By J. R. Carroll
December is always an exasperating month for jazz fans: The first week is crammed with more events than any human without self-cloning abilities can possibly attend; after that, the major clubs close their doors many evenings in order to host private parties (hey, something has to pay the bills). The upside is an opportunity to explore less familiar venues that showcase music a little off the beaten path–and to escape the omnipresent smooth jazz holiday soundtrack.
There is, however, one seasonal event that does an end-run around the cliches. Flutist and EWI (electronic wind instrument) player Hiro Honshuku, a long-time associate of the late George Russell, has applied the iconoclasm and probing reinvention of his mentor to some Christmas chestnuts with delightful and sometimes startling results. Hiro brings his A-NO-NE ensemble to Ryles on Dec. 2, the Beehive on Dec. 16, and the Acton Jazz Cafe on Dec. 23.
The evening of Friday, Dec. 4 is the most frustrating of the overbooked dates. At the Armenian Library and Museum of America in Watertown, flutist/composer/arranger Yulia Musayelyan and her quartet infuse their improvisations with folk rhythms from Armenia and Argentina, among others, in this CD release event. (It’s a busy weekend for Yulia, whose ensemble comprises 80% of the Fernando Huergo Quintet, which itself will be performing on Dec. 3 at Vernissage and then taking to the road for a New London gig on Dec. 5 at the Jazz Underground.
Meanwhile, back in Inman Square, ambitious listeners might be able to catch portions of parallel events at the venues spawned by the cellular division of the old Zeitgeist Gallery. Outpost 186, tucked away in the back of a building on Hampshire St., will welcome the Brazilian Trio Baru to its Vortex series for an evening of the resurgent and ever-evolving instrumental genre known as choro. (Rumor has it that they will be joined by local choro luminaries for their concluding set.)
Simultaneously, around the corner on Cambridge St. at the Lily Pad, vocalist Gabrielle Agachiko investigates the music of Nina Simone (and others) in the company of
saxophonist Ken Field and co-conspirators from the Revolutionary Snake Ensemble, Le Prestige, Musaner and Either/Orchestra. (The latter celebrates its 24th birthday with a performance the next night at the Natick Center for the Arts.) [Update: Ken Field will actually be in New Mexico working on music for a dance premiere next spring in New York.]
If the Trio Baru performance whetted your appetite for choro, further opportunities abound this month. The Boston area’s own Choro Democratico performs in concert at Union Square’s Third Life Studio on Dec. 12. At Ryles on Dec. 16, Choros com Chocolate, led by cellist Catherine Bent shares a bill with Mexican roots artists La Tuza. And while it probably won’t be all choro, clarinetist/saxophonist Anat Cohen’s New Year’s Eve performance at the Berklee Performance Center, which will be broadcast by WGBH, should be a highlight of both Boston’s First Night festivities and NPR’s Toast of the Nation.
And to wrap up where we began, a George Russell associate from his own generation, vocalist Sheila Jordan, will be honored on Dec. 18 at the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center with a screening of a documentary on her life, followed by a live concert where Jordan is joined by bassist Cameron Brown.
Happy Chrismukkwanzaa to all!
One piece of old business: If you missed last month’s local screening of The Jazz Baroness, you can catch it on HBO at 6:30pm on Dec. 3, 7:45am on Dec. 11, and Dec. 16 at 1:30pm. (Check local listings to confirm times.)