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5 jazz shows not to miss in NYC this year

The Comet is Coming at Mercury Lounge
The Comet Is Coming at Mercury Lounge in March (photo by P Squared)

Jazz often gets a reputation as an outdated form of music, one that musicians study in school but is no longer culturally relevant or producing exciting new artists with exciting new music. That is, of course, not the case at all, especially lately. The late 2010s have seen a real jazz renaissance happening in both North America and the UK, and it’s resulted in a lot of great music that you don’t have to be a jazz expert to appreciate. Rappers like Kendrick Lamar and Noname and electronic musicians like Flying Lotus, Thundercat, and Floating Points have incorporated modern jazz into their music and helped the jazz renaissance cross over into non-jazz circles, and some jazz musicians like Kamasi Washington and Robert Glasper have had massive crossover success themselves. The current jazz landscape is much wider than that, though. It’s seemingly endless.

If you’re looking to dive more into the current jazz renaissance, one of the best ways to do so is by experiencing it live. It can be an intimidating genre to dive into, but if you’re looking for some easy entry points, we’ve put together this list of five jazz musicians not to miss live this summer and fall. All of them are playing the NYC-area soon, and some have several other upcoming tour dates too. It’s just a small sample size, but if you’re looking for some live jazz to catch this summer, we strongly believe all five of these artists are unmissable.

Sons of Kemet
Sons of Kemet (photo by Pierrick Guidou)

SONS OF KEMET

UK afro-jazz ensemble Sons of Kemet is one of two groups on this list featuring the great saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, who is emerging as one of the clear leaders of modern-day UK jazz. Their great 2018 album Your Queen Is A Reptile worked in elements of dancehall and other Caribbean styles of music, as well as strong politics and a punk rock attitude, and it deservedly landed on a lot of year-end lists. They make very kinetic, physical music, the kind that’s often even more undeniable when you see it live. They’re coming to the US for the stacked Newport Jazz Festival, and they’ll also stop in Brooklyn for the Summer Series at Industry City. They play that series on August 6 with Irreversible Entanglements (a Philly/NYC/DC-based free jazz collective who count avant-rapper/poet Moor Mother as a member/co-founder). Tickets for the NYC show are on sale now. All Sons of Kemet dates and tickets here.

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The Comet Is Coming
The Comet is Coming (photo by Fabrice Bourgelle)

THE COMET IS COMING

The second of two groups on this list to feature Shabaka Hutchings is The Comet Is Coming. While Sons of Kemet make danceable, Afro and Caribbean-tinged jazz, The Comet Is Coming dive head-first into psychedelic space rock. Their excellent 2019 album Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery features a standout guest appearance by rapper/spoken word artist Kate Tempest, but Shabaka, keyboardist Dan Leavers, and drummer Max Hallett are the real stars. It’s a highly captivating, tripped-out album that blurs the lines between jazz, psychedelia, and rock, and — like Sons of Kemet — their live show is energetic and groovy. They’ve been touring all year and they’re returning to North America again this fall for a run of shows including Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg on October 1. All dates and tickets here.

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Makaya McCraven Universal Beings

MAKAYA MCCRAVEN

Like the aforementioned Sons of Kemet, drummer, producer, and beat scientist Makaya McCraven is playing the stacked Newport Jazz Festival and Brooklyn’s Summer Series at Industry City; his Industry City show is on August 16 with L’Rain. Also like Sons of Kemet, Makaya released a great 2018 album that landed on lots of non-jazz-centric publications’ year-end lists. Makaya cites hip hop/electronic producers like Madlib and Flying Lotus as influences, alongside jazz legends like Miles Davis, and his album, Universal Beings, sounds clearly inspired by both of those things. Shabaka Hutchings plays on it, along with a large variety of other guest musicians from Chicago, NYC, LA, and London, and Makaya’s strong vision ties it all together. He performed the album’s music with many of those guests in NYC and Chicago last year, and though his upcoming dates will probably see him joined by a smaller band, we suspect they’ll be just as electrifying. All dates and tickets here.

UPDATE: Makaya will also be back in NYC for BRIC JazzFest in October. Joel Ross (who plays on Universal Beings is playing it too.

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Kamasi Washington at The Apollo Theater
Kamasi at The Apollo in February (more by Ellen Qbertplaya)

KAMASI WASHINGTON

If you’re reading a list on modern jazz music, Kamasi Washington probably needs no introduction. He became arguably the biggest modern jazz star in the world in 2015 — the year he released The Epic on Brainfeeder and played on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly — and he’s only continued to release great, innovative, boundary-pushing music in the years since. He’s doing a tour with the legendary Herbie Hancock (whose current band includes frequent Kendrick Lamar collaborator Terrace Martin) this summer, and both Kamasi and Herbie are playing Newport Jazz Festival. Kamasi isn’t playing Herbie’s NYC show (8/1 at Beacon Theatre), but he does have two NYC-area shows of his own: Jersey City’s White Eagle Hall on 8/1 and Brooklyn’s Afropunk Festival (with Jill Scott, Tierra Whack, FKA twigs, Death Grips, Santigold, Danny Brown, Rico Nasty, Leikeli47, and more). All of his dates and tickets are here.

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Ben Williams
Ben Williams (photo by Lauren Desberg)

BEN WILLIAMS

Last but not least is DC bassist Ben Williams. He’s doing a “Ben Williams & Friends” summer residency at the Blue Note Jazz Club this year, with two shows a night every Monday in August. Like some of the other artists mentioned above, Ben Williams’ approach to jazz should resonate very strongly with hip hop fans. When he recorded an NPR Tiny Desk Concert in 2011, his bandmates jammed on J Dilla beats while they waited for him to arrive. His latest album, 2015’s Coming of Age, features guest rapper Wes Felton, and it also sounds a lot like the kind of laid-back instrumentals you could picture on a jazz-rap album. Both of his albums (which are on Concord Records) were recorded with saxophonist Marcus Strickland, who also dabbles in hip hop, and they both feature guest appearances by the great Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, who defies genre completely. Coming of Age may also attract some non-jazzheads with its “Smells Like Teen Spirit” cover, but it’s really Ben’s originals that steal the show. Besides the aforementioned Blue Note residency, his only other upcoming show at the moment is a holiday show in DC in December.

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