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Philly Jazz Guide: Top picks for live music around town in July

Arnetta Johnson | photo by Wil Moore

Philly jazz enjoyed a tremendous night of celebration last month at a packed Union Transfer, culminating with the Sun Ra Arkestra taking the stage to the audience singing “Happy Birthday” to its 95-year old bandleader, the unstoppable Marshall Allen. That set was preceded by the equally thrilling reunion of the Arkestra’s Germantown neighbors, Sounds of Liberation. While health issues prevented him from playing, founding member Khan Jamal took the stage and struck a few notes on the vibes to a warm ovation. Continue reading →

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Philly Jazz Guide: Top picks for live music around town in June

Sun Ra Arkestra | photo by Christopher Andrew McDonald | courtesy of Ars Nova Workshop

The Kimmel Center’s Jazz Residency program is now in its sixth year of presenting new music from local composers. As tends to be the case with commissioned works, the end results have sometimes been overwhelmed by the conceptual frameworks of the pieces. But at their best – the Fresh Cut Orchestra’s multi-media suite, Joanna Pascale’s exploration of Victorian flower codes, Francois Zayas’ melding of Cuban and Balkan traditions – they’ve provided artists with the ability to stretch into new, more ambitious territory. Continue reading →

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Philly Jazz Guide: Top picks for live music around town in May

Melissa Aldana | photo by Harrison Weinstein | courtesy of the artist

Coming down from an intensely busy April, culminating in a packed final weekend that included the eighth annual Center City Jazz Festival and the culmination of Jamaaladeen Tacuma’s Outsiders Improvised & Creative Music Festival, May cools things down a bit on the jazz front. The highlights are a bit more spread out this month promising to give almost everyone a bit of a breather – with a definite exception for the always-busy Mike Boone. Continue reading →

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Philly Jazz Guide: Top picks for live music around town in April

Marc Cary | courtesy of the artist

April is Jazz Appreciation Month, and however you feel about that somewhat calcifying designation there’s ample opportunity to do some appreciating this month. The city’s own twist, “Philly Celebrates Jazz” (which at least seems more enthusiastic than mere appreciation), had its official kick-off on Thursday at City Hall with the presentation of awards to guitarist Kevin Eubanks and vocalist Ella Gahnt. Continue reading →

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Philly Jazz Guide: Top picks for live music around town in March

Dave Burrell | courtesy of the artist

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the great pianist Marilyn Crispell, during the course of which we both lamented the fact that the NE Philly native hadn’t played a show in her hometown in far too long. Looking back over her far too few local appearances in recent years, I recalled that her gorgeous 2002 solo piano concert at Penn’s Houston Hall had been my first experience with Ars Nova Workshop, just weeks after moving back to the east coast (and as it happens, a quick Google search reveals, on my 28th birthday). Continue reading →

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Philly Jazz Guide: Top picks for live music around town in February

The Bad Plus | via thebadplus.com

Last fall, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church launched a new series called “The Future of Jazz Piano” with a performance by its curator, Fred Hersch. A mentor to many younger musicians as well as an artist constantly replenished by new ideas and fresh collaborations, Hersch has a keen eye for new and rising talent dedicated to advancing the jazz tradition to which Hersch has been dedicated throughout his career. On Feb. 7, the series will host Sullivan Fortner, a New Orleans native who has imbibed deeply the open-eared spirit of that city. Continue reading →

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Philly Jazz Guide: Top picks for live music around town in December

Laurin Talese | photo courtesy of the artist

Another hectic year is coming to a close, which for those of us who spend our time ingesting music and trying to string words together in response means that it’s list-making time. You can seek out my Top 5, and expanded / slightly different lists elsewhere, a little later this month. But a few quick mentions of some albums that shouldn’t go unnoticed this year: the ambitious trumpeter/composer Ambrose Akinmusire has crafted an utterly singular hybrid of diverse influences on his staggering Origami Harvet (Blue Note), while the great guitarist Bill Frisell released a heartrendingly gorgeous career highlight with Music IS. If I can stray from the jazz fold for a moment, I also spent a lot of time this year with Philly choir The Crossing’s monumental new album If There Were Water (Innova), highlighted by Stratis Minakakais’ ancient-meets-unexplored “Crossings Cycle,” with Ryley Walker’s mesmerizing Deafman Glance (Dead Oceans), and with Revocation’s blistering The Outer Ones (Metal Blade), which unleashed my inner Beavis with each listen. Continue reading →

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Philly Jazz Guide: Top picks for live music around town in November

Kamasi Washington
Kamasi Washington | photo courtesy of the artist

Many of jazz’s most creative voices have had a lot to say this year. For whatever reason, 2018’s best releases include a staggering volume of music, albums that sprawl to 2 or 3 discs in length. Witness Tyshawn Sorey’s monumentally minimal Pillars, three hours of sparse, delicately textured gestures that leave the listener to wander through a limbo of sound and genre. Guitar innovator Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl ran to two discs of arcanely angular song forms, while her collective trio Thumbscrew (with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tomas Fujiwara) paired an album of original music with an accompanying set of covers. The brilliant composer Henry Threadgill doubled up with releases by his ensemble Double Up and another by his latest conglomeration, the 14 or 15 Kestra: Agg. That’s just to mention a few. Continue reading →

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Philly Jazz Guide: Top picks for live music around town in October

Harold Lopez-Nussa
Harold Lopez-Nussa | photo courtesy of the artist

Ars Nova Workshop’s inaugural October Revolution of Jazz & Contemporary Music was undoubtedly the highlight of last year’s Philly jazz calendar, and the follow-up is shaping up to be equally awe-inspiring. More than an avant-garde jazz festival, the October Revolution aims to be a survey of the history and the current moment in disruptive music-making, taking the pulse of contemporary jazz innovation while looking back at great artists who’ve made a habit of never looking back. Continue reading →