What a difference a year makes. As the summer solstice approached in 2022, most of us were still dragging through the final stages of the pandemic, wondering how it would end. There was a deep sense of lingering frustration, even disbelief, that more than two years after it began we still faced restrictions and fear of new variants. Suddenly, this summer, all that feels gone. The city is again teeming with life, with crowds eager to go out and get loose. Plans for shows of all stripes are back on, with music festival organizers in particular creating a full slate of programs, and performers more than ready to reunite with audiences. The concerts that are planned span the widest possible range, bringing alive the sounds that make New York a sonic mecca. Here are twenty-one free shows that offer a sense of unencumbered possibility and play.
For the last fifteen years, Tiny Desk Concerts on NPR have been a consistent source of soulful, well-realized music. The cluttered and confined space seems to bring the best out of many performers, adding a welcome intimacy. Hermanos Gutiérrez, founded by two Ecuadorian-Swiss brothers, played a gorgeous set on the program earlier this year, the simple percussion and big echoey guitar sound hanging nicely in the studio air. They play with this year’s Tiny Desk Contest winner, Little Moon (July 1, Prospect Park). Superstar vocalist Marisa Monte headlines a show devoted to Brazilian and Portuguese culture, from the fado-crossed-with-folk of Joana Amendoeira and Fred Martins to the interpolated samba of Music from the Sole, who incorporate tap into the tradition, drawing out underlying rhythms (July 2, Central Park). An intriguing gathering called Catalan Sounds on Tour brings a variety of artists from Barcelona and surrounding areas, led by singer Queralt Lahoz, her urban pop spiked with Andalusian influences (July 8, Central Park).
Skip Marley, grandson of Bob and son of Cedella, is reggae royalty, but has freely pushed out into other areas, extending his family legacy. He leads a show called Tuff Gong Takeover, featuring the current artists on that legendary label (July 9, Coney Island). Juanes is a Colombian artist with a huge following, who has spanned the classic cowboy sound of “La Camisa Negra” and contemporary pop confections. Opening is a trio of Mexican-American women from LA, Conexión Divina, offering a new take on Norteño music (July 12, Central Park). At the stage in the pandemic when live entertainment was just being presented again, I found some of my favorite refuge in watching contemporary dance. Just seeing bodies celebrated, instead of feared, felt hugely liberating. Philadelphia’s Rennie Harris and his troupe Puremovement Street Dance will bring that energy in abundance (July 13, Prospect Park).
Oumou Sangaré of Mali follows up her first headlining show at the Apollo from this past autumn with a return engagement to the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! festival. Sangaré has maintained her status as an important musical ambassador for decades; her dynamism and sheer vocal power are always mesmerizing (July 14, Prospect Park). Another voice of authority is Marcia Griffiths, original member of the I Threes, an essential vocal component of Bob Marley & The Wailers. She is also a longtime solo artist, whose “Feel Like Jumping” always resonates with pure joy (July 15, Prospect Park). Afro-Cuban dance troupe Oyu Oro performs an evening-length piece called CUBAILA, incorporating elements of rumba and salsa, chancletas and comparsa. Choreographer and founder Danys “La Mora” Pérez combines traditional and experimental elements to spread a message of empowerment (July 16, Lincoln Center).
Community orchestra The Chelsea Symphony, with guest soloist Lady Jess on violin, performs Max Richter’s reimagining of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, a great contemporary gloss on an already lovable piece. Opening is Colombian composer Lucrecia Dalt, creator of shimmering, otherworldly sounds (July 21, Prospect Park). DJ Rekha brings a large group of collaborators, including the electrifying Punjabi singer Malkit Singh and Indian-Soca crossover queen DJ Ana, to her signature Basement Bhangra rave-up. More than a quarter century on, Rekha always keeps the mix incredibly fresh and vibrant (July 23, Flushing Meadows). Mdou Moctar takes the desert blues of the Tuareg people in a new direction. Since his first recordings in Nigeria, Moctar has continued adding homegrown psychedelic elements to his sound. He is inventively paired with openers Meg Baird and Mary Lattimore, whose simple, open-ended jams resonate with expansive overtones (July 29, Central Park).
The Comet is Coming, led by British saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, lives up to the cosmic portent of its name, using a rolling groove to launch into free exploration. Opening are the French Afro-Cuban Diaz sisters called Ibeyi, combining big beats with Yoruba echoes (August 2, Central Park). Covering multiple stages on the Lincoln Center campus, globalFEST really shows what a powerhouse New York is in presenting music from around the world. The performers range from the amped Afropop of Kinshasa’s Jupiter & Okwess to the homegrown glories of the always enlightening Brooklyn Raga Massive (August 5, Lincoln Center). VP Records traces its distinguished history of presenting Jamaican music to a little shop in Queens, which gave birth to the label of Barrington Levy, Cutty Ranks, and scores of others. Vincent and Patricia Chin took what they developed at Randy’s Records in Kingston to become one of the premier presenters of reggae and its several offshoots, and a truly exemplary independent label (August 12, Central Park).
Las Cafeteras, a Chicano band from East LA, fuses traditional son jarocho music with an exuberant folk groove. Opener Natu Camara plays often around town, and her Harlem-via-Guinea style always enchants (August 13, Staten Island). Jason Moran plays in so many brilliant contexts; last year, he and Archie Shepp practically stole the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival. Here he plays with his large group, The Big Bandwagon, to celebrate the music and lives of James Reese Europe and the Harlem Hellfighters, early jazz pioneers who also fought in France as part of a Black regiment in World War I (August 18, Marcus Garvey Park). Everyday People is a long-running party with a positive, inclusive vibe. They pair here with the venerable Works & Process series to present Ladies of Hip-Hop, an intergenerational dance collective (August 20, Central Park).
The Head and the Heart bring a low-key sense of humor to their lush folk-pop (August 24, Prospect Park). The Charlie Parker Jazz Festival closes out the summer with another great uptown-downtown split: first in Harlem, with the continuing adventures of The Cookers, an ensemble of highly esteemed players whose collective experience only deepens their sound; then in the East Village, with the mighty Charles McPherson, who first made his name with Charles Mingus and continues to play with astonishing lyricism, leading the way (August 26, Marcus Garvey Park; August 27, Tompkins Square Park).
This is just a small sampling of the music on offer this summer, and doesn’t even get to some presenters, like the indispensable Jazzmobile, which doesn’t release its seasonal schedule far enough in advance to be included here. But if you feel, as they used to say at the Lone Star Cafe, that too much is never enough, this packed-up season should suit your agenda nicely. It’s already on mine.