Five Must-See Shows at Vision Fest 2019



One of the beautiful parts about the annual Vision bash is its celebration of veteran improvisers. This time around it’s the always impressive drummer, who’s pushing 80 and sounding as poised and inventive as ever. Feel free to read a lifetime of excitement into that “as ever” phrase; Cyrille has exploded with Cecil, cooed with Walt Dickerson, romped with Carla Bley, and nudged David Ware into the spotlight. Along the way he’s proven to be one of the music’s most intrepid percussionists, widening the traditional spectrum by generating sound from his torso and tongue as offhandedly as he prompts crisp abstractions from his trap set. From his drum and bugle corps roots to his swing-slanted excursions, he remains fascinated by the pliability of organized beats. His evening is chock with adventurous partners. Duets with Peter Brötzmann, Milford Graves, Lisa Sokolov and Kidd Jordan; trio gambits with Wadada Leo Smith and Brandon Ross – it’s a shifting schedule that puts the maestro in several unique positions.




Haven’t seen the Brooklyn drummer’s newest ensemble yet, but the buzz that floated around after their Roulette hit last fall was sizable, and the notion of Tomeka Reid’s cello trading lines with Patricia Brennan’s vibraphone is fetching in itself. Fujiwara fans realize he takes composition as seriously as he does improv, so the ensemble’s approach may stroll between notes on the page and rambles juiced by rapport. A debut disc is said to be arriving in September on the Rogue Art label. (Image taken from Roulette Web site.)



Melvin Gibbs is one of those guys whose work demands to be followed – wherever it may lead. The electric bassist’s recent music with Harriet Tubman has been ferocious  – brilliant in its vehemence and able to erase everything surrounding it. On paper, this acoustelectric octet looks to have a distinct ardor of its own. From James Brandon Lewis to Graham Haynes to Will Calhoun, the ingredients are in place to build the kind of subatomic “excitation” that will have you reeling for a week or two. Theoretical physicist and reed-playing laptop fiend Stephon Alexander seems to find stimuli in acceleration.



Elation is central to the esteemed multi-reedist’s approach to stage work – he knows how to dispense fragments of pleasure while delivering waves of erudition. That usually makes an Ehrlich show a place where abstractions are accountable for their own agency and hooks enjoy the sunny side of the street.  The temperaments of his bands vary – and of course that’s performance manna – but this outfit, with drummer Nasheet Waits and bassist John Hébert often goes long on decorum, regardless of the twists and turns the unfolding music serves up. Don’t miss their Clean Feed album, a sparkling program that promises a panoply of emotions, and then delivers, delivers, delivers.



Lots of rapport between these two. Decades of friendship and collaboration have nurtured an enviable bond that usually reveals its fruits when the pair throws down. I’m recalling “Mr. Chromosome” from their DNA disc, and the way the pianist and bassist coordinated their moves to make the action both light on its feet and deeply rooted. Shipp is waxing particularly eloquent these days. Last time I saw him at this venue he was augmenting the ruminations of Evan Parker and Paul Lytton, and bringing mucho grace to the equation.


Also crucial: Kris Davis’ trio outing with Jeff Watts and William Parker on Friday, Darius Jones’ Quintet on Saturday, and David Virelles Mbókò on Saturday.




Photo by Russell Fine






Lioness Pride & Joy (Posi-Tone)

Patriarchy and nepotism being the well-established
evils they are, a band consisting solely of women,
playing tunes solely by women, in hopes – at least
according to its record label – of winning over women
listeners newly interested in jazz, is no doubt a blow
against the pernicious bias we’ve allowed to flourish
as generations of talent stood in the shadows – you
know, sexism and its fallout. It’s taken far too long
for women improvisers to enjoy the work opportunities
their male counterparts have been granted through the
last century. So, in the large, Lioness – a sextet
built on a female-first concept for a women-centric
performance series in New York – is unique. Not
groundbreaking, of course; we can all cite notable jazz
outfits that operate sans men. But valuable, and to a
degree, heroic.

But somewhere along the line Lioness made a choice to
keep their music so legible that it’s had a stifling
effect on the mystique that’s often a key ingredient of
potent improv. Across this just-fine
album of overtly swinging pieces is a kind of
breezy facility that’s a little too eager to please.
The participants – tenor saxophonist Alexa Tarantino,
alto saxophonist Jenny Hill, bari player Lauren Sevian,
guitarist Amanda Monaco, organist Akiko Tsuruga, and
drummer Allison Miller (most of them enjoying a tie to the
Posi-Tone label) – render the material with brio. Melba
Liston’s “You Don’t Say” should be proud of its
panache, and “Sunny Day Pal” has the dash needed for
its Caribbean bounce. However, both tracks color so
strictly within the lines they tilt towards being
elementary – the individual idiosyncrasies that often accrue into a band’s essence are watered down along the
way. When they roll through “Think,” Aretha Franklin’s
indictment of oppression, a mix of pith and politeness mutes its

