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Avant-garde, acoustic, other sounds make the coming months rock and swing
BY SAM SPOKONY | Whenever the seasons change, it’s like I’m seeing everything for the first time…again. Yes, maybe I could chalk that up to some rapid diminishment of long-term memory — a possible result of all those things I may or may not have done during high school and college — but I’d rather try to see something a little more uplifting there. Maybe it’s nice to have that feeling of a little rebirth of the consciousness every few months. It can remind us of the importance of spontaneous discovery and rediscovery.
Anyway, we’re here to talk about music. Yes! This year, spring and summer (along with those long-awaited rays, warm breezes, etc.) bring great improvisers and musical performers to that wonderful portion of Manhattan below 14th Street, with something for everyone and, I would think, someone for everything. The question is, “What do you want to explore? And what sounds do you feel like revisiting? It’s moments like these when I think, you know, maybe it’s not so bad to live amid the perpetual drone of city life and all its politicized, corporatized mayhem — because even when the absurdity seems too much to bear, when you just can’t seem to find any semblance of understanding, you can just head Downtown and find all the right vibes. And you know you’re in the right place…again.
I’d like to begin with an exciting Thursday night series that began in April at Drom (85 Avenue A, btw. Fifth & Sixth Sts.), and which includes one show every month through August. It’s the intriguingly titled “Music and Architecture Series,” curated by the equally intriguing Cuban-born pianist Aruán Ortiz — who has already done enough solid work composing and performing with his own quartet to make this a must-see for all our experimentally inclined listeners. According to Revive Music, the forward-thinking jazz collective that’s sponsoring the series, these concerts “intend to narrate different concepts and ritualism behind ancient architectures, deconstructing their forms, shapes and textures.” Sounds good enough for me. Each gig has its own distinct subtitle — so check out “Reflections as a Reality” on June 20, “A Piece Within a Piece” on July 18, and “The Alchemist and His Sacred Family” on August 29. All concerts start at 9:45pm. Tickets cost $10 in advance, and $15 at the door. To purchase, visit dromnyc.com.
Few cats indeed have been able to match saxophonist Joe Lovano’s ability to channel the roots of swing and bop while also helping to drive the free-thinking expression of 21st-century performance. Dig Mr. Lovano at the Village Vanguard (178 Seventh Ave. South, just below W. 11th St.), where he’ll be joined by his nonet from May 28 to June 2. This incarnation of the nonet will comprise almost exactly the same personnel (including baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan and pianist James Weidman) as those featured his brilliant 2006 album “Streams of Expression,” and, happily, Lovano and company will be rehashing tunes from that record throughout their six-night stand. You’ll have a choice between two sets each night, at 8:30 and 10:30pm, and tickets cost $25. To purchase, visit villagevanguard.com.
For those of you who’d rather take your avant-garde jazz with a healthy spoonful of soulfully foot-stomping church music, I would of course recommend clarinetist/saxophonist Don Byron and his New Gospel Quintet. The group’s first album, “Love, Peace and Soul,” which came out a little over a year ago, was rightly praised for its depth of exploration into the gospel idiom, along with Byron’s typically vibrant playing. Catch the quintet at 92YTribeca (200 Hudson St., just below Canal St.) on Wed., June 12, where they’ll be the featured act for a live presentation of WBGO 88.3 FM’s award-winning radio show, “The Checkout.” The show, which also includes opening act The Bridge Trio, begins at 8pm, and tickets cost $12. To purchase, visit 92y.org/tribeca. On an unfortunate side note, this will be one of the final events staged at the 92Y’s Tribeca location, as it’ll be closing later in June. From that point on, all 92Y events will take place at the organization’s Upper East Side headquarters, at 1395 Lexington Ave.
Aside from the fact that I’ve always found him to be a generally insightful guy, saxophonist/flutist Ras Moshe represents an important element of the New York music scene — that which, in essence, refuses to compromise, remaining true to a very spiritually introspective core of freely improvised music. The ghosts of people like Albert Ayler and Pharoah Sanders truly do live on, and you’ll usually find them floating through the air at Ras Moshe gig (the sound of which, while certainly not for squares, can send us on some of our most incredibly powerful aural journeys). Moshe plays at the Downtown Music Gallery (13 Monroe St., btw. Catherine & Market Sts.) at 6pm on July 7, alongside vocalist Kyoko Kitamura, guitarist Anders Nilsson and bassist Shayna Dulberger. And there’s no cost to enter!
The Thermals are a real throwback for me, if you’ll allow a 23-year-old to use that expression. Their haphazardly titled 2004 album “Fuckin A” was an integral part of my high school playlist. Now, a decade later, the post-punk trio is still going strong. Just last month, they released “Desperate Ground,” an album which is a self-described “brash and irresponsible ode to human violence.” You’ll probably hear plenty of those new tunes, full of punchy beats and urgent lyrics, during their back-to-back dates at the Bowery Ballroom (6 Delancey St., btw. Bowery & Chrystie St.) on May 28 and 29. Both shows, which also feature Screaming Females as the opening act, start at 9pm. Tickets cost $16 in advance and $18 at the door. To purchase, visit boweryballroom.com.
Some bands these days need all the production technology money can buy in order to sound bigger and more affecting — but the duo of Death From Above 1979 have made a career out of turning bass, drums and a well-place synth into a colossal wall of sound. Whether you want to call them alt-rock, noise rock, electro-dance-punk or whatever else comes to mind, Jesse Keeler and Sebastien Grainger probably represent the best thing to come out of Canada since ice hockey. When this band broke up in 2006, I remember being heartbroken — not least of all because I’d just that week bought a super sweet band tee-shirt — but when they decided to reunite a couple of years ago, all was quickly forgiven. Check them out at Irving Plaza (17 Irving Pl., at E. 15th St.) on Fri., June 7, at 11pm. Tickets cost $32. To purchase, visitvenue.irvingplaza.com.
I always like to include a little something for those acoustic singer/songwriter fans out there. With that in mind, I’ll introduce you to Maya Isacowitz, whose voice is very much the equal to her radiant beauty — which is to say that they both rank quite highly in my (rather self-professedly) esteemed opinion. Ms. Isacowitz first made a name for herself while performing throughout Israel, the country in which she was raised, and is now rightfully spreading her sphere of influence overseas, with sensitive guitar work, wonderfully penned tunes and a very balanced, low-key vibe. You can catch her at SubCulture (45 Bleecker St., btw. Mott & Mulberry Sts.) on Wed., June 26. The show starts at 7:30pm, and tickets cost $12. To purchase, visitsubculturenewyork.com.
Now, if you’re looking for a real throwback — and this one actually goes way back, far beyond that happy accident that was my birth — I would suggest donning your best rude boy outfit and heading down to see those living legends of ska and rocksteady, those inimitable Brits, The Specials. Yes, it’s been a while, and the current lineup certainly doesn’t include all of the group’s original personnel. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth giving a nod to one of the hippest socio-politically minded bands to ever hit the stage. The performance I’ll now direct your attention to represents a particularly special chance to see these guys live, because it’ll be an outdoor gig at Pier 26 in Hudson River Park (located off of West St., btw. Hubert & N. Moore Sts.). The Wed., July 17 show starts at 6pm, and tickets cost $35 in advance and $40 on the day of the show. To purchase, visit bowerypresents.com.
Happy listening, and enjoy the weather! If you have any suggestions or hidden secrets about sweet shows on and under the Downtown radar, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.