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Convergence is the Key at the Sixth Annual TD James Moody Jazz Festival

First Edition Arts
John McLaughlin, right, and Jimmy Herring at at Ram's Head Live, Baltimore, in 2015

The sixth TD James Moody Jazz Festival runs Nov. 4 through 12 at NJPAC, with more than a dozen concerts across a range of styles.

Among the marquee events are two on Nov. 8: a lunchtime concert by the Newark-born singer Carrie Jackson, presented by WBGO, and ‘An Evening with Chris Botti,’ featuring that Grammy-winning trumpeter with his band. And as usual the festivities will culminate in the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Competition, featuring a performance by former winner Jazzmeia Horn.

But the most highly anticipated concerts this year all share a theme of convergence. They’re object lessons in musical dialogue of one sort or another. Here are five standout examples, in chronological order. 

Hiromi Duet featuring Edmar Castaneda, Nov. 5


Virtuosity — bright nearly to the point of blinding — forms a common bond between the pianist Hiromi Uehara and the harpist Edmar Castañeda. Their new album, Live in Montreal, was recorded at the 2017 Montreal International Jazz Festival; watch the clip above for a taste. It’s a kinetic, effervescent document that demonstrates how the language of improvisation can bridge cultural differences. The duo will make its only northeast appearance at NJPAC.

Crosscurrents: Zakir Hussain & Dave Holland, Nov. 5.

Zakir Hussain is a peerless tabla master, and Dave Holland is one of the world’s greatest bassists. They aren’t strangers, as you can see from the clip above. What distinguishes their collaboration is a truly elevated level of real-time reaction, rooted in close listening. Crosscurrents, their jointly led ensemble, is stocked with musicians who work at their high level, including the singer Shankar Mahadevan and the saxophonist Chris Potter.

Christian McBride & Dianne Reeves: One on One, Nov. 10

Credit Andrzej Liguz
Dianne Reeves

Bassist Christian McBride is, among many other things, the jazz advisor to NJPAC, and so it’s easy to imagine how this booking came together. His rapport with the magisterial singer Dianne Reeves, a 2018 NEA Jazz Master, should be easeful but focused. She is one of our finest vocalists, irrespective of style: an exhortative powerhouse who can also simmer and purr. She should have no problem filling a room even in the sparsest musical setting, in duologue with McBride, who shares her breadth. And as he has proven time and again, he knows how to conversate in a way that shifts smoothly from words to music and back.

John McLaughlin/Jimmy Herring: Meeting of the Spirits, Nov. 10

John McLaughlin, the peerless fusion guitarist, has announced that his current tour will be his last. But even without the farewell incentive, this would be a concert worth clamoring for. It will feature his working band, the 4th Dimension — with featuring Gary Husband on keyboards and percussion, Étienne M’Bappé on bass and Ranjit Barot on drums — alongside a separate set by the Invisible Whip, led by the incendiary rock guitarist Jimmy Herring. Then both gunslingers will join forces in a set of searching music by McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra. 

Ella & Dizzy: The Centennial Celebration, Nov. 12

Credit Rahav Segev / Courtesy of the Artist
Courtesy of the Artist
Regina Carter

Fittingly, the culmination of this year’s festival is also the biggest summit: an all-star tribute to Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie, who were both born a century ago this year. McBride’s big band will anchor a concert featuring violinist Regina Carter, drawing from her new album, Ella: Accentuate the Positive; trumpeters Randy Brecker and Sean Jones; and three commanding singers, Valerie Simpson, Gregory Porter and Lizz Wright. It’s a heavy concentration of talent, but given the subjects of their tribute, who could ask for anything less?

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.