Thursday, September 10, 2009

New Languages Festival: Two Weekends of Jazz in Brooklyn

New York's major summer jazz festival, the JVC Jazz Fest, was a no-show this year, thanks in part to recessionary concerns.

But the 17th annual Charlie Parker Jazz Festival came off as planned last month, with free-admission concerts by a lineup including saxophonist/flutist Gary Bartz, alto saxophonist Frank Wess, and pianist Cedar Walton.

Next up is the edgier New Languages Festival, the fifth annual edition of which will unfold over two weekends and six nights of triple-act bills at McCarren Hall in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

The fest is slated to open Thursday, Sept. 17, with a bill headlined by Darcy James Argue's Secret Society (pictured). Also playing: guitarist Joe Morris (Friday, Sept. 18), guitarist Brandon Ross (Saturday, Sept. 19), saxophonist Tim Berne, performing a rarely heard Julius Hemphill Suite (Friday, Sept. 25); and the Akoya Afrobeat Orchestra (Saturday, Sept. 26).

Tickets, $10 per night, are available at the door. DIRECTIONS

Below is the official press release and detailed schedule, courtesy of saxophonist Jackson Moore (Thursday, Sept. 24):


Once a year, the New Languages Festival attempts to provide a panoramic view of 21st century jazz in New York City. It was first held in 2005 at the Anthology Film Archives in Manhattan. Since then, it has thrived on the strength of its programming, which persistently keeps pace with the state of the art as it unfolds in the city. Featured artists have included Jonathan Finlayson, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Brandon Ross, Miles Okazaki, Darcy James Argue, Tony Malaby, Nate Wooley, Amir ElSaffar, Tyshawn Sorey, Taylor Ho Bynum, Mat Maneri, Steve Lehman, Eivind Opsvik, John Hebert, Judith Berkson, Dan Weiss, and numerous others.

We've been able to grow every year over the past five years due to our propensity for taking big risks, but also and especially due to the spectacular good faith of our colleagues and their dedication to making something happen. Despite a challenging fiscal environment, we're back for our biggest event yet, at our new home base in Williamsburg, the epicenter of millenial exuberance in New York City. The festival has become a shining example of how a DIY approach to music-making can push the envelope through good times and bad.

As the corporate music industry slowly shrivels and dies, jazz continues to be a wellspring of energy that musicians and listeners turn to for inspiration. New Languages aims to introduce it to a wider audience, in the belief that the risks and payoffs of improvised music make it the most compelling and entertaining music out there today.
"Communication can sometimes seem like a secondary concern in the adamantine ranks of jazz's avant-garde. But the proponents of new music do enjoy connecting with audiences, and occasionally manage to do so without compromise or contortion. That was the deceptively simple idea behind the New Languages Festival."
- Nate Chinen, The New York Times

"Not surprisingly, the Vision Festival has often been cast as an eccentrically gritty rejoinder to the JVC Jazz Festival...this year the Vision Festival has its own competition, the New Languages Festival."
- Ben Ratliff, The New York Times

"An annual gathering of outside-the-box players"
- The New Yorker

"free jazz is really a music of the '60s, whereas many performers featured here are offering something more futuristic...well worth your time"
Hank Shteamer, Time Out New York


Thursday September 17----

8:30 pm - Respect Sextet
Josh Rutner - Reeds, Radio, Toys
Eli Asher - Trumpet, Toys
James Hirschfeld - Trombone, Jamespectronics, Toys
Malcolm Kirby - Bass
Red Wierenga - Piano, Keyboard, Accordion, Redspectronics
Ted Poor - Drums
The Respect Sextet is a powerhouse ensemble. Relying on explosive energy, rare telepathy, outstanding musicianship and a deep friendship, Respect pieces together “a whirling collage,” shouts Exclaim! Magazine, "that ransacks and reshapes the entire jazz tradition, from New Orleans march to Misha Mengelberg, Sun Ra to Charlie Parker." Many dialectics are at work (and play) in Respect’s music, in which the serious, heady, and intellectual mingle with the light, comic, and absurd, where compositions alternate with improvisations, and where tight ensemble work coexists with loose, empathic interplay.

