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New York City Winter Jazzfest: The Best Moments We Saw


Makaya McCraven on the Revive Music Stage at The Bitter End

New York City Winter Jazzfest took place this past weekend, taking place in about a dozen venues around Greenwich Village and igniting the neighborhood with fiery jazz music from the scene’s best. Sun Ra Arkestra played in an 18th century church, GoGo Penguin made their NYC debut, and plenty of other musicial memories were made over the course of the five-day festival, and while it was impossible to catch all of it, here are the best memories we’re walking away with…

Terrace Martin makes NYC debut as band leader, plays To Pimp A Butterfly compositions

At about 8.30 on Friday night, a renowned hip hop producer made the full transition into jazz titan in front of at New York City crowd. For the first time in his life, Terrace Martin was billed as Terrace Martin, leading a band of harlem musicians (and one of his buddy’s from LA) through a set of new material and a couple tracks from Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. “For Free?” kicked off the show with a thunderous roar, “Mortal Man” was played with a flower’s delicacy, and the new material sounded great as well. Velvet Portraits is the name of the forthcoming album from this rising star.

Colin Stetson & Bill Laswell collaborate

Stetson is best-known for his work with Arcade Fire and Bon Iver, while Bill Laswell is noted for his fusion of dub, world, and jazz music. Together, they played ~45 minutes of droney, avant-garde jazz that washed over the crowd like some sort of meditational cloak. At some points frantic and other times ambient, the music wasn’t too far off from Stetson’s recent collaborative work with violinist Sarah Neufield (those two would play later, but we missed them)..

Igmar Thomas sat in with Marc Cary’s Indigenous People 

Amidst the hectic Friday night schedule, we bounced around to as many shows as possible, leaving a small amount of time for Marc Cary’s Indigenous People and the phenomenal show they were putting on. The energetic soul-jazz ensemble was joined by Igmar Thomas while we were there, marking a spontaneous moment during the set.

Sun Ra Arkestra brought their space-jazz to an 18th century church

Having never see Sun Ra Arkestra, I had no idea what to expect. It was awesome, though! The fourteen-piece ensemble was decked out in crazy sequenced robes, and moved through some of their most danceable compositions (which are still pretty far out there, even by jazz standards). The show took place at Judson Memorial Church, which was built in the 1800s. You can imagine the vibe created when one of the galaxy’s most alien musical ensembles gets together in a room designed for prayer or, at least for some, spiritual conquest. It was as special as you could imagine.

GoGo Penguin made their NYC debut

WOW – not enough can be said about this band. Posted up about five feet from drummer Rob Turner, my jaw was dropped throughout the entire show. As a trio, the band moves as one, making less room for solo excursions and putting more emphasis on creating a wall of sound as a unit. Their sophomore full-length is due out on Blue Note come February 5th. They’re scheduled for Coachella and good enough to take over the world as far as I’m concerned.

Vijay Iyer proved to be a genius, as if we needed proof

Vijay Iyer is a pianist, but he’s also a Harvard professor. His trio, which also consists of Stephen Crump on bass and Marcus Gillmore on drums, plays brainy jazz that finds influence in hip hop and techno, amongst other places. It’s jaw-dropping stuff when you listen closely enough, and compositions off the newest record Break Stuff sounded remarkable in the New School Tishman Auditorium.

The Bad Plus played a secret show at Judson Memorial Church

Secret shows are hit or miss, but The Bad Plus was a home run for the midnight secret show at Judson Memorial Church. In a sparsely-filled room, the quirky trio chugged through prog-jazz numbers in a way that only they can.

Seeing Makaya McCraven for the first time

NPR recommended, DubEra.com approved (not like anyone is counting on us for that kind of thing). Makaya McCraven, whose last album In The Moment is comprised completely of jazz-beat instrumentals, put on a really impressive show to kick off the Revive Music stage at The Bitter End. With Justefan on vibes, Matt Gold on guitar, Marquis Hill on trumpet and Joshua Ramos on bass, the five-piece proved to be one of the best discoveries of the festival for me.

Happy Apple‘s return to NYC

Dave King plays with a lot of people, but to me he is the drummer from The Bad Plus. After seeing him with Happy Apple on Wednesday night, I’m glad to see that King can bring ace drumming, vibrant personality, and superb energy to any group. This trio hasn’t played in NYC in some time, from what I’ve gathered, and it was awesome to see them.

Ben Williams & The Sound Effect utilizing an MLK sample

I almost missed the entirety of Ben Williams’ set, but was able to catch the last track “Toy Soldiers.” It utilized a sample from a Martin Luther King, ending with a monstrous “Let Freedom Ring!” before the band jumped into the hook one last time. It was clear from the excitement in the room that the entire set was on par with this special moment, and while I’m upset at missing the bulk of the performance, it was nice to swing in there at 1.30 to catch the very last notes.

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