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Winter season brings musical diversity to Downtown
BY SAM SPOKONY | If you’re like me, the idea of actually following through on a typical New Year’s resolution has become a meaningless myth. Quit smoking? Meh. Stop eating McDonald’s or go back to the gym? Maybe next year. Make more money? No thanks. I’m good with my ramen and shared two-bedroom in Bed-Stuy. On the other hand, with both the supposed apocalypse and several genuine disasters behind us, I do think that the end of 2012 has brought with it an excitingly unpredictable future for all of us. What better way to celebrate than by opening your ears and embracing new (or old) colors dashed amid an endless aural palette? Downtown’s winter season is packed with improvisers and songwriters who represent an array of musical moods — but what’s especially great is the diversity of ethnicities and nationalities that’s about to hit the scene. We’ve got African roots, a group of Scandinavian electro-rockers and, as always, a few domestic mainstays. As if that weren’t enough, some of these gigs feature album releases from young performers on the cutting edge — and everyone knows it’s cooler to be one of the first to hear those new tunes live. So, as I curse the arrival of sub-freezing temperatures, here are my picks through March. Keep an open mind this year! And remember, people…music is always there to share the golden secrets that hide within our culture of fear and lies! JAZZ
Andrea Wolper is, I think, one of the best vocalists you’re going to hear these days — and it’s because her creativity and musicianship consistently stretch beyond generic limitations. I’m an especially big fan of her work with pianist Connie Crothers — a disciple of free jazz pioneer Lennie Tristano — as part of TranceFormation; and on Jan. 14, Wolper will perform at the Bar Next Door, 129 MacDougal St. (btw. W. Third & Fourth Sts.) in a trio with TranceFormation bassist Ken Filiano and guitarist Michael Howell, another one of her regular sidemen. They’ll play two 75-minute sets, one at 8:30pm and another at 10:30pm, and the $12 cover must be paid at the door. And on a side note, Wolper will be celebrating her birthday that night (even though it’s not really until Jan. 16). Ever the gentleman, I decided not to ask her age. When strong musical traditions merge across continental boundaries, beautiful things happen. A perfect example is Afrobeat — which blends African rhythms, jazz harmonies and funk attitude to create a soulful, high-energy atmosphere. And it’s not hard to argue that multi-instrumentalist Femi Kuti and The Positive Force remain the top suppliers of those particular jams. The son of activist and Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, Femi will lead his ensemble at Webster Hall, 125 E. 11th St. (btw. Third & Fourth Aves.) on Jan. 26, for an 8pm set. Tickets cost $30, and can be purchased in advance by visiting ticketmaster.com and searching for the artist or venue.
Only a handful of mid-century jazz icons are still going strong in the 21st century, and Ron Carter is certainly one of them. The 75-year-old bassist has become a veritable institution, gaining fame with Miles Davis’ second “great quintet” in the early 60s and subsequently appearing on thousands of albums, including dozens as a leader. What does this mean, you ask? It means that when the guy’s playing Downtown, you take out your wallet and get your ass there! Fortunately for us, Carter and his quartet — featuring pianist Renee Rosnes, drummer Payton Crossley and percussionist Rolando Morales-Matos — are playing every night from Feb. 5-10 at the Blue Note, 131 W. Third St. (btw. MacDougal St. & Sixth Ave.). They’ll perform two sets each night, one at 8pm and another at 10:30pm. Bar seating is $20 per person, while each table seat costs $35 — but remember, only table seats can be purchased in advance! For tickets, visit bluenotejazz.com. I always like to include at least one player whose musical experience spans the oft-crossed gap between jazz and classical. This winter, Argentinean pianist Fernando Otero is a great choice in that regard — not just because of his worthy skills, but because his March 2 concert at 92Y Tribeca celebrates the release of his new album, “Romance,” which features 11 tunes written by Otero and performed by a nine-piece group that includes strings and vocals. The pianist’s rich compositions are characterized by a sense of tonal exploration that shifts between tender, flowing melodies and dense counterpoint. The gig will be played at 92Y Tribeca’s Mainstage, at 200 Hudson St. (btw. Vestry & Desbrosses Sts.) at 9pm, and tickets cost $12. To purchase in advance, visit 92y.org/tribeca. INDIE We find another record release taking place over in West Village, this one for lo-fi rockers Ducktails, whose new album “The Flower Lane” will be performed in its entirety. Led by singer/guitarist Matt Mondanile, Ducktails has morphed over the years from a solo project into a more adventurous, full band effort. That should be especially apparent on the new album, which features more diverse instrumentation, like synths and saxes, along with laid back tunes that are less hipster and more head nod. You can catch the release show at Le Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleecker St. (btw. Sullivan & Thompson Sts.) on Jan. 23, starting at 8:30pm. Tickets cost $12 in advance and $15 at the door, and can be purchased online at lepoissonrouge.com.
