Winter Jazz Fest—the most pre-eminent jazz festival in New York City—will once again take over the West Village this week with shows from Wednesday, January 13, to Sunday, January 17. Each year #NYCWJF builds on past successes and this year is no exception. In addition to another year of impressive acts, leading up to the festival, organizers announced new partnerships with The New School, ECM Records, Disability Pride NYC, and the Roxy Hotel.

One of the most unique aspects of NYCWJF is the diversity of its programming: in terms of genre, age, cultural affiliation, etc., etc. Nowhere is there such a compelling mix of jazz musicians, all renowned (although varied in degrees and among audiences) and assembled in one place. And this year is no exception. Of course, the main drawback of NYCWJF is that it’s just impossible to catch all of the acts or even most of them. So, if you’re looking for some suggestions on how to navigate the schedule, here are a few. 

I’ll be on Twitter (@rhythmofstudy) throughout the week while at NYCWJF. Also stay tuned for the TRoS review to be posted soon after the Festival. Tickets are still on sale in advance at the festival’s website (where you’ll also find the full schedule as well as more information on each venue) and should be available on the day of each show as well, although at a slightly higher price.

Special Features: The majority of the music happens during the Friday and Saturday marathons, which run from about 6pm til 2am each day. The following performance happen on either side of the marathon days and require special tickets:

— Wednesday,  January 13, 8pm -The Ex, Bill Laswell & Colin Stetson,
and Happy Apple at Le Poisson Rouge —

Traveling from Amsterdam, the Ex opens NYCWJF with their eclectic fusion of multicultural influences refined over a 30-year career. Joined by Laswell, Stetson, and Happy Apple featuring NYCWJF artist-in-residence Dave King, this opening concert foregrounds the collaborative and democratic potential in improvised collectives.

— Thursday, January 14, 7pm – Disability Pride NYC Benefit at Webster Hall  —

Originally Kamasi Washington was supposed to make his NYCWJF debut in this slot, but, due to an injury, he will not be traveling. In his place, NYCWJF makes a bold move into philanthropic programming by hosting a benefit for Disability Pride NYC, an organization founded by organist Mike LeDonne, in support of the organization’s mission to make this past Summer’s first Disability Pride parade an annual event. The line up for this concert features a long list of master musicians including Wynton Marsalis, Benny Golson, Christian McBride, Jimmy Cobb, Harold Mabern, George Coleman, Buster Williams, Louis Hayes, Bill Charlap, and Monty Alexander.

— Sunday, January 17, 7pm – Channeling Coltrane: Rova’s Electric Ascension
with Nels Cline at Le Poisson Rouge —

Guitarist Julian Lage will open for an adventurous end to NYCWJF featuring Nels Cline with Rova Saxophone Quartet and an ensemble that includes Nate Wooley on trumpet, Jason Kwo Hwang on violin, Ikue Mori on drums and electronics, and many others. The group recorded this re-interpretation of Coltrane’s Ascension in 2009 on Atavistic Records and are celebrating the upcoming release of a special 3-disc set featuring a DVD and CD of a 2012 live performance, along with the documentary Cleaning the Mirror (about the project).

Rova Saxophone Quartet. Photograph by Myles Boisen.

Rova Saxophone Quartet. Photograph by Myles Boisen.


— Friday and Saturday, January 15-16 – ECM Records showcase
at the New School Tishman Auditorium —

As mentioned, a new collaboration between NYCWJF and ECM Records is the inspiration for a residency of some of the label’s most pre-eminent jazz artists in the Tishman Auditorium. The diversity of the label’s projects is reflected in the programming which transcends ensemble instrumentation, genre, and artistic perspective. Particularly compelling options include…

Avishai Cohen Quartet (1/15, 9pm): Cohen will be playing the prior set with the Mark Turner Quartet, but in the 9pm slot this member of the SFJazz Collective, Third World Love, and the 3 Cohens will lead his own ensemble featuring Jason Lindner on piano and a member of Cohen’s Triveni trio, Nasheet Waits, on drums.

Craig Taborn Solo (1/15, 8pm): One of the most in demand pianists today, Craig Taborn performs a solo set here, but can also be heard with drummer Ches Smith and violinist Mat Maneri at 10pm.

Vijay Iyer Trio (1/15, 11:20pm): Capping off a hugely successful year with their album Break Stuff
(including a performance at Swarthmore College in April), the Vijay Iyer Trio with Stephan Crump (bass) and Marcus Gilmore (drums) is not to be missed.

David Virelles Mbókò (1/15, 12:40am): Cuban pianist David Virelles leads a quartet through repertoire of his 2014 release, Mbókò, which features a suite of compositions influenced by sacred Abakúa music from Cuba. Virelles will also perform at the ECM showcase with Chris Potter (1/16, 8:40pm) and Ralph Alessi (1/16, 11:20pm).

craig taborn

Pianist Craig Taborn. Photograph by John Rogers.

