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Rock On: This Summer’s Must-See Music Festivals in NYC

Northside

June 6–12

For eight years now, the folks behind Brooklyn Magazine have staged a North Brooklyn–centric SXSW-style festival, with hundreds of bands playing various venues scattered throughout Williamsburg and its neighbors. McCarren Park is the epicenter of the melee, with four nights of outdoor shows. A newly reunited Wolf Parade kick things off on June 9, followed by Grandmaster Flash the next night. On Saturday, Conor Oberst, Kacey Musgraves, and the Felice Brothers turn the park into an alt-country meadow. The good vibes continue Sunday, when Brian Wilson performs Pet Sounds in its entirety after an opening set by Spanish rockers Hinds. But staying there all weekend would be a mistake, because the offsites are just as good: There’s Colleen Green’s late show at Baby’s All Right and DAWN at Market Hotel (both Friday); Saturday’s bonkers Pitchfork showcase at Saint Vitus, featuring Lotic, Rabit, Marshstepper, and Priests; and Grouper’s two sets the same day, at National Sawdust, where the stunning acoustics will do rare justice to Liz Harris’s rich aural landscapes. On the quirkier end of the spectrum, there’s a spin class on June 11 soundtracked live by artists from Brooklyn’s Godmode Records, and for vinyl nerds, the 33 ? book series hosts Frankie Cosmos, Ava Luna, and Deradoorian at Rough Trade to cover (respectively) Liz Phair, Serge Gainsbourg, and Black Sabbath. Various Brooklyn locations — Lindsey Rhoades

4Knots

July 9

As the patron saint of Midwest lo-fi, Robert Pollard, now nearing sixty, has helmed Guided by Voices for three decades, releasing over twenty LPs brimming with short, irreverent ditties indebted to pop, garage, psych rock, and punk. With bits of bizarre noise and lots of tape hiss, GBV challenged the way a rock recording should sound, but Pollard’s unpredictable whims and the perpetually rotating lineup made official tours few and far between. That makes their headlining slot guiding the Voice‘s own 4Knots Festival, which returns this year to South Street Seaport, even more exciting. Pollard has a younger counterpart of sorts in Will Toledo, who plays earlier in the day as Car Seat Headrest. His earnest, devotedly DIY solo project has already produced two albums less than a year after signing with Matador, culled from his huge catalog of home recordings. The rest of this year’s lineup expands into new genres for the festival, from Canadian alt-country (the Strumbellas) to cerebral Detroit postpunk (Protomartyr), Pro Era–affiliated hip-hop (Kirk Knight), heady electronica (Bayonne), and acoustic folk punk (Girlpool). Along with the move back to the Seaport comes another welcome change: a reduction of admission back to zero, one of the best festival deals in town. South Street Seaport, 199 Water Street — L.R.

Out in the Streets

July 16–17

Four years ago, after getting a start in 2009 as an offshoot of Make Music New York, a collective of punk-loving show promoters brought a scrappy festival to one of the city’s most bucolic settings: the Vander Ende-Onderdonk House, in Ridgewood, Queens. Originally built in 1661, it’s the oldest Dutch Colonial farmhouse in New York City, sitting just off Flushing Avenue on two grassy acres with gorgeous views of the skyline. If the venue seems out of place for the slew of indie and garage acts sure to shatter its stately veneer (included in the lineup: the So So Glos, Frankie Rose, Potty Mouth, TEEN, Guerilla Toss, Future Punx, the Teen Age), rest assured that OITS is dedicated to its hyper-local Bushwick/Ridgewood focus, right down to the food vendors, art installations, and flea market that accompany the music. Vander Ende-Onderdonk House, 1820 Flushing Avenue, Queens — L.R.

Panorama

July 22–24

It seemed like Governors Ball had the lock on throwing festivals on that oft-forgotten patch of land between East Harlem and Astoria, but the folks who brought Coachella to SoCal and the New Orleans Jazz Festival to, um, New Orleans are jumping into the festival fray with Panorama. There’s no shortage of summer blockbusters, sure, but there’s also no shortage of great music to bring to fans. Headliners here include Arcade Fire, Kendrick Lamar, and LCD Soundsystem, all well-accustomed to making their shows work for big outdoor crowds. But as with any festival, looking farther down on the poster yields a gold mine. Friday (call out from work!) hosts endearing Snapchat king DJ Khaled and the commanding multidisciplinarian FKA twigs, whose alternately heavenly and heavy music anchors her incredible dancing. Saturday includes fast-rising producer/DJ Kaytranada, the toast of, well, everyone, and Anderson Paak, a riveting rapper who blends soul with hip-hop and will without a doubt join Kaytranada during the latter’s set. (He appeared on Kay’s debut earlier this year.) Finishing out the mid-pack highlights Sunday are White Lung, a Canadian trio who play punk with an ear for metal, and everyone’s favorite 42-year-old-dads-who-DGAF rap duo, Run the Jewels. Randalls Island Park — Zoe Leverant

