The best Philadelphia music festival you haven’t checked out yet, Center City Jazz Festival took over the Sansom Street corridor on Saturday afternoon with 20 performers stationed at five different venues. In terms of bang for your buck, it’s an incredible deal: a $15 ticket lets you bounce from space to space, maximizing the music you take in.
If you know nothing about jazz, it’s a robust introduction to the scene – ultra-modern originals mixed with traditional standards and crossover covers of Sigur Ros, Aphex Twin and Nirvana. If you’re more versed in the jazz world, CCJF shines a light on the variety our community has to offer.
I caught eight of the 20 artists, beginning at Franky Bradley’s with the big-band stylings of The Sermon. A hop across town to MilkBoy, and West Philadelphia Orchestra was delivering an appropriately mellowed-down version of their monthly Balkan dance party melee (next one happens at Underground Arts on May 7th). At Fergie’s, The Greg Snyder Trio‘s set spanned spacious minimalism and lively tropicalia tones; the Dahud El-Bakara Sextet packed it in at Time with a suave sound and a version of Donald Byrd’s “Early Sunday Morning.”
Over at Chris’ Jazz Cafe, the piano-led George Burton trio began their set with a meditative, intense swell reminiscent of Keith Jarrett’s The Köln Concert – down to the way both Burton and Jarret work vocal interjections into their performance and wordlessly sing along to the melody – and wrapped it with a swell cover of Sigur Ros’ “Unitiled 1 (Vaka).” Walking back down Sansom, I caught the tail end of futuristic saxaphonist Max Swan‘s Time performance, where found-sound samples added unique textures to his band’s vibe.
The impressive New York trio Surface to Air was centered around tabla percussion by band leader Rohin Khemani and their set at Fergie’s was an afternoon favorite of mine. Over at MilkBoy, the forward-thinking Fresh Cut Orchestra showed off their mastery of both the traditional (“Ola’s Bolero”) and the modern (“The Mother’s Suite”); if you haven’t yet done so, download their Key Studio Session here.
Wrapping the day up was a killer set by festival founder Ernest Stuart over at Time. He has a new EP out called Same Walking Animals, and the excitement in his performance was palpable. It was one of the few sets of the day where there was a line out the door to get in; fortunately, it was a nice day and Time opened the windows behind its stage, allowing a crowd to gather and watch from the sidewalk (and the street) as Stuart brought the house down with a riff on “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Check out photos from the festival below.
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