Theo Bleckmann Elegy (1/16, 7:20pm): Innovative vocalist and composer Bleckmann will be joined for this set by long-time collaborator Ben Monder on guitar, Chris Tordini on bass, Shai Maestro on piano, and John Hollenback on drums.

Ralph Alessi Quartet (1/16, 11:20pm): Along with Virelles and Waits, bassist Drew Gress fills out the ensemble accompanying trumpeter Ralph Alessi whose 2013 release on ECM, Baida, (with the same band except for Virelles) garnered rave reviews.

Ethan Iverson & Mark Turner (1/16, 12:40am): The ECM showcase closes with two master musicians, pianist Ethan Iverson and saxophonist Mark Turner, whose quartet will perform selections from their acclaimed 2014 release, Lathe Of Heaven, on Friday at 7pm.

Marathon Picks: You can find the festival’s full schedule here but if you’ve ever wanted to club-hop around the West Village, NYCWJF is your chance. Keep in mind that there will be lines outside each show, so arriving early for sets you definitely want to catch is a good idea. (Event organizers do help throughout the marathon by giving updates on wait times and venues at maximum capacity.) I could carry on at great length about the merits of each act and how worthy they are of your attention, but, in the interests of brevity, I’m just including each artist’s website, so that their music will provide any further preview. Here are my picks for all those strolling types…

— Friday January 15 – Marathon Day 1 —

6:20 – The Django – Camila Meza
7:00 – The Greene Space – Alicia Hall Moran with Brandon Ross
8:20 – New School 5th floor Theater – Chris Speed Trio
9:40 – Subculture – Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet
10:20 – Zinc Bar – Rene Marie
11:00 – New School 5th floor Theater – Marc Cary’s Indigenous People
11:40 – The Django – Eli Degibri
1:00am – Zinc Bar – Pedrito Martinez

Pianist Marc Cary. Photograph by Rebecca Meek.

Pianist Marc Cary. Photograph by Rebecca Meek.

— Saturday, January 16 – Marathon Day 2 —

6:20 – The New School Auditorium – Don Byron Quartet
7:20 – Greenwich House School – Michael Mwenso & Brianna Thomas
7:40 –  The New School Auditorium – Ibrahim Maalouf
8:20 – The Greene Space – Cyrus Chestnut’s African Reflections
10:40 – New School Glass Box Theater – Rez Abbasi
11:40 – Zinc Bar – Chris Washburne’s Acid Mambo Project
12:20am – The Bitter End – Ben Williams & Sound Effect
1:40am – The Bitter End – Theo Croker (featured on TRoS here)

Vocalist Brianna Thomas

Vocalist Brianna Thomas

In One Spot: Another strategy for navigating NYCWJF is to spend an entire night at one venue. Avoid lines and the cold weather by finding a prime seat and holding court all night as successive waves of stellar music wash over you. Aside from the aforementioned ECM showcase, if I had to pick just one venue to hang at for the entire festival, it would have to be Judson Memorial Church where the schedule includes…

Quarktet Burnt plays Ornette, Sunny, and Wayne, led by Greg Tate (1/15, 6:40pm)
Dayna Stephens 3wi featuring Sam Yahel (1/15, 8pm)
Dr. Lonnie Smith’s Evolution (1/15, 9:20pm)
No BS! Brass Band (1/16, 8pm)
Kris Bowers (1/16, 9:20pm)
Sun Ra Arkestra directed by Marshall Allen (1/16, 12:00am)

No BS! Brass Band. Photograph by Lauren Serpa.

No BS! Brass Band. Photograph by Lauren Serpa.

The Toughest Choices: On any given night for the last 90 years or so, listening to jazz in NYC has always been about making choices—there’s always at least one show you’re going to miss because of something or someone else, well, you just *can’t* miss. NYCWJF affords you many such difficult choices, but these two set times jumped out at me as nearly impossible choices to make. Of course, on the flip side, you won’t go wrong with any of these…

— Friday, January 15 at 9pm —

Gilad Hekselman at The Django (OR) Red Baraat at Le Poisson Rouge (OR) the Yosvany Terry Quintet at the Zinc Bar (OR) James Blood Ulmer at the New School Auditorium

— Saturday, January 16 at 9:40 —

Amir El Saffar’s Two Rivers at Subculture (OR) Fabian Almazan with Rhizome at The Greene Space (OR) Will Calhoun Celebrating Elvin Jones at the New School 5th Floor Theater (OR) Lakecia Benjamin at The Bitter End

If, after all this, you’re still in need of some convincing, check out the NYCWJF 2015 recap: 

Special thanks to the incomparable Kim Smith and the NYCWJF organizers for their support of TRoS!

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