Preview…Pangea Jazz Fest 2015

Before the first jazz records were recorded in 1917, New Orleans musicians were part of a culturally diverse scene, a conglomeration of African American, European, Creole, Afro-Caribbean, Mexican, Brazilian, and many other cultures, religions, and genres. And with ears open to them all, these proto- and early jazz musicians incorporated elements of each in their performances whether they were playing “ragtime,” “vaudeville,” “the Spanish tinge,” “novelty music,” “rumba foxtrot,” “jazz,” or whatever else they may have called it.

After that first jazz record was released, it—and this musical genre newly coined, but historically rooted in many cultures—traveled the world widely and rapidly, inspiring musicians in Australia, Germany, the Philipines, and many other locales to adopt and adapt this music, cutting jazz records within just a few years of jazz’s emergence in the United States. In short, jazz has been an international phenomenon not just since its early days, but even before it was called “jazz,” “jass,” or “jas.”

On Sunday, November 15th, promoter and curator Michael Katsobashvili, known for his work with the NY Hot Jazz Festival, invites us to the DROM to listen with open ears to this ever-present cultural diversity through the music of some of the most renowned artists who reflect the historical and increasingly more audible, modern international jazz community. For the entire day, the PANGEA JAZZ FEST will feature an award-winning line-up of musicians will perform a compelling program of jazz music influenced by world cultures and traditions. Tickets are on sale now on the festival’s website, and available at the door, with prices ranging from $35 (advance purchase of a half-day pass) to $60 (12-hour marathon pass). The DROM is located at 85 Avenue A; and is accessible via the F train to 2nd Avenue; 6 train to Astor Place; and N/R trains to 8th Street.


The festival includes the following musicians:

ARKI SOUND (2pm). This group, and its founder, Samson Kebede, are new to me, but not the long history of Ethiopian jazz, exemplified by the great Mulate Astatke and the classic Ethiopiques albums of the 1960s and ’70s. Kebede is one of several Ethiopian musicians of a younger generation who are continuing Astatke’s legacy of putting the traditions of this East African country in conversation with the African Diaspora and global popular music.

PRASANNA, ALL TERRAIN GUITAR (3pm). I had the pleasure of working with Prasanna recently at Sound Breaks, an event I hosted at Swarthmore College. My students loved talking with him as much as listening to his music; and his passion for sharing his knowledge in conversation and music makes him an invaluable addition to the New York scene. Like several other artists on the roster, Prasanna’s music defies national, ethnic, and cultural labels; by drawing without reservation from the many traditions to which he has been exposed throughout his life, Prasanna challenges us to reconsider essentialist notions of what music should sound like.

NEW YORK GYPSY ALL-STARS (4pm). Inspired by the Romani musical traditions of Eastern Europe and Turkey, NYGAS is led by clarinetist Ismail Lumanovski and features bassist Panagiotis Andreou, who will be hosting a late night jam to close out the festival, and keyboardist Jason Lindner (who with Andreiou forms 2/3 of the group Now vs. Now). The group’s music reflects the historical travel of the Roma throughout Europe and Asia, drawing on the popular and traditional musics of these regions, and recasting them through improvisation and the rapid-fire mixed meters that characterize Balkan music.

STEPHANE WREMBEL BAND (5pm). Fans of guitarist Django Reinhardt’s music and the tradition he inspired should not miss Wrembel’s band. This widely heralded guitarist has collaborated with an exhaustive array of artists in many genres, even filmmaker Woody Allen who recruited him to work on the movie, Midnight in Paris. Among a long list of Reinhardt devotees, Wrembel sits near the top.

GREGORIO URIBE BIG BAND WITH SOFIA REI (6pm). Uribe will lead his 16-piece orchestra with special guest vocalist Sofia Rei in a set of South American dance music. Uribe, a fixture on the New York, is releasing his first CD on Zoho Records this month and will bring his formidable big-band writing and signature take on Colombian cumbia to the stage.

