The Best in Jazz: Dave Douglas Riverside Quartet, Sean Jones Quartet and More

The must see performances of the month in New York City


The Stone at The New School, June 30

Come early 2018, John Zorn’s The Stone will no longer be at its original Alphabet City location.

As Zorn claims in the New York Times, the avant-garde game changing venue is not leaving for financial reasons.

Nevertheless, in the year marking the 10th anniversary of Tonic’s unfortunate shuttering, the move reads as yet another casualty of New York’s blatant disregard for the creative music culture of Downtown NYC, where cash and condos now reign supreme and are encroaching into the lettered avenues like a slow-moving plague.

But Zorn is a crafty organizer, having survived the fickle slipstream of lower Manhattan realty for over four decades now. And he’s certainly not waiting around until next March to evolve. In fact, over the course of this year, the saxophonist and composer has been transitioning the performance space into its new home at The New School’s Glass Box Theatre (located at 55 W 13th Street on the lobby floor), staging shows on weekends until moving over to the campus permanently in March 2018.

And on June 30th, NYC trumpeter, bandleader and Greenleaf Music label honcho Dave Douglas will take The Glass Box Theater stage for the first night of a two night stand to celebrate the release of the second LP by Riverside, the quartet he co-leads alongside saxophonist Chet Doxas with the great Steve Swallow on bass and Jim Doxas on drums. Entitled The New National Anthem, the album is a tribute to renowned jazz composer (and Swallow’s longtime significant other) Carla Bley, combining three imaginative reworkings of selections from Bley’s discography along with original material inspired by her style.

The Observer had the chance to speak with Mr. Douglas about paying homage to Ms. Bley and the future of The Stone.

Observer: Tell me about the first time you heard the music of Carla Bley and how it impacted you.

Dave Douglas: It sounded fun! Carla Bley’s music sounds as if it doesn’t “have to” be anything. I mean that she writes freely, unencumbered by standard operating procedures. It feels like music where anything could happen (including the sounds of skipping records built into the charts), loose and spontaneous, but with a strong backbone only a composer can provide.

Let’s say someone who got into the music of Carla because of this album subsequently reached out to you about further exploring her catalog. Which of her albums or compositions would you advise them to start with and why?

Maybe the best way would be to go to source of the pieces of hers that we played here: “The New National Anthem,” “King Korn” and “Enormous Tots.” There are many, many great recordings, mostly still available. One would also have to consider Carla as an arranger for Charlie Haden, Gary Burton and many others. Another definite go-to record by Carla Bley is Andando el Tiempo featuring her trio with Andy Sheppard and Steve Swallow. Almost forgot! It’s so good and quite recently released on ECM.

The song “The New National Anthem” turns 50 this year. What was it specifically about this composition and the Gary Burton album it’s featured on that resonated with you enough to make it a “centerpiece” of this second Riverside album?

It’s amazing that “The New National Anthem” is 50 years old! I’m not sure what kind of sense it made to Carla and company at that time (I haven’t asked), but we sure need to be hearing it now! I love how much unusual harmony is crammed into this short piece, and I love the lead and inner voice movement. And it does indeed sound “Presidential.”

Steve Swallow mentioned how this album was inspired by the creative jazz movement in New York City during the early 60s. Is there a a particular studio or live recording from this period that most inspires you? If so, which one and why? 

Steve Swallow is such an integral part of this group. I suspect what he had in mind was the language that arose around Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry and the circle of players looking for new kinds of interactions. There are so many great examples from that period, but in the spirit of Carla and her music, I would cite Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra debut recording as a good example of the interaction between free associative playing and composition. These were new practices that came into the music at that time, and as Steve said, the shock waves are still being felt today. This is certainly something I think about a lot as a composer—how to encourage that kind of dialogue between the players.

What was it about the Humber College recording studio that prompted Riverside to record The New National Anthem up in Ontario?

Steve Bellamy has been so amazing at Humber. He had a hand in getting that studio built, and it is one of the best facilities of its kind anywhere. I met Steve at The Banff Centre For The Arts some years back, and he suggested to Chet and I that we could create the recording there, our second recorded at Humber.

The photography featured on the album cover art for this record is gorgeous. I’d love to hear more about these photos, where they were shot, and how you feel these images correlate with the music.