The music improves when the arrangements improve. One
of the album’s highlights is “Ida Lupino,” where
Miller’s brushes goose the musings of Tarantino and
Monaco. Tsuruga ebbs and flows here, too, creating some
gorgeous swells that splash through Carla Bley’s
enigmatic theme. “Identity” also adds a needed air of
intricacy to the mix, its victory bolstered by the
impressive purr of Sevian’s horn as well as the hazy
blues mood the band consistently tweaks. Compared to
the decorum of “Mad Time” and its well-scrubbed cohorts
“Jelly” and “Funky Girl,” these tracks seem almost
subversive. Pride & Joy is a heartfelt romp that has
impulses to leave protocol behind, but doesn’t muster
the liftoff needed to truly break free. It’s just as
conventional as it is catchy, and for me it unearthed
an old quandary: is there a downside to a piece of art
being merely entertaining rather than deeply



Alexa Tarantino

Jenny Hill

Lauren Sevian

Amanda Monaco

Akiko Tsuruga

Allison Miller 


On Sunday, Any Sunday

Louis Vuittons Made in Hong Kong

Amy Rigby at El Cortez in Bushwick, This Friday Night

Voted for and said this about Amy Rigby’s “Tom Petty Karaoke” as one of last year’s best singles in the Voice’s Pazz & Jop poll. I still play it once a week, for self-bolstering and instant escape purposes. Three bucks says she’ll roll through it at the El Cortez Safari Room Friday, April 5. 

Can’t think of anything more restorative than getting out of your head whenever the need truly strikes, and inspired by J Mascis hitting a Cape Cod stage for a karaoke blast through “Don’t Do Me Like That,” one of America’s most insightful songwriters extrapolates about how we can all use a guardian angel who comes equipped with radiant refrains and indelible choruses. Rigby has been inspired by icons before; her ode to Joey Ramone is one of her finest moments, revealing just how nurturing and transcendent music can be when you’re not liking whatever reality the mirror is presenting. As far as Petty goes, Rigby can take an extra bow. The posi feels she generates while name-checking “American Girl” and “Learning To Fly” gleams with the same strength of strings that drives the dreams in “Free Fallin’.

And don’t forget Rigby’s latest cri de couer over the doomsday doofus in the ultra white house. “The President Can’t Read” is an acute indictment – of him, and maybe of us too for putting him there – that scans as fiercely as an “off with his head” rallying cry as it does a “we’re fucked” lament.

El Cortez 

Amy’s Blog 

Ralph Towner, Solo at Jazz Standard Tonight

Morning and night, morning and night. For the last few weeks at our house, the start and finish of the day’s events have been soundtracked by Ralph Towner’s solo work on ECM, specifically 2017’s ‘My Foolish Heart’ and its decade-older predecessor, ‘Time Line.’ Once upon a time I occasionally groused that the esteemed guitar OG could be a tad precious or a bit drifty in certain settings, but these recitals, especially ‘My Foolish Heart,’ are all about the kind of focus that arrives when inspired melodies stand their ground and demand their due. Towner’s ruminations prioritize concision, but manage enough caprice to give each performance an adventurous vibe. This kind of balance has earned him a sizable impact in a lifetime of music-making. I hear echoes of his well-mapped lyrical maneuvers in everyone from Romero Lubambo to Bruce Cockburn. Now almost 80, the guitarist recently received a tip of hat from a younger generation of string players at Joel Harrison’s Alternative Guitar Summit, and he earned himself lots of love at his Big Ears concert in Knoxville last weekend. His two sets at the Jazz Standard tonight come at the end of a curt US run that’s prob got him all limbered up. Heard great things about last night’s shows. Head by if you think the poise of “I’ll Sing To You” or the radiance of “Pilgrim” could boost your spirits. There’s a diaphanous aura to his most fanciful pieces and rather than feeling flimsy it arrives with its heart in its hand.

Jazz Standard 

Ralph Towner ECM

Broken Shadows at the Vanguard, March 26-31

They know each other, so the chemistry is cool. They know the music, so the connection is deep. They’ve been cranking their inspired repertory program for a minute now, so all the tumblers are aligned. The last time I saw Broken Shadows (Dave King, Chris Speed, Reid Anderson, Tim Berne) addressing their book of pieces culled from lengthy visits to Ornetteworld, the music’s glee and mystery were delivered in equal doses. Lots of vivid images remain. Let’s see…the heartbreak that Mr. Coleman wrote into their signature piece and the way the bloodcount buds twirled around each other while rendering it; the sustained buoyancy of the Bad Plus rhythm section and the way they conjured the act of floating (raise the bandstand, indeed). This week’s stint at the 7th Ave mecca will put their skills up front, but bring a larger lesson to the fore as well: building a book of these nuggets is an act of pride and preservation, a chance to tout the rigors of a wildly entertaining canon that could use a bit more sunlight than it usually gets, no matter how much lip service is given to the masters who birthed it. Special treat? Their jaunt through Julius Hemphill’s “Body,” from Flat-Out Jump Suite. Ornette’s Fort Worth homie was a Berne touchstone, and the limber squawl of their update reminds that the most fetching blues tunes have a physical side that likes to strut as often as possible. Along with “Song For Che,” “Ecars,” “Una Muy Bonita,” “Dogon A.D.” and other gems, it’s vibrantly captured on the Season 4 release from Newvelle Records.

Village Vanguard Info

Newvelle Records

More info and a Performance at Nate’s house