Jazz and indie music: Best of fests, and all the rest

Autumn brings new, established artists Downtown

BY SAM SPOKONY  |  With another sweltering city summer in the can, there’s a whole lot of awesome music on the way this fall — and it’s coming from a variety of artistic sources, both established and unexpected. While summer’s festivals brought some of the industry’s top names outdoors, the coming season will draw great international talent to concert halls big and small throughout the Downtown area. What follows is a preview of some of the best live listening available through late November.

I’m keeping it cheap for you, because I didn’t move on up to this tiny, three-floor walkup in Bed-Stuy by just throwing my money away, did I? This fall, we’ve got great shows, series and festivals in Tribeca and the Village (East and West) that range from $20 all the way down to free of charge. And once November hits, the dog days will feel pretty distant — in fact, it’ll probably be cold enough by that point for you to take the cash you’ve saved on cover charges to warm up with a few shots of vodka. But, as they say, that’s a different story for a different day.

In any case, here are my picks for the season — featuring some of my favorite players, alongside a few I just recently caught wind of. Keeping an open mind has always worked for me — so my very first fall recommendation would be to do just that, as you look for new music to dig.

Austrian violinist Mia Zabelka might not play jazz per se, but she performs in ways that will captivate and engage any fans of intelligently improvised music. Using electronics and multiple microphones to warp her instrument’s tone or create new sounds altogether, Zabelka floats through the many stylistic worlds of contemporary art music while maintaining the distinct spirit of jazz. She’ll play a solo set at one of my favorite havens for experimental music, University of the Streets (130 E. Seventh St., btw. First Ave. & Ave. A), on September 26 at 8pm. Tickets are $10, and can be purchased at universityofthestreets.org. For  more info on the artist, visit miazabelka.com.

Another foreign talent, Israeli guitarist Oz Noy, developed his natural virtuosity to such heights that he became one of the most in-demand studio musicians in his country by the time he was only 24. Since moving to New York in 1996, Noy has brought his genre-bending sound — which is based in jazz but touches on funk, rock, blues and R&B — to bear with top artists like John Medeski, Dave Weckl, Chris Botti and Eric Johnson. Don’t miss him at 55 Bar (55 Christopher St., btw. Sixth & Seventh Aves.) on September 27 at 10pm, when he’ll be playing with an all-star trio including bassist John Patitucci and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts. Tickets are $10 and must be purchased at the door. For more info, visit 55bar.comand oznoy.com.

October 10 would have been pianist Thelonious Monk’s 95th birthday. Monk, who died in 1982, left his eternal mark on modern jazz by creating and performing in a musical language all his own. So on the anniversary of Monk’s birthday, Arts Brookfield continues its annual “Counting Down to 100” series with a free concert at the World Financial Center Winter Garden (220 Vesey St., btw. North End Ave. & West St.) that will bring together five of today’s top pianists to pay homage to a master. The show, which takes place from 12-3pm on October 10, features Michael Cochrane, Jean-Michel Pilc, Manuel Valera, Elio Villafranca and James Weidman. And while you still have another five years to go before Monk’s 100th, with a lineup like that and  no cover charge, I’d  recommend making every birthday count. For more info, visit artsbrookfield.com.

Most serious musicians, regardless of their level of talent, shy away from making equal contributions to the fields of jazz and classical. But pianist Donal Fox has been doing just that for decades, and has found just as much success in composing — with the St. Louis Symphony and Harvard University, among others — as in improvising on the keys. This year, he will lead off the month-long “Four for the Apple” series at 92Y Tribeca (200 Hudson St., btw. Desbrosses & Vestry Sts.) with a solo set on November 3 at 8pm. Fox’s performance, titled “Inventions in Blue,” should give a perfect taste of his deftly nuanced jazz style, while also showcasing the control and precision of his classical training. For more info, visit myspace.com/donalfoxprojects.

The three other concerts in the “Four for the Apple” series feature the Fonda/Stevens Group — an accomplished quartet that specializes in blending the various idioms of modern jazz, on November 10; pianist Michele Rosewoman and her soulful, bass-less trio on November 17; and PUBLIQuartet, a string quartet that performs both traditional chamber music and contemporary compositions, on November 24. Tickets for the first three shows in the series are all $20 in advance and $25 at the door, and tickets for the November 24 show are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. To purchase tickets, or for more info, visit 92y.org/tribeca.

If you’re feeling adventurous towards the end of September, you can explore some of the best music you’ve never heard at the NYC New Music Festival — a massive five-day program with stages at 27 venues throughout the East Village, West Village and the Lower East Side. The festival, which takes place from September 26-30, features up-and-coming indie artists from both New York and the rest of the nation, including tinges of rock, pop, folk, blues and more. For info, visit nycmf.com.

Amidst the wide selection, my personal recommendation would be to check out Elephants Gerald at the Kraine Theater (85 E. Fourth St., btw. Second Ave. & Bowery) on September 30 at 8pm. The folk-Americana duo from Baltimore brings an earthy, organic sound that goes well alongside introspective  lyrics and good guitar interplay. Tickets for that show are $8 at the door, but prices for the festival’s other venues vary, and all-day passes are also available online. To buy tickets or learn more, visit ssa.cc/nycsch.html. For info on “elephants,” visit elephants-gerald.com.

A more established voice on the indie-folk scene has been Alex Brown Church, who leads the (currently) six-piece group Sea Wolf. With haunting harmonies, unexpected  instrumentation and an intimate sound, the band  has been following a Bright Eyes-esque trail since 2007 — and Church has succeeded in his own right, penning a tune for the second installation of the Twilight movie series (2009’s“New Moon”). Sea Wolf’s a new album, “Old World Romance,” came out on September 11. So after grabbing the record, you can see the band live at (Le) Poisson Rouge (158 Bleecker St., btw. Sullivan & Thompson Sts.) on October 19 at 7pm, alongside supporting acts Jim White and Hey Marseilles. Tickets cost $15, and can be purchased at lepoissonrouge.com. For more info, visit seawolfmusic.com.

And one more great indie-folk choice this fall — for those seeking something a bit farther Downtown — is 92Y Tribeca’s double offering of Barnaby Bright and Liz Longley on November 9 at 9pm. First of all, Barnaby Bright is basically the cutest thing ever. It’s a husband-and-wife team (Nathan and Rebecca Bliss) who sing soft melodies to each other, intertwining and harmonizing over lush guitar backgrounds. Bring a date. You can’t beat that — not to mention the fact that both members of Barnaby Bright have some pretty solid classical music training behind them, and that their songs have been featured on national TV shows like “ER” and “Days of Our Lives.” For more info, visit barnabybright.com.

Singer/songwriter Liz Longley only graduated from the Berklee College of Music two years ago, but she’s already well on her way to transitioning from academia to the pop music limelight. Longley’s ability to craft great tunes has  led to prizes in some of the nation’s top songwriting contests, and she also recently raised enough money — nearly $50,000 thus far — to record a new album without the help of a record label. And her instantly relaxing voice makes it all click. For more info on the artist, visit lizlongley.com. Tickets for the November 9 show are $10, and can  be purchased online at 92y.org/tribeca.

And that’s that! Happy listening to all, and don’t forget to tip your bartender. If you have any questions, suggestions or hidden secrets about sweet shows on and under the Downtown radar, drop me a line at samspokony@gmail.com.

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