Austin Nelson is the name of the photographer. He also supplied photography for my albums Be Still and Time Travel. He is such a powerful landscape artist that I knew he would resonate with this album. I sent him a couple tracks by email and he sent these photographs the next day. He happened to be on a road trip around the country, so it was indeed fortuitous.

What are your thoughts about The Stone moving to the New School?

The Stone’s existence as an independent space, by and for artists, is one of the most essential things about it. There’s no other space like it in New York. Also, as a space where artists can stretch out and do all the different things they do for six nights. It’s unparalleled. Spaces always come and go in New York. My feeling is that The Stone at its current location fills a much needed and much welcomed role in the city’s, and indeed the world’s, cultural life.

There will be differences at the new space. However, I am sure that, given the independent artistic role that The Stone plays, it will grow into its importance as it becomes a regular feature of New York’s creative landscape. Naturally, not every audience member will follow it to Greenwich Village, but there will also be new audience, students and locals, who will come because of the centrality of the new location.

I do not feel that the new location will have an impact on the programming that artists choose to do. Because of the radically independent nature of the booking (artists given free reign for six nights of music), I think the innate (and outsized!) ambitions of the artists will be even further encouraged!

What do you think the move says about the sustainability of an independent outlet for creative music in New York City in 2017?

The Stone is moving to The New School because of the vision of Dean Richard Kessler, and his support of John Zorn and the community of artists that play at The Stone. I have not seen this at any other university or institution. It’s a radical experiment. It will remain as independent as ever.

Institutions are indeed taking an increasing role in fostering the creative arts. The trend represents decades of growth, both in the institutions and in the art forms. I am proud to teach creative music at Mannes and at Juilliard, and I do not believe the subject could have been offered in this way even 10 years ago. The presence of The Stone “on campus” will only deepen this relationship.

How far back do you go with John Zorn? I’d love to hear about the first time you guys met or worked together.

I probably first met John in the late 1980s backstage at some festivals, but I didn’t get to know him until around 1992 when I used to see him around gigs I was playing with the collaborative quintet New and Used (with Mark Feldman, Andy Laster, Kermit Driscoll and Tom Rainey). He was always very friendly, which kind of surprised me because I was hearing him with Naked City and that music was so different from most of what I was doing. He invited me to a recording session in August 1993 for a film named Thieves Quartet. The band (with Greg Cohen and Joey Baron) became the basis of the acoustic Masada Quartet, which went on to tour and record extensively. We’re still best friends and musical accomplices all these years later! John is one the most inspiring creative figures today and he’s the best friend one could ever dream of having. Working with him changed my life. And it still does.

Sean Jones Quartet

The Jazz Standard, June 1-4

At 38, Sean Jones is no spring chicken. But in jazz, the trumpeter is still considered a youngster, at least in the context of a man who has been playing on a professional level for the better part of two decades now. Cut at the acclaimed St. Louis jazz club in its title, Live from Jazz At The Bistro is the eighth LP Jones has recorded for Mack Avenue and features the artist at full boil with two distinctive lineups—the first being his longtime quartet featuring Orrin Evans on piano, bassist Luques Curtis and drummer Chad Calvaire and a second ensemble comprised of Evans, Curtis, Mark Whitfield, Jr. on drums and Brian Hogans on alto and soprano sax. For his four night stand at the Standard, the one-time first chair trumpeter of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra will be cooking with his classic quartet, where the group will surely be whipping up wild new variations of such highlights from the new LP as “Prof,” “BJ’s Tune” and the gorgeous readings of “Danny Boy” and “Amazing Grace” that prove few can fuse gospel and jazz in 2017 quite like Mr. Jones.

Raul Midon

Iridium, June 2

On his excellent sixth LP, singer/songwriter Raul Midon returns to his love for jazz and improvisation with a set of tunes that embraces the genre in a soulful pop shell in a way not unlike how Michael Franks did so masterfully in the 70s but with a sense of daring that informs the work of such icons as Sting and Paul Simon intermittently through the course of their respective solo careers. Badass and Blind isn’t just a clever title to address his affliction, it’s a downright declaration of invincibility against those who fail to see beyond his disability. It is the portrait of a man who is making some of the best Barrio soul jazz this side of the Harlem River, and catching him on that Iridium stage sounds like a pretty good way to spend your first Friday night in June.