10 pm - Ty Cumbie: House of Mirrors
Ty Cumbie - Guitar
Jonathan Moritz - Saxophone
James Ilgenfritz - Bass
John McLellan - Drums

11:30 pm - Darcy James Argue: Secret Society
Vancouver-born, Brooklyn-based composer-bandleader Darcy James Argue directs Secret Society, a “powerful and well-stocked ensemble” (New York Times) featuring his “ambitious, sprawling, mesmerizing” music (Montreal Gazette). Secret Society is an 18-piece steampunk bigband that envisions an alternative musical history, one in which the dance orchestras that ruled the Swing Era never went extinct, but continued to evolve with the times, remaining a vital part of the musical landscape straight through the present day. Argue’s compositions bring together “a big, broad musical vocabulary” (New York Times), one which invokes “Duke Ellington and minimalism and Tortoise and Funkadelic and Elliott Carter and much else besides melding into one floating, shifting, dodging music” (

Secret Society includes powerful soloists like Ingrid Jensen (trumpet), Sam Sadigursky (saxophones), and Ryan Keberle (trombone), and is anchored by the “scarily good” ( rhythm section of Matt Clohesy (bass) and Jon Wikan (drums). The group headlined a night at the 2008 New Languages Festival, a performance All About Jazz called “the highlight of the evening.”

Friday September 18----

8:30 pm - Ben Gerstein: The Gates
Ben Gerstein - Trombone, Turntables
Jacob Garchik - Bass
Craig Taborn - Keyboard
Jacob Sacks - Keyboard
Dan Weiss - Drums
John McLellan - Drums
Trombonist and artist Ben Gerstein has lived in New York City for the sake of music and art since 1995. In addition to his regular contirubutions to others' musics and works, Gerstein has dedicated himself to realizing unique improvised events which differ and evolve based on the idiosyncrasies of moment, place, and personality.

10 pm - Nate Wooley & Joe Morris
Nate Wooley - Trumpet
Joe Morris - Guitar
Nate and Joe have a varied history together, mostly in Daniel Levin's quartet in which Joe played bass, but before that, they had begun working together in a duo that has only been seeing the light of day in this past year. Joe, playing acoustic guitar, is a revelation, finding a new expression for his already highly personal language. The interaction with Wooley is an interesting one, moving from intricate and brittle counterpoint to epic, yet quiet swells of pure noise. The only thing that can be predicted by these two improvisors is their consistent musical unpredictability. The duo recorded a beautiful CD at Roulette last year, which will come out on Clean Feed in early 2010.

11:30 pm - Mike Pride: from Bacteria to Boys
Darius Jones - Alto Saxophone
Alexis Marcello - Piano
Evan Lipson - Bass
Mike Pride - Drumset, Compositions

Mike Pride’s FROM BACTERIA TO BOYS features some of the most startling and beautiful new voices in modern jazz and blurs the lines between rhythmic modern-jazz, chant works, RnB (R. Kelly, mainly) and 20th/21st century classical music, all with an intensity and center of focus any one familiar with Pride’s music has come to expect.

“Mike Pride is the kind of musician that makes the current NYC underground so vital. He’s always challenging himself with new situations and breaking down barriers between different scenes, intermingling avant-rock, avant-jazz, free improv, and miscellaneous wackiness in a countless stream of projects.” - Michael Anton Parker, Downtown Music Gallery

Saturday September 19----

8:30 pm - Brandon Ross’s Natural Name
Brandon Ross - Guitar
Stomu Takeishi - Acoustic Bass Guitar
Elliot Humberto Kavee - Percussion

Guitarist, composer, singer, and songwriter Brandon Ross has shared his exceptional musical honesty and sensitivity with many visionary musicians over the years, including Cassandra Wilson, Henry Threadgill, Tony Williams, Muhal Richard Abrams, Don Byron, Graham Haynes, Sekou Sundiata, Bill Laswell, Zeena Parkins, Wadada Leo Smith, and many others. Ross plays banjo, electric, acoustic and soprano guitars to extend his expressive field into "folk" oriented musics and compositional approaches that communicate his dedication to fresh musical experience.

10:00 pm - The Bill McHenry Quintet
Bill McHenry - Tenor Saxophone
Andrew D'Angelo - Alto Saxophone
t.b.d. - Guitar
Ben Street - Bass
t.b.d. - Drums
Bill McHenry is a saxophonist, composer and bandleader. He is renowned for his free-wheeling melodicism, demostrated most recently on his newest CD "ROSES".

New York Times critic Ben Ratliff writes: "Any musician who works so effectively against a common language, and uses cliché so little in the process, is worth listening to. There are tons of young jazz saxophonists out there pursuing ideas of harmony and structure and rhythm, but he has something rare going for him. He has a sound. Mr. McHenry is a fresh new voice: He can play with un-orthodox structure and get as free as you want, but he maintains a ripe, lovely tone straight out of the 1950's. Lyrical is probably the most overused word in jazz criticism, but if anyone deserves the word, Mr. McHenry is the one."

