Five Don’t-Miss Shows at Winter JazzFest

You’ve been prepping, right? Going to bed early, drinking Emergen-C, listening to nothing but ambient music so your ears will be fresh? Good. You need stamina to weather the Winter JazzFest action – especially the whirlwind marathons of Friday and Saturday night.

The annual gathering’s scope and impact increase each year. It starts tonight with Pharoah Sanders and closes next Tuesday with Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra (a must-see show, y’all). In between they’re celebrating Monk’s Centennial with a spin on their round robin style improv party. A shifting array of artists will have their way with the tunes from Solo Monk.

Social justice is a through-line subject for this year’s edition. Both Matthew Kassel and Nate Chinen have amplified its importance in preview pieces.

Choosing from more than 60 shows each night at the Friday and Saturday marathon presentations can be daunting. Here are five gigs that should really find a spot on your schedule.



One of 2016’s most compelling albums was Proximity (Sunnyside), the drummer and saxophonist’s pas de deux through a variety of rhythm motifs and pulse-based song forms. Here, rapport was paramount, and the music resounded because the camaraderie was deep. Cyrille is this year’s JazzFest artist-in-residence, and as proven in the video above (captured during an Arts for Art presentation), he can be a one man orchestra; his elaboration upon basic beats gets kaleidoscopic fast, and his creativity always brings fresh ideas into each new improv gambit. As a foil, McHenry is an expert in moods, goosing his partner’s sense of whimsy one minute, enhancing his natural drama the next.

New School Tishman Auditorium, 63 5th Ave – 8:20   Jan 6

Andrew discusses his career with Johnathan Blake in an open forum at the New School’s 5th Floor Theater at 1 pm on Sunday, Jan 8



Freebop stalwarts – dudes who helped fashion the lingo from the jump – are some of my biggest heroes. Pianist Caine turned 60 this year, and he couldn’t sound any more authoritative than he does right now. He’s been honing his ideas about blending out and in for so long that they seem to be the most natural notions around. Deep swing here, hard splash there – and everywhere a sense of balance that bolsters the deep volition that drives the music. He’s often changing rhythm sections, but the squad that rounds out the pianist’s Calibrated Thickness album – bassist Mark Helias and drummer Clarence Penn – are locked in tight, and fashion a true group sound.

New School 5th Floor Theater, 55 West 13th Street – 10 pm  Jan 6




The more I listened to the Dark Territory record, the more I bought the notion that Douglas connected with the perfect personalities to vivify his jazztronica goals. The music is thick and nasty, ominous and aggressive, lithe and alluring – don’t blink, it’s always morphing. And it always has as much gravitas as it does digital sheen. The trumpeter has said that this band deals with the “dangers and challenges of technology.” Along the way, their electro-acoustic ruminations emit both seductive designs and emotionally provocative missives.

Le Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleeker Street – 7:40 pm  Jan 6



This is the band that made last year’s Streams (ECM), a hushed joy that put melody on a pedestal, and touted gentility even during its mildly manic moments. The guitarist arrives from Copenhagen with an aesthetic of calm in his pocket, but a gleam in his eye for the occasional freak-out; something like a unholy blend of Jim Hall/Terje Rypdal. Because bassist Morgan and drummer Baron always obsess over the details, the ethereal sections of tunes such as “Heroines” and “PM Dream” are rife with detailed maneuvers that keep you on the edge of your seat.

New School Tishman Auditorium, 63 5th Ave – 7:20 pm   Jan 7



You recall what happened when the bassist’s Bigmouth outfit put two reeds out front? Swoop, glide and soar were all part of the to-do list, and it was often in contrast to the beautiful belligerence created by the rhythm section. His Superette band ditches the horns and opts for guitars, with Jonathan Goldberger and Curtis Hasselbring trading lines and causing a ruckus. They’ve been fine-tuning the deal of late. A record produced by David Breskin (a dude that knows how to refine these kind of sonic affairs) is in the wings. Lightcap and his squads are all about lift-off, and this show should be an ear-opener.

New School 5th Floor Theater, 55 West 13th Street – 11 pm  Jan 7


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