Omar Sosa at BRIC House

by Steven Pisano 

Omar Sosa at BRIC, Brooklyn, piano

With Cuba increasingly on people’s minds as access to that magical island becomes easier for Americans to travel to, Cuban jazz pianist Omar Sosa and his Quarteto Afrocubano attracted an eclectic audience to its show last week at the newish digs of the BRIC Arts | Media House. Opened in 2013, BRIC House is an impressive facility nestled in Fort Greene near other institutions like BAM, Mark Morris Dance Group, and Theatre for a New Audience. If you haven’t been there yet - as I had not - you should check it out. (We were also there for So Percussion's performance this past Friday, part of the annual Look & Listen Festival.)

Sosa left Cuba back in the 1990s, living first in Ecuador before finding his way to the United States, and finally to his present base in Barcelona. His travels around the world, especially in South America and Africa, have helped to shape his music, adding flavors not heard in more traditional Afro-Cuban jazz. There is also a spiritual element to Sosa’s music that is based in his Santero religious beliefs, which grew out of Yoruban religious customs brought to the Caribbean by slaves centuries ago.

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Gerald Clayton Trio at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola

by Nick Stubblefield

Clayton

The Gerald Clayton Trio played a dynamic and thoughtful set of what Clayton called "originals, arrangements, and de-rangements" last Tuesday at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola at Lincoln Center to an enthusiastic crowd. The young Netherlands-born, SoCal-raised pianist was joined by a pair of jazz giants in the likes of bassist John Patitucci and drummer Bill Stewart.  

Stepping into Dizzy's, located right beside Columbus Circle, it feels like you're in the heart of the city - and that heart is pumping pure liquid jazz. With floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over Central Park, it's a classy listening, drinking, and dining experience, without feeling so swanky that it's intimidating. Best of all, shows after 11pm are between free and five dollars, so there's reason to stick around late. 

Clayton kicked it off, or rather eased us in, with a slow-tempo original he dubbed "Patience Patients." Elegant, tasteful, and refined, it sharply contrasted with the tune that followed: the uptempo standard "My Shining Hour." All three players delivered scorching solo work, with Patitucci delivering some of the crispest and most tasty bass solos that have reached my ears in a long time. 

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Vijay Iyer Trio at The Jazz Standard

by Nick Stubblefield

Vijay Iyer, Jazz Standard
Photo by Stephen Pisano

In his still-young career, Vijay Iyer has amassed an impressive set of credentials, and is known for pushing creative boundaries beyond what's generally accepted as jazz. Personally, I'd heard little of Vijay's music before, so when I stepped into the Jazz Standard to catch his trio last Wednesday, I had little idea of what to expect. To Iyer's credit, he makes music unlike any I've ever heard. 

Iyer was joined on stage, as usual, by Stephan Crump on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums. Crump was the standout, giving a high-energy, all-in performance -- a contrast to Iyer's somewhat-rigid performance style: clean, precise, calculated. He stuck to his own post-modern material, never falling back on standards that casual jazz fans might be familiar with. It was experimental, in the best sense of the word.

The night began with a playful, highly syncopated work, with plenty of interplay between Iyer and Crump. Despite odd meters and unpredictable rhythms, the piece grooved hard. In fact, much of the program was filled with toe-thumping grooves.

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Julia Wolfe Wins the Pulitzer Prize for "Anthracite Fields"

Julia Wolfe and John Adams, New World Symphony
Somehow, I missed last week's announcement that Julia Wolfe, co-founder of Bang on a Can, won this year's Pulitzer Prize for her oratorio Anthracite Fields, inspired by the coal miners near where she grew up Pennsylvania. With this award, Julia becomes the second of the three BOAC founders (after David Lang), as well as the second woman in three years, to win the Pulitzer. And, with last year's winning composition, John Luther Adams' Become Ocean, having been released on BOAC's Canteloupe Music label, there seems to be little question that the award has completed its shift away from the academic stranglehold it once suffered under. 

In speaking with NPR's Tom Huizenga, Wolfe conveys the significance of the Pulitzer, both for her and for musicians:

"I've always been someone who challenges the system and tries to reach for something beyond the status quo, not do business as usual. This idea that you go your own route is very strong inside of me and so when you get recognition, the thing that is gratifying is that somebody says, 'Hey that's great. We appreciate what you're striving for.' This is one of those moments where the light shines on that so I would hope it supports that, supports reaching for something outside of the box."

A brief preview of Anthracite Fields and an excerpt below. 

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