11:30 pm - Jessica 6
Nomi Ruiz: Vocals
Morgan Wiley: Keyboards
Andrew Raposo: Bass
After their New York City debut earlier this year, Jessica 6 joins the New Languages festival fresh off of its first European tour. The group met while in the 2008 Hercules & Love Affair Tour, and have been hard at work in the studio cultivating a sound that is as dark as it is sexy, soulful and ready for the dance floor. In 2004, Morgan and Andrew began touring the world with DFA produced hip hip band Automato while Nomi released her debut album "Lost in Lust" and hit the road with Deborah Harry, Antony & the Johnsons and CocoRosie. It wasn't until the three shared the stage in 2008 that they discovered the synergy that inspired them to form Jessica 6.

Thursday September 24----

8:30 pm - Little Women
Travis Laplante - Tenor Saxophone
Darius Jones - Alto Saxophone
Andrew Smiley - Electric guitar
Jason Nazary - Drums
Brooklyn quartet Little Women formed two years ago to create music that blurs the line between structure and spontaneity. The group’s sound distilled from a broad range of influences that stretch from classic Chicago free jazz thru pop music, punk rock, math metal, and harsh noise. Little Women never stop pushing into new sonic territory: splitting overtones to create ghost notes, violently disassembling their instruments onstage, and attacking written and improvised material with equal ferocity. During performances band members often experience side-effects more commonly associated with prescription drugs such as nausea, dizziness, and internal bleeding. Little Women stomp all over genres, creating some of the most adventurous, in-the-moment, wrenchingly honest music of their generation.

10:00 pm - Pete Robbins, Mario Pavone, Tyshawn Sorey
Pete Robbins - Reeds
Mario Pavone - Bass
Tyshawn Sorey - Percussion
The Robbins/Pavone/Sorey trio unites three accomplished improviser-composers. Mario Pavone's years in Thomas Chapin's band and his critically-acclaimed releases as a leader make him one of the most important jazz bass voices of the last three decades. Tyshawn Sorey's work with Steve Coleman, Dave Douglas, Vijay Iyer, and others have opened the ears of appreciators of creative music and virtuosic drumming everywhere. Here, they join forces with Robbins, a young saxophonist/composer whose "Brooklyn prog-modern (post)jazz" endeavors blur the boundaries between mainstream and avant-garde jazz."

11:30 pm - Jackson Moore Septet
Jackson Moore - Saxophone
Russ Johnson - Trumpet
t.b.d. - Trombone
Christopher Tordini - Bass
Tommy Crane - Drums
Mike Pride - Drums
Dan Weiss - Drums

Inspired by organizations such as the Sun Ra Arkestra and the AACM, Jackson Moore has pursued a career outside the convential boundaries of the music industry. Over the years he has organized an anarchist community orchestra, recorded a songbook of radically antisymmetrical tunes, created a fully functional musical pidgin language, developed a compositional formalism based on natural language syntax, and organized the New Languages Festival, among other things.

In this performance the septet will striate the venue with rhythmic vectors that 'dye' the ligaments of subjective time. They will use swing to loft a temporal forcefield into the air that provides an omni-directional rhythm section landscape for the listener's imagination to solo over.

Friday September 25----

8:30 pm - Amir ElSaffar and Hafez Modirzadeh
Amir ElSaffar: Trumpet
Hafez Modirzadeh: Saxophone
A Destined Collaboration: Amir ElSaffar and Hafez Modirzadeh, whose musical careers are dedicated to expressing their ancestral traditions (Iraqi and Iranian, respectively) within a personalized and creative jazz language, have teamed together to articulate an unprecedented form of music.

ElSaffar is an accomplished jazz and classical trumpeter who put his New York career on hold to immerse himself in the music of his father's ancestral past, the Iraqi maqam. He went on a tremendous quest, traveling to Iraq, throughout the Middle East and to Europe pursuing masters who could impart to him this centuries-old oral tradition. He created new techniques for the trumpet that enable microtones and ornaments characteristic of Arabic music.

Hafez, based in the San Francisco Bay area and fifteen years Amir’s senior, spent years under the guidance of Iranian master musician, Mahmoud Zoufounoun, learning the Iranian counterpart to maqam, known as dastgah. By 1992, Hafez had developed his own "chromodal" approach to intercultural musical practice, which allows for the co-existence of multiple traditions within one cohesive system, and has since composed a large body of uncompromisingly original work that adapts Persian tuning into a variety of musical contexts.

For this performance, the duo will explore concepts that seek to expand the human spirit, including new and original material that weaves through the tonal spectra of maqam, dastgah, and other traditions.

