New York is always worth a trip, but when Winter Jazz is on and Jazz Congress is in town, even more so! Wednesday, January 10 was the first day of the Jazz Fest with a showcase of new British talent, hosted by Gilles Peterson and featuring Terry Callier-influenced singer, guitar player and composer Oscar Jerome, young trumpet player Yazz Ahmed, who musically sits somewhere between Nils Petter Molvaer and Ibrahim Maalouf, saxophonist Nubya Garcia and last but not least one of saxman Shabaka Hutchings bands, The Comet is Coming – a powerful trio of Sanders-inspired saxophone, electronics and drums. Some amazing talent on display – the first three acts still kind of work in progress and Shabaka showing again his incredible potential – no surprise one of his other bands, Sons of Kemet, have been signed to the new Impulse! label.
Thursday off to a dinner with Pat Rains, the manager of David Sanborn and the getting back to Le Poisson Rouge, the main venue of the fest – this time just to see Jose James celebrating Bill Withers. This was one great show: Jose took these songs and made them his own, from Lean On Me to Ain’t No Sunshine and Hello Before (featuring the wonderful Jean Baylor) he showed respect to the originals, but put his stamp on these songs as well. Making them modern, cool and a pleasure to listen to in this form. Supported by an exceptional band, featuring pianist Sullivan Fortner, guitarist Brad Allen Williams, Ben Williams on bass and Nate Smith on drums, as well as Markus Strickland as a special guest, the soul and jazz grooves on the music got top treatment and carried James to new heights. A sensational gig, nothing less!!!
Friday was the first day of the Jazz Marathon and I started at 6 pm at 55 Bar to see Tessa Souter, whose forthcoming new record I listened to already and did enjoy. The gig was just her with bass and guitar and an intimate affair, perfect to support her voice. The new songs sounded good live as well and I thoroughly enjoyed that set. Next for me was David Sanborn at B B King’s – with his new jazz band Sanborn seems to be rejuvenated and full of energy: even so, the band isn’t that new, as I saw them late 2016 already and they performed more or less the same repertoire – 3 compositions by Michael Brecker, some Sanborn classics and other jazz standards – but they seem to be tighter and more powerful … Andy Ezrin on piano, Wycliffe Gordon on trombone, Ben Williams on bass and Billy Kilson on drums have develop into a group that is starting to have its own sound. This could be an interesting band to see moving forward in the coming months. Powerful jazz!! As I was hanging at Dave’s gig and enjoyed it so much that I didn’t leave in time for my next gig, I simply missed James Brandon Lewis, the young sax player I worked with the last few years, who is finally getting some recognition and as well now is part of Marc Ribot’s project Songs Of Resistance. Next time ….
The Jazz Marathon continued on Saturday, but my first showcase was at 11:30 pm and was by The Baylor Project, whose self-released debut album garnered 2 Grammy nominations …the group of singer Jean Baylor and drummer husband Marcus are blending Soul, R&B and jazz in a perfect way, carried by Jean’s incredible vocal skills. A Saturday morning can’t start better than this mix of gospel, jazz and deep musical expression. Great! The first show of the evening was the Theo Croker Big Brother Big Band – combining his usual working band with some of New York’s most amazing talents, Croker lead a big band only for the second time and surprised the capacity audience in the Poisson Rouge with a mix of standards and own compositions. Opening the show with Moten Swing, Milestones and Bobby Timmons Moanin’ in the arrangement by Quincy Jones, was his way to pay his dues to the great composers and arrangers in the jazz history and the big band played these arrangements with fa ire and passion that made the young audience jump!!Theo Croker successfully combining the past and presence of jazz!! He surely is one to watch!!!
Next up were Norwegian neo-soul band ROHEY at the Nublu – a packed venue seems to have turned into a music business meeting: at least 3 label representatives, managers, artist and media were gathered to see the US debut of one of Europe’s most acclaimed new groups and Rohey Taalah on vocals, Ivan Blomqvist on keys, Kristian Jacobsen on bass and Henrik Lodoen on drums delivered big way! As much as I like the album, this show was simply impressive: powerful vocals over grooving synth sounds and danceable rhythms got the audience going beginning to end. Not only a very strong US debut, but already one gig to be remembered for a while in the young new year.
Last, but not least I was on my way to see my old friend Jamaaladeen Tacuma, whose project Brotherzone ended the festival for me – with a musical, political and social relevant show. Powerful grooves over spoken words from Wadud Ahmad and Abiodun Oyewole (of The Last Poets). A perfect ending to my Winter Jazz Fest.
Sunday morning – on my way to a brunch meeting and sitting tired, but happy in the Metro when the door opens and 5 gentlemen come in and start singing a simply wonderful vocal arrangement of My Girl …. Smiles all around and we gladly give a few bucks for this … New York is full of music!
The first half of 2018 will see a bunch of releases that we are particularly happy and proud about:
Till Brönner & Dieter Ilg / Nightfall Intimate musical conversations by two masters of their instruments! Essential listening!
Camille Bertault / Pas de geant New album by the young French singer with her astonishing vocal acrobatics – produced by Michel Leonhart.
Bill Frisell / Music IS A simply wonderful Frisell solo recording which gets him to the essence of his music. Stunning!
Kurt Elling / The Questions The leading jazz vocalists new release is full of deep music and lyrics that ask the big questions in life! Not to be missed!!
Sly & Robbie + Nils Petter Molvaer / NORDUB Jamaican groove masters Sly & Robbie meet NPM and are creating together a fantastic and accessible new musical world. Get up and dance!