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"Africa Now!" at the Apollo Theater

by Steven Pisano

(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

DJ Black Coffee at Africa Now! at the Apollo TheaterThe sixth annual "Africa Now!" concert co-sponsored by the World Music Institute and the Apollo Theater was focused more on the electronic side of African music. The featured act in the first half brought together legendary drummer Tony Allen and techno wiz Jeff Mills, supported by keyboardist Jean-Philippe Dary. The Nigerian-born Allen is widely credited with establishing Afrobeat music back in the 1970s as part of Fela Kuti's band Africa '70. Paired with the Detroit-born Mills, the resulting set was a long improvisational groove that was at turns jazzy, Afrobeat, and techno - and always dreamy. A vibrant light show helped to engage the audience, since the musicians barely moved.

The second half of the show spotlighted the night's big draw, the internationally acclaimed DJ and record producer Black Coffee (Nkosinathi Innocent Maphumulo) from South Africa. The Apollo instantly changed from concert hall to dance club, with the entire house rising up from their seats and dancing. Basically it was house music with a South African flavor.

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Snarky Puppy and David Crosby Play Carnegie Hall

by Nick Stubblefield


It seems unconventional for the Brooklyn-based jazz collective Snarky Puppy to play at Carnegie Hall, but Snarky Puppy isn’t a conventional band. When I walked into Carnegie’s Stern Auditorium last week, an usher handed me a tie-dyed bandana embroidered with “The 60s: The Years that Changed America.” The night’s program was part of a concert series this year throughout New York that honors social justice and protest in America. With their history of frequent collaborations with artists from many musical and ethnic backgrounds, Snarky Puppy were the perfect hosts for an evening celebrating protest, peace, and unity.

Michael League, Snarky’s bandleader, chief composer, and bassist, stood front and center. The band, consisting of drums, a smorgasbord of auxiliary percussion, keyboards, guitar, and horns, managed to comfortably fill a stage mostly known for accommodating concert orchestras. The group’s musical style proudly defies classification. There were elements of bebop, Latin-American styles, and African-American gospel in the music, but Snarky’s purposeful blurring of musical boundaries is largely what defines the group’s sound. As the stylings and textures ebbed and flowed throughout their all-instrumental mini-set, there were ever-shifting variations in timbre that kept the music engaging. Multi-instrumentalist Justin Stanton alternated between a trumpet and a vintage Fender Rhodes, shredding equally skilled bebop-inspired jazz improvisations on each.

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Winter Jazzfest: Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble at Le Poisson Rouge

DSC04326Winter Jazzfest 2018 Artist-in-Residence Nicole Mitchell has spent more than three decades on the vanguard of jazz as a composer and flutist, and has developed a unique voice that blends technical innovation with a spiritual outlook. Her latest project, Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds, is set in a not-too-distant future where a an egalitarian society struggles with how to incorporate technology into our lives. Speaking to The Wire last year, Mitchell says it comes down to how we learn to see ourselves in each other - something which has a good bit of relevance these days:

"How do we honor our wonderful diversity rather than be threatened by it? How do we learn to share our resources and care for all, rather than being selfish? That helped me to arrive at my narrative, which riffs off the question: how do we create an advanced society that is in tune with nature, and how do we actually move away from our addiction to greed, which compromises our love for each other?"

Mitchell blends music from disparate cultures in Mandorla: you can hear Japanese taiko, shakuhachi and shamisen, free jazz, rock, banjo, even the synth-driven sounds of Stockhausen. Mitchell gives each of them equal time, and it's a revelation how much these diverse musical sounds have in common. 

The climax of the work comes in the final part, "Timewrap", in which the extraordinary spoken word artist Avery R. Young channels his inner gospel preacher, screaming and shouting like a man possessed, joining hands with various audience members and promising to take them "to the other side." It was the most ecstatic, thrilling, and inspiring musical moment of this early 2018, and hopefully a harbinger of things to come. 

The prolific musician-scholar Tyshawn Sorey opened, eschewing his usual drumkit for a synth-driven set that was about as avant and modern as anything I've heard in a jazz mien. Not that he or anyone needs to adhere to any standard definition when it comes to playing "jazz."

More pics on the photo page

Winter Jazzfest: Saturday Night Marathon

 By Dan Lehner and Pete Matthews

Winter Jazzfest 2018 New School
Night two of the 2018 Winter Jazzfest Marathon began in the intimate fifth floor theater at The New School, where a crack team of trombonists were paying homage to the uniquely blithe and expressive spirit of Roswell Rudd. Art Baron honored Rudd's famously potent physical presence by "sanctifying" the room, facing each of the four walls and blessing them with little music segments, before launching into a sweet, genuine, plunger-and-pixie mute rendition of Ellington's "I Got it Bad". Brian Drye honored Rudd with his original "For Roswell", a gentle, folkish tune embellished with multiphonics and little mouth pops and swishes, ending with "Pannonica" (a nod to the Roswell Rudd/Steve Lacy recordings of Monk tunes). Josh Roseman's performance recalled some of his playing on his own "Treats for the Nightwalker", imbued with dubby wah's and hisses through a Harmon mute, and seemed to relate closely to Rudd's later work in the realm of world music.

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