Antonio Sanchez and Vijay Iyer speaking on jazz music and it’s ever evolving role in the sociopolitical discourse of our nation. For jazz fans, it’s almost too much to take in.
With that in mind, here are five showcases well worth venturing into the arctic snap of a particularly cruel New York City winter, especially if there’s some hot jazz waiting to help warm your frozen bones.
Gilles Peterson hosts British Jazz Showcase
January 10, Le Poisson Rogue
One of the most exciting scenes to have emerged from modern jazz is the one thriving in the United Kingdom. And what a way to kick off this year’s festival than with a showcase featuring some of Britain’s most exciting young acts. Hosted by Gilles Peterson — the French-born, London-based DJ and label head, the lineup include tenor saxophonist Nubya Garcia and trumpeter/composer Yazz Ahmed, two of the leading women on the London jazz circuit, as well as South London singer/guitarist Oscar Jerome, whose sound has bern compared to both John Martyn and George Benson. Meanwhile, headliners The Comet Is Coming — a London-based trio comprised of saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, synth player Dan Leavers and drummer Max Hallett — close out the night with a mind-melting update on the Soft Machine.
Jaimie Branch’s Fly or Die
Nublu, January 12
For the last few years, Long Island-born trumpeter Jaimie Branch has been defying expectations with every move she makes. After many years making waves in the Chicago underground jazz circuit, she’s back in New York, and last year released Fly Or Die, her long-overdue debut LP. Cobbling together influences from the worlds of hip-hop, the avant-garde, noise rock, classical and indie rock into one seamless skronk of freeform pulchritude, the album topped many year-end lists in 2017. Featuring cellist Tomeka Reid, bassist Jason Ajemian, Chad Taylor of the Chicago Underground on drums — as well as special guests Matt Schneider on guitar and the twin towers of jazz cornet, Ben Lamar Gay and Josh Berman — Fly Or Die re-established Branch as a vital force, which will be on display at Nublu as part of the Friday marathon.
Mark Guiliana Quartet
Le Poisson Rogue, January 13
Over the last few years, drummer Mark Guiliana has backed Dave Douglas and Donny McCaslin, and he was a key member of the elite team of jazz musicians who helped create Blackstar, David Bowie’s swansong from 2016. But last fall, he returned to captaining his own outstanding quartet with Jersey, a lyrical love letter to his Garden State roots. Featuring pianist Fabian Almazan, Jason Rigby on saxophone and bassist Chris Morrissey, the collection evokes Columbia Records-era Monk, and is highlighted by “Rate”—a solo tribute to the Mt. Rushmore of jazz drumming (Roy Haynes, Art Blakey, Tony Williams and Elvin Jones)—and a gorgeous reading of Bowie’s “Where Are We Now?” off his penultimate LP The Next Day. The MGQ will be performing at Le Poisson Rouge as part of the jazz marathon on the 13th.
Bowery Ballroom, January 13
It’s early days, but 2018 is already looking to be a banner year for Topanga Canyon maestro Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, one of this country’s most talented composers. The man who transformed the beats of J. Dilla into sweeping symphonies has utilized a successful Indiegogo campaign to help fund the long awaited release of his first solo album, a double LP tentatively called Les Jardins Mystiques — featuring Bilal, Deantoni Parks, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Herbie Hancock, Karriem Riggins, Mia Doi Todd, Nai Palm (Hiatus Kaiyote) and Seu Jorge, to name a few — as well as a string quartet recording of film music with his Quartetto Fantastico. On Saturday, Atwood-Ferguson returns to NYC for the first time since last September as a member of Thundercat’s live band, bringing his ensemble to the Bowery Ballroom.
A Tribute To Geri Allen
Tishman Auditorium, January 15
When Geri Allen lost her battle with cancer at the age of 60 on June 27th, the renowned pianist was in the midst of late career renaissance as one third of an amazing trio with Esperanza Spalding on bass and Terri Lyne Carrington on drums. Under the musical direction of Ms. Carrington comes this special tribute to Allen, featuring Spalding and a remarkable lineup including Angela Davis, Craig Taborn, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Ingrid Jensen, Jack DeJohnette, Jaimeo Brown, Jeff Tain Watts, Kassa Overall, Kris Davis, Linda May Han Oh, Maurice Chestnut, Mino Cinelu, Ravi Coltrane, S. Epatha Merkerson, Tia Fuller and Vijay Iyer. All proceeds from Monday’s concert will go to the Geri Allen Estate.