Brooklyn Rail Highly Selective Music Events
December 2016 - January 2017
By the Editors
Early winter is the time for three of the best festivals for contemporary and forward looking music. As packed as your schedule may be, make time for some of each of these:
- Prototype: Opera/Theatre/Now, January 5 - 15. Probably the best concentrated does you can get of contemporary (and in-progress) music drama in America. The fifth Prototype festival will include the world premiere of Mata Hari, from composer Matt Marks and librettist Paul Peers (opens January 5 at HERE); and the local premieres of Missy Mazzoli’s opera adaptation of the Lars von Trier film Breaking the Waves (opens January 6 at the Skirball Center), and of an intriguing collaboration between Liturgy frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix and M. Lamar, Funeral Doom Spiritual (January 13 and 14 at National Sawdust).
- 2017 NYC Winter Jazzfest, January 5 - 10. With everything from hot music to the most cutting edge thinking in free, funk, and hip hop inflected improvisation, the Winter Jazzfest is dense with exhilarating music. The centerpiece is the two-night Marathon, January 5 and 6, with music into the wee small hours of the morning at about a dozen stages in and around the Village. Additional special events include a January 5 opener from Pharoah Sanders, Shabaka and the Ancestors, and more at (le) poisson rouge; a Thelonious Monk birthday celebration on January 8; and Ben Goldberg, festival Arist-in-Residence Andrew Cyrille, and others joining folk musician Sam Amidon (January 9). Closing the festival will be Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra. Rousing takes on #BLACKLIVESMATTER will weave their way through every event.
- Ecstatic Music Festival, January 9 - May 13. Less hectic but no less essential. The Ecstatic Music Festival is a look into turning the amorphous concept of indie-classical into an actual thing. After the opening Merkin Hall concert from the Bang on a Can All-Stars, the festival brings together the likes of San Fermin and NOW Ensemble (January 25); brilliant young jazz trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, rapper Kool A.D., and the Mivos Quartet (February 18); and the Kronos Quartet with youth new music ensemble Face the Music (March 7).
- 2017 Zlatne Uste Golden Festival at Grand Prospect Hall. For two days in the middle of January (13 - 14), enjoy the irresistible sounds of Balkan and Roma music on four different stages. Since this is at the amazing Grand Prospect Hall, there’ll be plenty of dancing, snacking, and of course boozing. Reliable sources tell us this is a phenomenal blast.
- December 7: Pourt Bou at White Box NY. The return of Elliott Sharp’s opera about not the last days, but the very last moments in the life of Walter Benjamin. What holds and stops the mind when the Nazis occupy France? There’s no better time to find out.
- December 7: Ultimate Painting at Bowery Ballroom. The duo of Jack Cooper and James Hoare is touring in support of its third record, Dusk, out in September on Trouble in Mind. The album moves along in an insistent sleepy choogle reminiscent of Yo La Tengo, a subtle sound rich with deceptive melody.
- December 7 - 9: Roots n’ Ruckus Fest at Jalopy. Hosted by local leading light Feral Foster, Roots n’ Ruckus is a weekly roots music variety showcase. For the festival, Jalopy opens its doors for free for three days of Spirit Family Reunion, Hubby Jenkins, Crushed Out, and old time music from blues, klezmer, to the Balkans. Again, no cover, but please do tip the musicians.
- December 8: Interpretations Series at Roulette. This new music series is always full of well-balanced pairings of music both in and out of the extremes of the classical tradition. For this concert they are bringing back the great pianist Reinier van Houdt, with a rare performance of Robert Ashley’s Maneuvers for Small Hands, in the company of a monodrama about voodoo, murder, and revenger, performed by Brian Schober and Joan Ross Sorkin.
- December 9: David Virelles CD release at (le) poisson rouge. Virelles is a rare bird, a pianist who can put together free exploration with exacting rhythms and phrases of latin jazz. This release date is for an EP on ECM, Antenna, that is a mysterious and exciting combination of electronic collage, beats you hear from passing cars on upper Broadway, and tremendous acoustic improvisations. Virelles is doing something no one has ever dreamed of before.
