Philly Jazz Guide: Top picks for live music around town in March - WXPN
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Dave Burrell | courtesy of the artist

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the great pianist Marilyn Crispell, during the course of which we both lamented the fact that the NE Philly native hadn’t played a show in her hometown in far too long. Looking back over her far too few local appearances in recent years, I recalled that her gorgeous 2002 solo piano concert at Penn’s Houston Hall had been my first experience with Ars Nova Workshop, just weeks after moving back to the east coast (and as it happens, a quick Google search reveals, on my 28th birthday).

It’s hard to recall a time when Ars Nova wasn’t a fixture in my musical life; over the last 17 years I’ve covered countless shows, heard more than my fair share of indelible moments, and watched as ANW has launched a world-class festival and grown into an integral part of Philly’s sonic landscape. 19 years and more than 700 events since Mark Christman founded the organization, Ars Nova is hosting its first-ever fundraiser on March 6 at Space & Company. The guest of honor for the evening will be the powerhouse pianist Dave Burrell, a longtime friend of ANW and an artist who brings a history-spanning knowledge of the music to every elegant sweep and violent percussive attack of the keyboard. There simply is no worthier cause for Philly music lovers with a taste for the adventurous and daring. [TIX / INFO]

For evidence of that fact, just look to the rest of Ars Nova’s offerings for the month: on March 8, guitarist Julian Lage and his trio will back That Dog singer (and daughter of groundbreaking bassist Charlie Haden) Petra Haden on a set of songs penned by iconoclastic composer John Zorn and lyricist Jesse Harris at the Ruba Club; on March 24, Boredoms drummer/vocalist YoshimiO, boundary-defying percussionist Susie Ibarra and synth master Robert Aiki Aubrey will present the local premiere of the transcendent Yunohana Variations at Johnny Brenda’s; and guitarist Mike Baggetta will take the same stage leading an eclectic trio featuring drummer Stephen Hodges and the legendary Mike Watt of Minutemen on bass. [TIX / INFO]

While we’re reminiscing, it’s been just over ten years since guitarist Matt Davis embarked on his ambitious, year-long project “City of Philadelphia, 2008.” Over the course of that year Davis composed new music each month for his chamber-jazz ensemble Aerial Photograph, each suite focusing on a different segment of the city’s population from immigrants to children to the homeless. Since then the guitarist made the move to NYC and undertook a similar challenge there. On March 1 he’s coming back with the 10-piece Aerial Photograph to celebrate the band’s latest release, Big Family, at The Rotunda. [TIX / INFO]

Another Philly institution, Jay Schwartz’s Secret Cinema, offers local jazz fans a treat for the eyes as well as the ears at Fleisher Art Memorial on March 8 with a program of “Jazz & Swing Rarities.” The follow-up to a similar screening that took place a full decade ago (I’m starting to feel some déjà vu coming on), the program will consist of entirely new material featuring vintage Hollywood showcases for such bygone greats as Artie Shaw, Nat “King” Cole, Buddy Rich, Noble Sissle, and Anita O’Day. [TIX / INFO]

NYC-based trumpeter Steph Richards takes an expansive view of her horn’s possibilities, modifying the instrument at times to provide an even wider and stranger palette of sounds to create her evocative, layered music. She’ll bring that ingenious arsenal to The Rotunda on March 4 along with pianist James Carney, bassist Sam Minaie and drummer Andrew Munsey, the quartet that recorded her audacious new album, Take the Neon Lights. [TIX / INFO]

The black leather and neon look of Connie Han’s latest album, Crime Zone, suggests something sleek and synthesized, but the L.A. pianist practices a decidedly more organic and smoldering style that leapfrogs West Coast fusion to land squarely in a post-bop lineage that would have felt at home on the Monterey stage at nearly any point in the fest’s history. The 23-year old will show off her robust, swinging sound at Matt Yaple’s listening room @exuberance (click here for an invite) backed by the rhythm section of bassist Ivan Taylor (a Ron Carter student) and her mentor, veteran producer and drummer Bill Wysaske.

For more of a trip into the future, head to The Foundry on March 20 to catch The Comet Is Coming, whose prophetic name captures the otherworldly trappings of their music. The British trio is heading to the U.S. for the first time on the heels of the release of Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery, another title that reflects the cosmic spiritualism they share with the likes of Sun Ra and their predecessors on Impulse! like John and Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders. Under his other name, Shabaka Hutchings, saxophonist King Shabaka has stirred up the contemporary jazz scene as the founder of Sons of Kemet and Shabaka and the Ancestors; here, he’s joined by synth player Danalogue (Dan Leavers) and drummer Betamax (Max Hallett), whose pseudonyms hint at the band’s retro-futuristic vibe. [TIX / INFO]

The Monterey Jazz Festival celebrated its 60th anniversary with last fall’s event, and the celebration continues with an all-star band taking the festival’s show on the road. This fifth incarnation of the ensemble is fronted by the brilliant, boundary-stretching vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, ably accompanied by trumpeter Bria Skonberg, stellar saxophonist Melissa Aldana, rising piano star Christian Sands, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, and soulful drummer/vocalist Jamison Ross. Expect a mix of the classic and the current when the show rolls into the Kimmel Center on March 23. [TIX / INFO]

Also offering some links to the past during this packed month: saxophone scion Ravi Coltrane will play Chris Jazz Café on March 2 and 3 with the brilliant guitarist David Gilmore; the club will stay open that Sunday especially for the occasion, making a long weekend kicked off by another tenor virtuoso, Don Braden, on Friday. [TIX / INFO] Then over at South the following weekend, crooner Allan Harris will pay homage to Nat “King” Cole for four sets on March 8 and 9. Following his unexpected tribute to the grittier Eddie Jefferson on his latest album, the show marks a return to the baritone’s romantic wheelhouse. [TIX / INFO]

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