GREGOIRE MARET INVITES EDMAR CASTANEDA (8pm). Like Prasanna, the music of Swiss harmonica-player Maret transcends national borders, to which his long history of artistic collaborations will attest. At Pangea the Grammy award-winning Maret will be joined by Colombian harpist Edmar Castaneda. An innovative instrumentalist and bandleader in his own right, Castaneda included Maret on his latest album, Live at Jazz Standard.

ORAN ETKIN’S GATHERING LIGHT (9pm). Reedist Oran Etkin will perform his critically acclaimed Gathering Light project at Pangea music with drummer Nasheet Waits and bassist Ben Allison. A native of Israel, Etkin is well versed in the traditions of Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Americas, and, through the Gathering Light project, coalesces the many traditions he has encountered through his international tours in Indonesia, China, Japan, Israel and Europe.

MICHELE ROSEWOMAN’S NEW YOR-UBA (10pm). The opportunity to hear the extraordinary pianist, bandleader, and composer Michele Rosewoman and her award-winning ensemble is one of many reasons to attend Pangea. Rosewoman will present “New Yor-Uba: A Musical Celebration of Cuba in America,” a project recorded in 2013 and released to rave reviews. Performed with an ensemble including a big band with percussion section consisting of conga and batá drums, this masterwork pays homage to Afro-Cuban sacred musics through the New York City-based traditions of Latin jazz.

SLAVIC SOUL PARTY! (11pm). I’ve wanted to catch SSP! and their version of Duke Ellington’s Far East Suite for a few years now, ever since someone sent me their info after reading my article on two other versions of the Suite. Part of the multicultural brass jam band scene (yes, there is such a thing), Slavic Soul Party will flip the cultural script on Ellington, treating his music as a source for improvised exploration within Balkan and Eastern European traditions, much as Ellington (and many other jazz musicians) did with other cultures during his career.

PANAGIOTIS ANDREOU FESTIVAL JAM (12-2am). Bassist Andreou brings Pangea to a close with a two-hour jam session featuring the day’s participants and special guests.

— — —

Some of these musicians and their cultural traditions may be new to you. Some may not match up with standard or canonical versions of what jazz is “supposed” to sound like. And while Katsobashvili and his team should be commended for their vision and commitment to hosting a “world jazz” festival in the United States for the first time ever, I also feel a sense of excited relief for the arrival of an event whose time should have already come long ago. Over the last 100 years, through musical, cultural, and diasporic affinities, jazz music has resonated strongly with many others around the world, who, like musicians within the U.S., made what some refer to as “America’s Classical Music” into an uncircumscribeable whole that defies any one label, sound, approach, or national affiliation. The Pangea Fest embraces this diversity and brings to light some of the music that doesn’t receive as much media attention, financial subsidy, or concert billing. And, while compelling and singular in its diversity for U.S. jazz programming, the festival roster is only a small representation of the artists who incorporate other musical traditions into the contexts of jazz music. But let’s start here. Let this be another wave in a coming tide that challenges us to listen to the world as it is, not as we have been used to hearing it, or as others would have us hear it.

As much as it reflects the long-present, but underappreciated, diversity of jazz in the United States, Pangea is also very much of New York City. As a metropolis that has always welcomed the international community—as visitors and immigrants—and one that has been the center of the jazz world for the last 90 years, New York City is a natural home for a festival that celebrates a “multicultural musical mosaic” and jazz’s ability to bring people of many different cultures, races, and creeds together, as it has since its inception in New Orleans. Moreover, as a bastion of international music culture and fixture in the East Village—a neighborhood that has supported immigrant communities for centuries—the DROM is a natural choice as festival site.

In a way, the label “world jazz” could recapture what some in the jazz world have forgotten: that jazz has always been and will always be multicultural and international. That forgetfulness has deprived many accomplished musicians of performances and the attention (of their would-be audiences and of the journalistic and scholarly communities) that their artistry deserves. The Pangea Jazz Fest offers us an opportunity to come together, to redress this oversight, and to celebrate their contributions to the past, present, and future of jazz, unqualified.

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