- December 9, 10, and 16: Sara Serpa. Serpa is one of the most interesting vocalists on the jazz scene; with her delicate, cooly precise voice she expresses everything from standards to boss nova to wordless improvisation with intelligence and musicality. On December 9 and 10, she’ll be in duo with the great pianist and composer Ran Blake, at Kitano, then on the 16th you can catch her at Shapeshifter Lab, with the exciting line up of singers Aubrey Johnson and Sofia Rei, her frequent musical partner, guitarist André Matos, cellist Erik Friedlander, and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. That program is an eight-movement suite by Serpa, setting the writing of philosopher Luce Irigaray.
- December 10: Steve Reich Celebration at National Sawdust. Something of a new music dream come true: not only will Mantra Percussion play Reich’s seminal masterpiece, Drumming, but they will perform Ghanaian drumming music with master drummer Gideon Alorwoyie, a chance to actually hear the music that became an essential part of Reich’s minimalist conception. Only the World Music Institute would put on this kind of show.
- December 14: Floordoor Records and Already Dead Tapes benefit show at C’mon Everybody. Already Dead Tapes is one of our favorite record labels, putting out choice post-punk and post-electronica, and they are partnering with Floordoor Records for a benefit for New Alternatives for Homeless LGBT Youth in Brooklyn. All proceeds from the all queer lineup will go to New Alternatives, so the music will be a double satisfaction. You can also pick up the new cassette jointly released by the labels, Enhanced Touch: Caress, Redact Remixes.
- December 14: Ava Luna and Sarah Kinlaw at Shea Stadium. Sarah Kinlaw’s band SOFTSPOT releases its latest record, Clearing, in February. On lead single “Abalone,” Kinlaw’s voice recalls Kate Bush, while Blaze Beteh’s drums add a driving element to the lush atmosphere. Kinlaw plays a solo show in support of Rail favorite Ava Luna, neither funk nor pop nor rock nor boring.
- December 15: Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Guitarist Halvorson’s latest project, Code Girl, features the vocals of Amirtha Kidambi—whose record Elder Ones is a highlight of 2016—as well as Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet, Michael Formanek on bass, and Tomas Fujiwara on drums. Halvorson will discuss the project and the band will perform. The event is free.
- December 15 - 16: Rez Abbasi’s Unfiltered Universe at the Asia Society. Guitarist Abbasi’s restless thoughtfulness has made his discography both fascinating and frustrating, full of both amazing tracks and dead-ends, but live everything he does comes into focus. At the Asia Society, he’ll be debuting his new long-form work, part of his own larger scale exploration of jazz and South Asian musical traditions, and the band is a killer: Vijay Iyer, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Johannes Weidenmuller, Dan Weiss, and Elizabeth Means.
- December 18: Young Thug at Terminal 5. The Atlanta rapper has collaborated with Birdman, Rich Homie Quan, Waka Flocka Flame, and Gucci Mane, the latter with a notable verse on 2014’s “Shooting Star.” What fellow Atlantans Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff in Migos bring to the table in inventive irreverence, Young Thug matches in near-sensual melodic sensibility.
- December 21: Phill Niblock’s Winter Solstice. Spend six hours of the darkest day of the year in the company of music and film by Phill Niblock, in this annual solstice event at Roulette.
- December 28: Nathan Bowles at Terminal 5. North Carolina clawhammer banjo player Nathan Bowles, whose album Whole & Cloven on Paradise of Bachelors was a Rail pick for best of 2016, opens for Woods and Kurt Vile—an evening of music rich in the American folk tradition, without the nostalgia.
- December 31: Guided by Voices at Music Hall of Williamsburg. Few places on New Year’s Eve will be as boozy, raucous, windmilling, shit-kicking, or joyous as Music Hall of Williamsburg, where the enduring Bob Pollard will lead Guided by Voices in what is sure to be a mammoth set. What better cure for the Holiday blues than Bee Thousand’s “Kicker of Elves”?
- January 28: Priests at Brooklyn Night Bazaar. Priests are a punk band from DC who put out a record in 2014 titled Bodies and Control and Money and Power. They play at the Brooklyn Night Bazaar—in a new location at 150 Greenpoint Ave—on what is set to be the eighth day of the Trump presidency. Slogans and anger have a place.