10 pm - Taylor Ho Bynum and Abraham Gomez-Delgado: Positive Catastrophe
Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet, co-leader
Abraham Gomez-Delgado: percussion, voice, co-leader
Mark Taylor: french horn
Reut Regev: trombone
Jim Hobbs: alto sax
Matt Bauder: tenor & bari sax
Pete Fitzpatrick: guitar
Alvaro Benavides: bass
Tomas Fujiwara: drums

Positive Catastrophe, the brainchild of Taylor Ho Bynum and Abraham Gomez-Delgado, creates truly boundary-crossing music. Bynum has been described as “animated as a vintage Loony of the most exciting figures in jazz's new power generation” (Steve Dollar, Time Out Chicago). Gomez-Delgado has been called “the new century's mad scientist, creating a musical hybrid so seemingly wrong it can be nothing but right” (Global Rhythm Magazine). Together they have come up with Positive Catastrophe: a trans-idiomatic ten-piece little big band that connects the dots between Sun Ra and Eddie Palmieri. The group enlists a bevy exceptional players versed in multiple genres, in a unique instrumentation that hints at a traditional jazz and salsa big bands yet includes french horn, erhu, and rock guitar, and a pair of dramatic vocalists that are comfortable singing in three languages.

11:30 pm - Tim Berne: los totopos
Tim Berne - Reeds
Oscar Noriega - Clarinets
Ches Smith - Percussion
Matt Mitchell - Keyboards
Totopos will play a very rare Julius Hemphill suite as well as some recent music by Tim arranged for this occasion. This will be the premier performance for the group.

Saturday September 26----

8:30 pm - John Hollenbeck and Theo Bleckmann
John Hollenbeck - Drums
Theo Bleckmann - Voice
As a percussionist and composer, John Hollenbeck has spent his career challenging boundaries. Exceptionally creative and versatile, John has created a passionate musical language based on world rhythms, lyricism, and spirituality. Vocalist Theo Bleckmann has been forging a new sound for fifteen years, incorporating jazz, ambient and electronic music as well as performance art. He and Hollenbeck forge an ethereal bond born of a long track record of working together including their duo, which is captured on "static still" (gpe records) and Hollenbeck's "quartet Lucy" (CRI). Bleckmann is also a featured vocalist in Hollenbeck's two Large Ensemble recordings, including "a Blessing", which was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2006.

10 pm - Aaron Ali Shaikh, Michael Formanek, and Randy Peterson
Aaron Ali Shaikh - Alto Saxophone
Michael Formanek - Bass
Randy Peterson - Drums
Appearing for the fifth time in New York, this trio brings together two great veterans with one of the most original saxophone voices of the next generation. With each performance these improvisers probe deeper into the physical and emotional protoplasm that boils beneath all musical form. Shaikh is a recent graduate of the Jazz academic establishment and something of a renegade within the emerging improvising community, due to his singular musical personality. His music is influenced by microtonalism, early Jazz saxophone approaches, the Qawwalis of South Asia and modern improvisation styles. A Cleveland, OH native and the son of Sindhi (Pakistan) immigrant father and European-American mother, Shaikh is at the forefront of the new multi-culturalism emerging in American politics, academia and art.

11:30 pm - Akoya Afrobeat Ensemble
Fusing a mixture of African, Afro-Cuban, Jazz, and Funk music, Akoya Afrobeat is New York’s finest example of a musical melting pot. Featuring members from Panama, Ghana, Benin, South Africa, Japan and the US, this 13-piece ensemble embraces unity and positive vibrations. Armed with original music and an arsenal of songs by Afrobeat founder, Fela Kuti, Akoya consistently brings a new level of dance floor frenzy with every performance. The group features lead vocalist Kaleta, who for 10 years performed and recorded with the immortal Fela Kuti and Egypt 80. He has also toured with Femi Kuti as well as the legendary King Sunny Ade. His vocals, sung in Yoruba, Pidgin English and various Benin dialects, fused with driving horn lines and a precision-tight rhythm section, bring a sound so infectious one can’t help but dance.


Anonymous said...

Ben Gerstein's THE GATES lineup for Sept. 18th is listed incorrectly. Should be:

Ben Gerstein - trombone, turntables
Jacob Sacks, Craig Taborn - keyboard
Thomas Morgan, Eivind Opsvik - bass
Dan Weiss, John McLellan - drums
Jacob Garchik - computer, accordion

Philip Booth said...

Hi, thanks for reading.
That info came directly from the folks directing the fest. I'd be happy to update it. Please send an email directly to me at and ID yourself.