Meredith Monk

QueensLab, June 8-10

The dances that happen within the tiny fractions of our own bodies, when looked at through a microscope, are visual wonders that have a way of capturing your attention despite their biological importance. And it is within the artistic undertones of human cell activity that exists the root of Cellular Songs, the newest series of theater pieces created by renowned performance artist Meredith Monk who, working in collaboration with an ensemble featuring vocalists Ellen Fisher, Katie Geissinger, Allison Sniffin and Jo Stewart, aims to bring a level of sonic levity to the concepts of meiosis and mitosis while exploring the codependence of the human condition with the nature surrounding it. Ms. Monk will be taking her work-in-progress to QueensLab in Ridgewood, Queens, from June 8th to the 10th, with the first evening serving as a benefit to support The House Foundation’s continued dedication to Monk’s work, co-hosted by Hodges and Isaac Mizrahi and featuring music by DJ Rekha. In celebration, Hodges has created a limited edition print in support of Cellular Songs.

Aaron Parks Trio

Smalls, June 16

Find the Way is not just second ECM LP from pianist Aaron Parks—it’s also the best work of his career. Working as one-third of a cross generational trio rounded out by Ben Street on bass and legendary drummer Billy Hart, this combined force wonderfully exhibits the quiet storm modality of piano jazz at its finest. And on June 16th, there will be a distinct opportunity to witness this most unprecedented combo at tiny little Smalls. I cannot think of a better place to see a trio this enormous.

Chris Potter

The Village Vanguard, June 20-25

When Chris Potter first arrived on the New York City jazz scene at the age of 18 in 1989, he quickly established himself as one of the hottest young horns playing at the side of bebop giant Red Rodney. Since then, he’s established himself as one of the art form’s finest improvisers, racking up 17 albums as a leader and over 100 as a sideman, including a key role on Steely Dan’s Grammy-winning 2000 comeback classic Two Against Nature. Mr. Potter will be at the Village Vanguard the week of June 20th to promote the release of his 3rd ECM LP The Dreamer is the Dream by showcasing the excellent new acoustic quartet he assembled for the record featuring fellow ECM alum David Virelles on keys, Joe Martin on double bass and drummer extraordinaire Marcus Gilmore. This “cross-generational mix of personalities,”as the saxophonist describes them, have been on the road working on the rhythmic chemistry that can be heard all over Dreamer. And now that the album is out and earning kudos as possibly Potter’s finest studio effort yet, the idea of seeing this exciting quartet at the mighty Vanguard is a prospect any local jazz fan should capitalize on.

Jack DeJohnette, Larry Grenadier, John Medeski, John Scofield

Saratoga Jazz Festival in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., June 25

The Hudson Valley has been a destination residence for jazz cats since at least the mid-20th century. But never before has there been a supergroup of musicians currently calling North of New York City home like the fantastic quartet that includes keyboardist John Medeski, Larry Grenadier on bass, John Scofield playing his guitar and the God drummer Jack DeJohnette. And Hudson, the group’s auspicious debut, sounds precisely like you hope a combo such as this would, paying their respects to the region with vivid retellings of such iconic area fare as Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay,” The Band’s “Up On Cripple Creek” and “Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell. Their performance should indeed be the highlight of the Saratoga Jazz Festival happening on June 25th just a couple of hours ride up the Thruway/Northway. Make a weekend out of it!

Cassandra Wilson

Blue Note, June 29-July 2

The only time I have ever been to Carnegie Hall was in 2000 when I saw Cassandra Wilson do her thing in support of her excellent 1999 tribute to Miles Davis called Traveling Miles. She controlled the massive theater with the intimacy of a living room performance. Closing out the month-long Blue Note Jazz Festival that will also feature the 40th anniversary celebration of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and a performance by the last living member of the classic John Coltrane Quartet Mr. McCoy Tyner among so much more, the singer takes the stage at the storied club for what will surely be a special engagement. Her latest album, Coming Forth By Day, was released on Legacy Recordings in late 2015 with production work by acclaimed Nick Cave/Public Image Ltd. producer Nick Launay. But you can y expect some new sounds from this proud daughter of Jackson, Mississippi all the same.

The Best in Jazz: Dave Douglas Riverside Quartet, Sean Jones Quartet and More