Charlie Parker

August 26–28

If you walked by 151 Avenue B in 1953, there’s a decent chance you’d bump into the guy who conceived bebop. Charlie Parker was an East Village family man back then, and, much like us stressed-out mortals, he enjoyed Tompkins Square Park as an oasis from urban pressure. Now that patch of green is home to the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, a gathering of talent inspired by the icon’s indelible impact. Over its 24 years the festival has grown from an afternoon affair into a weekend’s worth of music, with Marcus Garvey Park added as a second site. (Bird spent as much time blowing with his buds in Harlem haunts as he did hanging out downtown.) It’s a particularly casual summer outing: The stages are close to the audience, the intimacy enhances the music, and informality rules. This year’s programming is, as always, sharp as a reed. There’s a Friday-night show with Jason Lindner’s strings-enhanced Breeding Ground outfit, a Sunday affair that puts Donny McCaslin’s fierce tenor sax in the spotlight, and of course the headliners: 90-year-old Randy Weston uses a motherland pulse to create utterly captivating music with his African Rhythms ensemble on August 27, and the new hook-up of Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, and Jason Moran is one of those supergroup deals that, with its ample chemistry, actually makes perfect sense. Think of Bird, and expect a little magic. Marcus Garvey Park (Madison Avenue and East 120 Street) and Tompkins Square Park (Avenue A and East 7th Street) — Jim Macnie

Afropunk

August 27–28

Afropunk, which describes itself as “The other Black experience,” was inspired by James Spooner’s 2003 documentary of the same name that explored the largely ignored history of people of color in punk. The first festival happened in Brooklyn in 2005, and has since grown into a successful online magazine and a spinoff festival in Paris. They are all sorely needed spaces in a music world long dominated by white fans and artists. This year, as always, the lineup features performers who defy the conventions of predominantly black genres like hip hop, or who exist in genres that have traditionally excluded people of color, like punk, electronic, metal, and experimental music. There are big names, including Ice Cube, TV on the Radio, Flying Lotus, and Ceelo Green, who you might see at a mainstream fest like Panorama, but the spirit of Afropunk is in the smaller acts, like the poetic sonic explorer Saul Williams and leftist punks Downtown Boys. A good portion of the Odd Future crew, including Tyler, the Creator; Earl Sweatshirt; and alt-r&b band the Internet, play, too; so do legends like George Clinton and Living Colour. Festival-goers dress to be seen, and the photo reports that inevitably follow are nearly as amazing as the event itself. Commodore Barry Park, Flushing Avenue and Navy Street, Brooklyn — Sophie Weiner

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ALL STRUNG UP

Wandering through previous editions of the Alternative Guitar Summit could make your head whirl. Diversity is expected in experimental music, but the wealth of action coming from the various configs of string players was marvelous in its range. This year’s fifth annual gathering, taking place at both ShapeShifter Lab and Rockwood Music Hall, expands further, taking founder/curator Joel Harrison’s vision to a place where four nights of creative music focused on a single instrument will sound distinct at every turn. Its breadth might be summarized by a bill that finds Lee Ranaldo, of Sonic Youth fame, performing an opening solo set for Adam Rudolph’s Go, a nine-member guitar orchestra. Textural contrast and compositional rigor will be present and accounted for, as will thrust — this stuff has a tendency to be explosive. Don’t miss the series of duets that kick off the program, and there’s even reason to believe that the master classes that dot the landscape might tickle non-players, too.

Feb. 4-8, 7:30 p.m., 2015

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ALL THAT JAZZ

Corn. U. Copia. You know, like overabundance, like variety, like horn o’ plenty. The annual Winter Jazzfest swamps an array of venues in the Village — the kind of gathering that can make even the most dedicated fan a bit dizzy. With over a decade of victories under its belt, this year the fest adds more venues and more artists. That mandates more decisions, of course. It’s 11:15 on Friday; are you planting yourself at Marc Ribot & the Young Philadelphians, Kris Davis’s INFRASOUND, or Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life? Obviously not an affair for hand-wringers. You’ve gotta make a choice and act in order to claim prime real estate at each space. How else to absorb the myriad subgenres, from drummer Dafnis Prieto’s Cuban-slanted fusion to guitarist Anthony Pirog’s progtastic dreamscapes to the Vandermark-Wooley reed-brass abstractions? The 2015 don’t-miss event seems obvious: the ICP Orchestra, in from Amsterdam to blow minds and tickle funny bones (grab their new East of the Sun immediately). And hats off to Andrew D’Angelo for the slate’s most appropriate band name: The entire weekend, after all, Sounds Like Fun.

Jan. 8-10, 8 p.m., 2015

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SILENCE IS GOLDEN

Some fans followed Art Blakey just to hear those seismic press rolls — sticks and snare meeting in a tension-building tsunami. There are a handful of modern improv zealots who feel the same about Tyshawn Sorey’s mallets, brushes, and tom-toms. The drummer’s textural gambits are some of the most provocative sounds in NYC clubs these days — especially when he’s waxing seductive and mysterious, as he is on the new Alloy. Informed by Stockhausen’s steely piano pieces as much as they are the wily maneuvers of Andrew Hill and Bill Evans, Sorey’s latest works owe a lot to stealth. Eerie, unsettling, resolute — he has his team of pianist Cory Smythe and bassist Chris Tordini double down on incorporating silence, creating something truly ravishing. Tonight he plays the new pieces at Roulette, the music space that commissioned them.

