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

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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.

More than four decades after that band’s heyday, guitarist Monnette Sudler continues to assemble intriguing combinations of new collaborators, carrying forward the inventive community spirit embodied by the Sounds of Liberation. At the Clef Club on July 20, she’ll host a gathering called Guitars Around the World, the latest reinvention of her Guitar Summit concept. For the occasion she’ll bring together sitar master Sambarta Rakshit and tabla player Haroon Alam along with the usual congregation of six-string greats, this time including Mark Whitfield, Sheryl Bailey and Vic Juris. [INFO]

The calendar is always a bit sparse in the summer, but July isn’t wholly devoid of worthwhile happenings to fill the time in between excursions to the shore. And if all else fails you can always count on the tireless Orrin Evans, who continues to pack the vacation months – as mentioned last month, he’ll continue his Thursday residency at Chris’ Jazz Café with the Grammy-nominated Captain Black Big Band, while adding another weekly series this month at South. With “Give the Drummer Some,” the pianist will invite a different notable drummer each weekend to join his trio: Living Colour’s Will Calhoun on July 7, Return to Forever’s Lenny White on July 14, and longtime Marsalis bandmate Jeff “Tain” Watts on July 21. [INFO]

Perhaps it’s the constant inspiration of having another musician under the same roof, or the inherent competitive edge born of sibling rivalry, but jazz boasts more than its fair share of influential brother teams. The Curtis Brothers are the current generation’s answer to the Heaths or Montgomerys, a family tandem that enhances projects as a unit (playing with Ralph Peterson or their own ensembles) but also have strong individual identities. Pianist Zaccai Curtis will play the @exuberance salon on his own on July 12, bringing his new band Projection – a quintet that combines Afro-Cuban, jazz and R&B influences. It’s a strong quintet, featuring veteran saxophonist Craig Handy, Philly bass stalwart Mike Boone, New Orleans drummer Joe Dyson, and percussionist Brevan Hampden. [INFO]

A few weeks later, @exuberance will also host Baltimore pianist Lafayette Gilchrist for his first Philly performance in several years. While in the past he’s appeared with his funky, rollicking ensemble New Volcanoes, this time around he’ll perform solo, celebrating the release of his new album Dark Matter. A longtime sideman with tenor fire-breather David Murray, Gilchrist brings the same ferocious attack to the keys when unaccompanied, always anchored by the window-rattling sound of the D.C. go-go scene. [INFO]

“If You Hear a Trumpet, It’s Me,” may sound like a bold statement, but Arnetta Johnson is far from shy. At 25, the Camden native has already spent three years touring as part of Beyoncé’s backing band, including Queen Bey’s performances at the Super Bowl and Coachella, and in her recent Netflix special Homecoming. She’ll take the somewhat less grand stage at Chris’ Jazz Café on July 19. Johnson’s learned a few things about stage presence from her boss, as is evident whenever she leads her band SUNNY, an aggressive blend of hip-hop and jazz. The band’s name stands for Sounds Uplifting Nobility through Notes and Youth, which suggests that she also carries a social message from her beleaguered hometown. [INFO]

Sure, the gritty soul of the organ jazz tradition is a rich part of Philly’s musical heritage, but as every creepy-castle establishing shot has shown, the organ sound also comes with its fair share of ominous dread. Leave it to John Zorn to bring the two together. With Simulacrum, the impossibly prolific and genre-mutating composer has crafted a jazz organ trio with a prog-metal twist. There aren’t many artists who could populate such a mad-scientist concept, but Zorn assembled an ideal line-up: the anything-goes organist John Medeski, along with Cleric guitar wizard Matt Hollenberg and drummer Kenny Grohowski, whose credits range from jazz artists Lonnie Plaxico and Andy Milne to outer-limits experimentalists Secret Chiefs 3 and reformed proggers Brand X. Ars Nova Workshop brings the trio to the Ruba Club on July 19. [INFO]

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