New Year, New Music: The Winter Jazzfest kicks off this Friday, and Take Five has your Week One field guide.
Ralph Peterson Messenger Legacy, “In Case You Missed It”
Thirty-five years ago, Ralph Peterson was handpicked by Art Blakey to be the second drummer in a special edition of the Jazz Messengers. He was on the rise then, in his early 20s, and Blakey’s benediction meant the world.
Since then, Peterson has never missed an opportunity to repay the favor — whether in the form of Art, his 1992 Blue Note album, or in the pure conviction of every barreling press roll. Now he’s mobilizing a new band, Messenger Legacy, whose ranks consist of distinguished Jazz Messenger alumni: saxophonists Bobby Watson and Bill Pierce, trumpeter Brian Lynch, bassist Essiet Essiet and pianist Geoff Keezer.
Here is an exclusive track from the band’s as-yet-untitled album, due out in May. It’s a tune by Watson that first appeared on Album of the Year, in 1981. (That album featured a hard-charging edition of the Messengers with Watson, Pierce, and a hot young trumpeter named Wynton Marsalis.)
This performance opens with a Peterson solo that establishes, with avowedly Blakey-esque flair, the form of the piece. The horn section seals the melody in an airtight frame, before a round-robin of assured solos. This is what jazz repertory can feel like at its most urgent and unassuming; it’s also a preview of what the Messenger Legacy will bring to the Winter Jazzfest Half-Marathon on Saturday.
(Peterson will also join Meshell Ndegeocello, Theo Bleckmann and myself on Jan. 12, in a Winter Jazzfest Talk titled “Conjure, Conjecture: The Art of Evocation.”)
Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, “Invisible Suite: Invisible Cities”
One of the most highly anticipated events on this Winter Jazzfest is a program called “We Resist!” on Sunday at Le Poisson Rouge. As the title suggests, it’s a showcase of politically charged new music, from Marc Ribot, Samora Pinderhughes, Toshi Reagon and others — notably bandleader-composer Arturo O’Farrill.
O’Farrill will lead his Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra in a performance of Fandango at the Wall: A Soundtrack For Mexico, The United States and Beyond — a pointed yet celebratory double album, which clearly couldn’t be more topical. The track above, “Invisible Suite: Invisible Cities,” captures some of the sprawling imagination in the piece, with smart solo contributions from saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown and guest violinist Regina Carter. (For more about Fandango at the Wall, listen to O’Farrill’s recent appearance on NPR Music’s Alt.Latino.)
Roxy Coss Quintet, “#MeToo”
Last March, we checked in with saxophonist Roxy Coss about the forces that inspired both her Women in Jazz Organization and a new album, The Future is Female (Posi-Tone). There has been a ton of related news, both heartening and dispiriting, in the months since. What hasn’t changed is the conviction Coss shares with many of her peers — a will to improve conditions for women in this music.
“#MeToo” is an emblematic piece from the album, featuring Coss on bass clarinet, in a slow but determined cadence. Gradually it opens up to a solo section, with Coss joined in an elaborative mode by guitarist Alex Wintz. The Roxy Coss Quintet will play the Winter Jazzfest Half-Marathon on Saturday at the Zinc Bar.
(On Sunday Coss will take part in a Winter Jazzfest Talk, “Jazz and Gender: Finding Solidarity.”)
Ashley Henry & the RE:ensemble, “Easter”
There has been no shortage of talk about the new London scene, with much of the conversation revolving around a small handful of rising stars, like saxophonists Shabaka Hutchings and Nubya Garcia. One artist who should be closer to the center of the picture is Ashley Henry, a keyboardist and composer from South London. About a year ago he released an EP called Easter, featuring his working trio with Daniel Casimir on bass and Luke Flowers on drums.
The title track also features collaborators like trumpeter James Copus and vocalist Cherise Adams Burnett, with a centerpiece tenor saxophone solo by Jean Toussaint, who was born in the Virgin Islands but raised in New York City. The spoken-word passage on the track is by Henry himself, who will perform at the Zinc Bar at midnight on Saturday, as part of the Winter Jazzfest Half-Marathon.
Meshell Ndegeocello, “Sometimes It Snows In April”
Finally, let’s acknowledge Meshell Ndegeocello’s tribute to Prince, which will kick off the festivities on Friday with “Thing Called Life,” at Le Poisson Rouge. On her brilliant recent album Ventriloquism, Ndegeocello performs a version of “Sometimes It Snows In April,” one of Prince’s most heartrending ballads.
Ndegeocello is the artist-in-residence at the Winter Jazzfest this year, and will perform in multiple settings. But she’s some kind of shaman when it comes to Prince, and her version of this song is devastating for its coolness to the touch. I look forward to discussing it at the aforementioned Winter Jazzfest Talk “Conjure, Conjecture: The Art of Evocation,” at The Assemblage on Jan. 12.