Look for the next generation of jazz greats to appear this season
Ornette Coleman’s first gig ever at Jazz at Lincoln Center on Sept. 26 is a hard-won triumph for the revolution he wrought on American music, launched in New York City 40 years ago. What Coleman, then an unknown from the West, now 79 and a Pulitzer Prize winner, has proved to be is just what he called it: The shape of jazz to come. Best evidence of the truth of his premise that music should be free of individuality-constraining conventions is heard in the works of the dozens of musicians rip-roaring here as fall begins. Incidentally, they demonstrate that the local jazz-and-beyond scene has arrived at an unanticipated peak.
Extraordinary opportunities to encounter what you never have before are never-endingly plentiful in this city, of course, but “the season” can be pretended to officially begin Sept. 17, with simultaneous openings of pianist Connie Crothers’ two-weeks curation at The Stone, the two-weekend New Languages Festival at
McCarren Hall and three debuts by percussionist Adam Rudolph at Roulette, one a concerto with chamber orchestra by Yusef Lateef. These events are quickly followed by Joe Lovano’s Coltrane birthday salute (Sept. 23-26 at Birdland), the first of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians autumn concerts (drummer Thurman Barker’s Strike Force, solo saxophonist Matana Roberts, Sept. 25 at Community Church of New York), and as rich an October.
Andy Fite, a guitarist and vocalist who’s lived in Sweden since 1994 and cites as his main concern “to do just whatever he wants and…spark a little joy” is incongruously first at The Stone—East Village genius John Zorn’s establishment on a corner of Avenue C—since it’s a rather severe recital room. Crowded by 50 attendees, dimly lit, with nil ventilation or creature comforts besides folding chairs, the place is nonetheless perfect for close listening. It might well serve the coterie of musicians, little known even to fervent devotees of the avant-garde, who Crothers has convened for a unique string of performances through Sept. 30.
Crothers is an acolyte of the late pianist Lennie Tristano, whose heady, disciplined, ultra-cool aesthetic might be described as obliquely parallel to Ornette Coleman’s earthy iconoclasm—the road less taken, though it reaches similar conclusions. Tristano emphasized harmonic extensions of classic jazz chord progressions when Coleman intuitively disregarded them; Tristano muted the role of drums, while Coleman delights in bouncing off hyperactive percussion. Both their paths encourage personal statement, acknowledge abstraction and penetrate the unexplored. Crothers, by evidence of her recordings, is not beholden to doctrine. Her music is formally complex, yet often bursts with surprises.
See The Stone’s website for the complete schedule, but my curiosities include: alto saxophonist Richard Tabnik’s debut of his “Symphony for Jazz Trio: A Prayer for Peace”; Bud Tristano (Lennie’s son), an “improvising rock guitarist” who performs with Russian concert pianist Valentina Nazarenko; solo shows by pianist Kazzrie Jaxen (AKA, Liz Gorrill), vibist Kevin Norton and Italian violinist Stefano Pastor. Crothers herself appears in various combos—unfortunately leading her own quartet and quintet Sept. 26, the very date Coleman plays Lincoln Center and Barbra Streisand (!) does her one-nighter at the Village Vanguard.
Several musicians Crothers has booked are in the “blank generation” that’s been accused of abandoning jazz by the National Endowment for the Arts’ recently released data, though observers cite many 20- and 30-year-olds in jazz audiences, and musicians that age are increasingly making their marks. Hear two of the most prominent: Darcy James Argue (34), a Vancouver-born, Brooklyn-based composer whose Secret Society big band is stocked with young players, will be at the fifth New Languages Festival on Sept. 17; cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum (34) with his SpiderMonkey Strings octet of brass, voice, violin, viola, cello, guitar, tuba and drums at Manhattan’s Jazz Gallery on Sept. 19. Bynum co-leads the 10-piece Positive Catastrophe ensemble with Peruvian percussionist Abraham Gomez-Delgado (31) at New Languages Sept. 25.
New Language’s intent is to “provide a panoramic view of 21st-century jazz in NYC” and among its other significant participants are New York-associated trumpeters Amir ElSaffir (32) and Nate Wooley (35); drummer Tyshawn Sorey (29), percussionist John Hollenbeck (OK, he’s 41), vocalist Theo Bleckmann (a mature 44) and alto saxophonist Tim Berne, guitarists Brandon Ross and Joe Morris, by now veterans of the avant-garde who have lost not a whit of edge.
Staying sharp is, after all, fundamental to jazz, and so the Festival of New Trumpet Music at the Jazz Standard; Oct. 1-4 rightly dedicates itself to trumpeter Bobby Bradford, 75, an associate of Ornette Coleman’s who carries the free flag in Los Angeles and seldom comes east. Other brassmen prime the first nights—Bradford plays with tenor saxophonist David Murray, currently of Paris, Oct. 3 & 4. And starting Oct. 1 at The Stone, incomparable Brit saxophonist Evan Parker (64) begins two weeks of intense collaborations.
All of the above uphold Ornette Coleman’s conviction that originality, expressivity, immediacy and virtuosity make jazz worth hearing. Those attributes make this season’s music new.