Wed., Dec. 10, 8 p.m., 2014

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ROCK THE CLOCK

It hasn’t been all Blondie, Sabbath and Nirvana. Because they dig sophisticated blends of eloquent jitter-swing and stormy rumination, The Bad Plus — the rogue piano/bass/drums outfit initially heralded for exploding pop and rock nuggets — has occasionally peppered its sets with Ornette Coleman tunes. “Song X” here, “Law Years” there — every time we’ve heard them launch into the master’s book, the almost giddy joy that’s defines his music has amped the trio’s action. Now TBP is adding horns and turning to the entirety of Coleman’s 1972 opus, Science Fiction. Saxophonists Tim Berne (who rampaged through OC’s world with John Zorn in ‘89) and Sam Newsome connect with trumpeter Ron Miles in a front line that will magnify the frolic of anthems like “Happy House” and “School Work” while the trio keeps the grooves at a steady boil. They’ve said Ornette’s music is part of their DNA. Can’t wait to see the family resemblance.

Thu., Oct. 23, 7:30 p.m., 2014

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Ethan Iverson & Ron Carter

The Bad Plus pianist knows the value of living history – he’s made a point of interacting with elders during the last few years, and to a one, come away with intriguing results. At 41 Iverson is about the half the age of his partner, a revered bass master who has become one of improvisation’s icons after a lifetime of extraordinary work. Their book of duets will stress standards, and the give ‘n’ take in such a cozy room – designed specifically for this kind of intimacy – will explode the goose pimple factor.

Oct. 9-11, 8:30 p.m., 2014

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Mary Halvorson’s Reverse Blue

Thanks to constant work, the guitarist’s ideas are boundless these days. She’s built this quartet around reed player Chris Speed, bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer Tomas Fujiwara to enjoy textural gambits and counterpoint experiments. Abstraction is the welcome mat of their new album on the Relative Pitch label, but poignant moments and defined landscapes are always popping up.

Thu., Oct. 2, 8 p.m.; Fri., Oct. 3, 9 & 10:30 p.m., 2014

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DRUM CIRCLE

Pundits often celebrate how usually-discrete jazz camps sometimes morph, POVs and aesthetic attitudes melding to form a unique sound or test a pliable new lingo. These kinds of moves always need a linchpin to get off the dime — someone who has worked in various situations and sees value in the wealth of approaches. Long story short, that’s Matt Wilson. For the last two decades, the drummer-bandleader has been a poster boy for versatility, making sweet concoctions from old-school swing, hard-bop swag, and avant-skronk. He and his numerous ensembles grab everything they hear and find a use for it — they get the big picture. To celebrate Wilson’s 50th birthday, Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola invited a handful of his groups to the stage. The aptly named Open House is the most emblematic of his catholic curatorial skills. Put Joe Lovano, Mary Halvorson, and Stefon Harris in a front line and you’re making a statement. Also this week: Arts & Crafts (his organ outfit), Topsy Turvy (quartet plus guest horns), and an inviting collabo with veteran bassist Buster Williams. Hit two or more gigs and you’ll get the big picture, too.

Sat., Oct. 4, 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 5, 7:30 p.m., 2014

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Aaron Parks & Dayna Stephens

Duets demand a bit more intimacy and a bit more coziness than large ensemble gigs, and this new West Village cellar, a cousin of its nearby neighbor Small’s, is a comfy listening room that was launched with twosomes in mind. Pianist Parks’ versatility is an ongoing attraction, and his touch – keenly sensitive to an array of attacks – continues to impress. He’s worked in ensembles with saxophonist Stephens, whose plush lines woo with little labor, but this alone-together pairing should bring out a previously unrevealed dynamic between them.

Wed., Sept. 24, 8:30 & 10:30 p.m., 2014

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THROUGH A KEYHOLE, BRIGHTLY

From piano rags fractured by the reed ’n’ rhythm trio Air to the swag-centric groove of the mammoth Society Situation Band, Henry Threadgill’s catholic interests have always led his ensembles to a spot where a mother lode was waiting to be mined. Now 70, the revered composer-bandleader has consistently recast his music during the last four decades, with each discrete outfit still forwarding that signature sound — let’s call it a mix of buoyant jubilation and eerie drama. Those who missed aggregates such as his seven-piece Sextett or the groups mentioned above can step into a time portal at the Harlem Stage’s Very Very Threadgill Festival, which finds its hero bringing each of them (and more) back to life for a weekend romp. To a one, they’ve helped define various epochs of New York jazz, especially the esteemed proto-orchestra that cut the 1993 masterpiece Too Much Sugar for a Dime. Gray-haired sentimentalists will freak to see these configurations again, and newbies will be in awe of the explosive variety one man’s mind can conjure.

Sun., Sept. 28, 7 p.m., 2014