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2020 Winter Jazzfest Preview

Highlights include sets by Artemis, James "Blood" Ulmer, and artist-in-residence Mark Guiliana, along with two performance marathons—one in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn

Artemis (clockwise from top left: Noriko Ueda, Renee Rosnes, Ingrid Jensen, Anat Cohen, Allison Miller, and Melissa Aldana)

From January 9 to 18, New York will be the undisputed center of the jazz universe when NYC Winter Jazzfest returns for its 16th annual season. As usual, the festival features a two-day marathon (January 10 and 11), with dozens of artists performing at a variety of locations in downtown Manhattan: Webster Hall, the Bowery Ballroom, Le Poisson Rouge, the Mercury Lounge, Nuyorican Poets Café, Subculture, the Dance, the Bitter End, Nublu, SOBs, Zinc Bar, and the Moxy Hotel. But this year it also will host a second, one-day marathon in Brooklyn on January 17, with venues including the Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn Bowl, National Sawdust, Rough Trade, House of Yes, and the Sultan Room.

This year’s WJF artist-in-residence, drummer/composer Mark Guiliana, will present seven nights of performances, starting with his electronic group Beat Music at the Bowery Ballroom on January 9 (supported by yMusic and Taylor McFerrin) and continuing with his Jazz Quartet, bolstered by vocalist Gretchen Parlato, on January 10. At the Sultan Room, Guiliana will appear with an unnamed “surprise guest” on January 13 (supported by Golden Valley Is Now, featuring pianist Craig Taborn, bassist Reid Anderson, and drummer Dave King) and with fellow drummer Billy Martin on January 14 (supported by Soul Gnawa and special guest Jason Lindner). On January 16, he’ll be at the Brooklyn Bowl with his Space Heroes ensemble, supporting organist Wil Blades and drummer Scott Amendola. It all culminates in a set with the members of Kneebody—keyboardist Adam Benjamin, trumpeter Shane Endsley, saxophonist Ben Wendel, and bassist/drummer Nate Wood—on January 17 and the festival’s closing show at Nublu on January 18: Beat Music Improvisations with guests Jason Lindner, BIGYUKI, Stu Brooks, Jeff Taylor, and Nate Smith.

Two nights before Guiliana takes the stage at the Sultan Room, on January 11, guitarist James “Blood” Ulmer will be there, laying down his patented gritty mix of blues, jazz, and funk. As if that weren’t enough, preceding Ulmer that evening will be the superlative power trio known as Harriet Tubman (guitarist Brandon Ross, bassist Melvin Gibbs, and drummer J.T. Lewis).

On January 12, three events stand out: a tribute to trumpeter Marcus Belgrave at Le Poisson Rouge featuring Ron Carter, Sheila Jordan, Louis Hayes, and many more (preceded by a conversation on the history of Detroit jazz moderated by Mark Stryker, author of Jazz in Detroit); pianist Kris Davis’ Diatom Ribbons with Terri Lyne Carrington, Val Jeanty, Tony Malaby, Trevor Dunn, and Harish Raghavan at the Sultan Room; and a “Sounds of the Dutch Underground” night at Nublu with saxophonist Tineke Postma Freya, Tin Men & the Telephone, and others.

Another certain highlight of the fest will be the January 13 appearance of Artemis at Le Poisson Rouge. Recently signed to Blue Note Records, Artemis fully warrants the title of supergroup; its members include pianist/musical director Renee Rosnes, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, clarinetist Anat Cohen, tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana, bassist Noriko Ueda, and drummer Allison Miller. The artists they’re sharing the bill with are no slouches either: the Eubanks Evans Experience (a.k.a. guitarist Robin Eubanks and pianist Orrin Evans) and Miller, doing double duty with her own Boom Tic Boom, featuring violinist Jenny Scheinman, pianist Myra Melford, and bassist Todd Sickafoose, as well as Kirk Knuffke on brass and Ben Goldberg on woodwinds. Cohen will also appear in another show later that week, on January 16, at Town Hall with her Brazilian-leaning quartet Choro Aventuroso, opening for Brazilian singer/songwriter Seu Jorge.

Below are partial lists of the other performers in the Manhattan and Brooklyn marathons.

Friday, January 10 – Manhattan Night 1

Igmar Thomas’ Revive Big Band w/ Very Special Guests
Hailu Mergia
Karriem Riggins & Special Guests
Mary Lattimore
Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog
Mary Halvorson + John Dieterich
Hypnotic Brass Ensemble
Braxton Cook
The Cookers
Connie Han
Godwin Louis
Quiana Lynell
Butcher Brown

Saturday January 11 – Manhattan Night 2

CUP feat. Nels Cline + Yuka C. Honda
Makaya McCraven
Donny McCaslin Group
Issac Delgado
Joey Alexander
Becca Stevens
Jaimie Branch
René Marie
Revelator w/Bill Laswell
Kassa Overall’s “I Think I’m Good”
Theo Croker’s Star People Nation
Brandee Younger’s Soul Awakening
Uri Caine’s The Passion of Octavius Catto
Lakecia Benjamin Presents Pursuance: The Music of the Coltranes
Heroes Are Gang Leaders – featuring James Brandon Lewis
An intergenerational community celebration of the life of Steve Dalachinsky

Friday, January 17 – Brooklyn

José James ‘No Beginning No End 2’
Kung Fu
Morley: Sphere Ensemble w/Meshell Ndegeocello
Phony Ppl
Sasha Berliner
Mwenso + The Shakes
Salami Rose Joe Louis
Ben Williams ‘I Am A Man’
Big Terminal + Tim Berne, David Torn, Aurora Nealand
J. Hoard
Jessica Pavone

Performances aren’t the only things happening at NYC Winter Jazzfest. There’s also a full slate of talks scheduled at the Moxy East Village, the Assemblage John Street, Nublu, and Le Poisson Rouge from January 11-13, with an emphasis on jazz and wellness. Of particular note to JazzTimes readers may be “Is Jazz Good for Your Health?” at the Moxy on January 12. Moderated by John Murph, the roundtable discussion will further investigate topics that he first explored in a feature article in our May 2019 issue. Panelists include Allison Miller, saxophonists Tobias Meinhart and Jacques Schwarz-Bart, and singer Theo Bleckmann.

For more information about Winter Jazzfest, visit the WJF website.