Scandinavian people are just nicer than Americans! I learned this firsthand in 2011, when, while working for a different rag, I went to Oslo, Norway to interview a jazz-turned-electro-pop trio named Pelbo. And now, you can have the treat of seeing Urban Cone, a group of forward-thinking Swedes — vocalist Rasmus Flyckt, keyboardist Jacob Sjöberg, guitarist Tim Formgren, bassist Emil Gustafsson and drummer Magnus Folkö (they have better names, too) — when they hit up The Mercury Lounge, 217 E. Houston St. (btw. Ludlow & Essex Sts.) on Jan. 24. The five-piece has a tight, electronic sound that packs an aggressive punch without ever getting cheesy, with steady rock beats holding it all together. After Ski Lodge opens the show at 6:30pm, Urban Cone will take the stage at 7:30pm. Tickets cost $12, and can be purchased in advance at mercuryloungenyc.com.
Although you’ll generally find me in the jazz bars these days, my time as a suburban youth was mainly spent listening to the kind of post-punk/alt-rock/whatever that all the kids were digging around the turn of the millennium — and that’s the kind of throwback feeling I get while hearing Balance and Composure. So if you’re up for some distortion, edgy vocals and moody songwriting, check those guys out on Feb. 24 for their set at Bowery Ballroom, 6 Delancey St. (btw. Bowery & Chrystie St.). The show starts at 8pm, and also features opening acts The Jealous Sound and Daylight. Tickets cost $13 in advance and $15 at the door, and can be purchased online at boweryballroom.com. The Canadian five-piece Stars have certainly earned their continued presence on the indie scene over the past dozen years, with a sound that ranges from up-tempo, synth-laden jams to reserved chamber pop. They also released a new album of their own, “The North,” in September — so go check out how those new tunes sound live! Stars will perform with opener Milo Greene on both Mar. 8 and 9 at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, 66 N. Sixth St., Brooklyn (btw. Kent & Wythe Aves.). The show starts at 9pm, and tickets cost $25. To purchase online, visit musichallofwilliamsburg.com. That’s that! And on a more serious note — since I haven’t been around the arts section in a while — I think it’s worth mentioning that, even though they may not have all sustained physical damage, the vast majority of Downtown arts venues did take a serious financial hit as a result of Hurricane Sandy. The storm took place over two months ago, and those in Manhattan — unlike, sadly, some other affected areas — are by this point finishing the recovery process and moving on with their lives. Let’s not forget that, as true music fans, this is a time at which we should be really, really, really focused on supporting our local sources of live entertainment. As they reemerge, we need to be there. So whether it’s the venues I’ve listed above, or your own favorite hole in the wall, go check out a show soon. Buy a few drinks. Tip the bartender — and imagine how awful it would be if the world’s hippest scene didn’t exist right outside your door. In the meantime, happy listening! Stay warm! If you have any questions, suggestions or hidden secrets about sweet shows on and under the Downtown radar, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.