How to Do Winter Jazzest 2016

by delarue

A decade ago, Winter Jazzfest first spun off of the annual APAP booking agents’ convention by turning a bunch of cheesy Bleecker Street clubs into jazz venues for a couple of nights. This year’s marathon weekend festival on January 15 and 16 has a couple of exciting new developments: for one, it’s expanded further than ever beyond those clubs’ cramped confines, with a more expanded lineup than ever. Which promises to make this year’s arguably the best ever, considering that the number of venues involved now make up a grand total of eleven, most likely eliminating the lines that would often make it impossible to get into the most popular shows later in the evening as crowds reached critical mass.

Perhaps in order to drive attendance at the related bills at the Poisson Rouge (whose management also program the festival) on on the 13th and 17th, the best deal for tix is the five-day, $145 full-festival pass. That’s an even steeper commitment timewise than moneywise, but it not only gets you into any show you’d like to see Friday and Saturday night, but also to the January 13, 7:30 PM show with the rampaging low-register duo of whirlwind bass saxophonist Colin Stetson and bassman Bill Laswell and Dutch no wave rock legends the Ex (the latter of whom are also at the Greene Space at 11 on Friday night), as well as the 6 PM concert on the 17th with purist guitarist Julian Lage‘s trio followed by sax quartet Rova teaming up with guitarist Nels Cline, playing Coltrane material.  There are other options, but the cost is intimidating. Getting tickets in advance at the Poisson Rouge box office is your best bet; otherwise you can pick them up starting at 5 at Judson Church at 55 Washington Square Park South, each day.

On Friday night, you could start the evening by checking out a solo guitar set by downtown stalwart David Torn at the New School’s first-floor auditorium at 63 5th Ave., or irrepressible sax improviser Matana Roberts at the same time at Subcultlure, or hit the Poisson Rouge at 6:20 for what could be a mind-blowing trio show with drag queen Joey Arias – who is hilarious, and does a mean Lady Day impersonation – backed by guitar shredmeister Brandon Seabrook and pyrotechnic drummer Allison Miller.

Otherwise, the big New School auditorium at 66 W 12th St. just east of 6th Ave. is where the festival is hiding all the big names (in order: Roy Hargrove; James “Blood” Ulmer; Christian McBride; Forro in the Dark playing their duskily enchanting versions of Spy vs. Spy-era John Zorn material, and then at 1 AM Ilhan Ersahin and the Nublu Jazz Orchestra improvising their way through a Butch Morris tribute). Hot jazz is relegated both nights to Greenwich House Music School over on Barrow St. (charming oldtimey swing crew the Bumper Jacksons are on at 7:20 on Friday)  Other day one highlights are back at the Poisson Rouge at 7:40 with downtown trumpet fixture Steven Bernstein and Sexmob and then thunderingly funky live bhangra outfit Red Baraat;  piano icon Vijay Iyer and his trio at the first-floor theatre at the New School at 11:20 (not 11:30, ostensibly), and you might actually be able to get into Zinc Bar to see the perennially adrenalizing, soulful Yosvany Terry leading his quintet followed by chanteuse Rene Marie and her combo and then the mighty, accordion-spiced Gregorio Uribe Big Band.

Saturday night, the 63 5th Ave auditorium progarm opens auspiciously with bassist Michael Formanek’s huge improvisational ensemble (conducted by another four-string guy, Michael Attias). Other enticing early choices are indie classical adventurers the Mivos Quartet with Dan Blake at the Poisson Rouge, or a solo set by dazzling pianist Christian Sands at Greenwich House at 6. Good bets for later on include haunting Franco-Lebanese trumpeter Ibraham Maalouf at the W 12th St. hall at 7:40; another darkly virtuosic trumpeter of Middle Eastern descent, Amir ElSaffar with his epic, breathtaking Two Rivers ensemble at Subculture at 9:40; Jamaican piano legend Monty Alexander and his reggae-jazz orchestra the Harlem-Kingston Express back on 12th Street, a show you probably should get to earlier than the 11:40 scheduled start time if you want to get in, considering how packed the Poisson Rouge was when he last played there; and ageless EWI shredder Marshall Allen leading the Sun Ra Arkestra at Judson Church at midnight.

Previous years’ festivals have featured many non-jazz acts as well. This year, there are fewer than usual, scattered throughout the evening at a few spots. Friday night at 9:40 at the fifth-floor theatre at the New School at 55 W 13th St., chanteuse Charenee Wade puts a more purist jazz spin on Gil Scott-Heron, followed by pianist Marc Cary in funkmeister mode and then saxophonist Sharel Cassity and Elektra taking the night back in a more trad direction. On Saturday, hypnotic postrock trio Dawn of Midi are at WNYC’s tiny Greene Space, 44 Charlton St. just east of Varick, at 11, another show that might be worth getting to early if a live dancefloor thump is your thing.

Be sure to check the schedule for updates: as with any festival of this magnitude, there are bound to be tweaks.