Welcome to “The Month in Live Jazz,” a column highlighting five standout performances from the past month on stages across New York City.
DAVE DOUGLAS Jazz at Lincoln Center, Feb. 24
It’s always been convenient to frame the trumpeter Dave Douglas as an anti-traditionalist, but he’s more of a roving archaeologist, exhuming and examining various strands of musical history without declaring any singular allegiance. On Saturday at the Appel Room, he led an intergenerational sextet in an investigation of Dizzy Gillespie’s legacy. The set included both deconstructions of Gillespie’s repertoire and Douglas originals inspired by his famed trumpet forebear.
In “Manteca,” Gillespie’s seminal Latin-jazz composition, Ambrose Akinmusire, playing second trumpet, made the strongest statement. His brief solo was a saber stream of bluesy invocation, loud and wide-awake. (Douglas’s arrangements didn’t allow for many long-form solos, a revision to the bebop idiom that emphasized both the arrangement and the ensemble’s spontaneous interplay.)
As the tune simmered toward senescence, Mr. Akinmusire, 35, used circular breathing to hold a long tone while the guitarist Bill Frisell responded with gentle, sustained notes in the upper register. The drummer Joey Baron scraped tones off the surfaces of his cymbals, and Mr. Akinmusire started making blustery smacks into his mouthpiece. Then he pulled it out and clacked it around in the bell of the horn. The audience was laughing some, but it was bewildered too.
There was Gillespie’s legacy for you: an entertainer who could entwine gravitas and levity, an ambassador for the younger generation’s attitudes, frustrations and will toward self-representation.
Dave Douglas performs at the Village Vanguard with Joe Lovano from June 12-17.
DAVID MURRAY INFINITY QUARTET Birdland, Feb. 1
The tenor saxophonist David Murray’s new album, “Blues for Memo,” is centered on the emphatic poetry of Saul Williams. It works as a sharp inoculation against establishment wisdom, delivered in the guise of a blues-battered jazz recording. Mr. Murray, 63, an outré jazz eminence who recently moved back to New York after years of living in Europe, is no stranger to literary collaborations, or to bending the rules of straight-ahead jazz to suit his idiosyncrasies.
His thick tone — with a tremulous vibrato and a constant urge to scrape its way higher into the atmosphere — sounds like the synthesis of a jazz broad tradition, and also like no other musician. Mr. Murray played a week at Birdland recently, joined by his quartet but not Mr. Williams. Even without the poetry, the group made its points clear.
Mr. Murray rendered Billy Strayhorn’s ballad “Chelsea Bridge” without any undue sentimentality, checking his tremolo just a bit. And on original tunes from the album, the drummer Nasheet Waits played in his brawny, aerated style, matching Mr. Murray’s warped pronouncements and rough urgency.
The David Murray Infinity Quartet’s latest album, “Blues for Memo,” featuring the poet Saul Williams, is out on Motéma Records.
AMIRTHA KIDAMBI Roulette, Feb. 27
Sometimes the eye of a storm can draw upon the chaos around it, taking on its energy and consolidating it for use. Something like that is going on in Elder Ones, the quartet led by the vocalist and harmonium player Amirtha Kidambi. She creates drones on the harmonium — an old, air-powered keyboard — and coaxes her bandmates into ripping them apart. Then she funnels that energy out in a scorching beam. In its best moments, it’s like a mix of a Cuban sonero’s citrusy cry and a riot grrrl yowl.
At Roulette, Ms. Kidambi performed a book of new material with Elder Ones — featuring Matt Nelson on soprano saxophone, Nick Dunston on bass and Max Jaffe on drums — which released a strong CD, “Holy Science,” in 2016. The band abided by a turbulent pact, Mr. Nelson painting in vertical streaks as the rhythm section pried at its own foundations.
Ms. Kidambi also performed a solo set, accompanying her voice with belled bangles on her ankles (the ghungroo, a traditional Indian accouterment) and, for the latter half of each piece, the harmonium. The songs, comprising a new suite she’s calling “Yajna” (or “ritual of fire”), all centered on direct phrases: “They step on those beneath in the name of progress,” or, in one inspired by the life and death of Erica Garner, “The system breaks her heart.” Without the tousled kinetics of the band, Ms. Kidambi worked hard to create a full context.
To a degree, the specificity and the fury felt healthy, and important. We need more of this. But the lyrics were intentionally unambiguous, leaving little room for imagination. And in the way she hurtled them straight and hard at the audience, you couldn’t help feeling as if you were receiving something impervious and final. It was hard to tap into a sense of catharsis, or find your way into the sound. As she develops these pieces, Ms. Kidambi may work to ensure that her solo music feels more like a caldron of activity and possibility — frightening listeners and beckoning them at the same time — like her music with Elder Ones often does.
Ms. Kidambi continues her residency at Roulette on June 17, performing in a vocal quintet and a duo with the saxophonist Lea Bertucci.
FOUR SIMULTANEOUS SOLOISTS Pioneer Works, Feb. 2
In the main gallery at Pioneer Works in Red Hook, Brooklyn, in an exhibition titled “Solid Light Works,” the artist Anthony McCall has four vertical light sculptures on display. In an almost pitch-black room, the pearly drapes of light descend from a high ceiling in irregular, conical shapes, making stark outlines on the black carpet. Each immaterial sculpture has a distinct allure and form, but as you walk under and through them, their effects become related. Your eyes adjust and readjust; your body enters into the light; your movement throughout the space connects the four pieces.
A similar logic took hold on Feb. 2 as you listened to the music in the second of four performances titled “Four Simultaneous Soloists.” In the gallery, the pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn, the drummer Eli Keszler, the cellist Tomeka Reid and the trumpeter Nate Wooley each sat beside one of the four vertical light sculptures, improvising freely as attendees circled slowly around them or sat beneath the fallen lights. Couples found it hard not to embrace or lay down together in an unselfconscious tangle.
The “soloists” played quietly, matching the darkness around them, and they could only catch snatches and inklings of what the others were playing. Ms. Alcorn and Mr. Keszler were at opposite ends of the long gallery; whatever information they received from each other came almost completely through Ms. Reid and Mr. Wooley.
Thinking it through, you might have been drawn to wander. Why sit and hear Ms. Alcorn’s simple, slowly exhaled harmonies when across the room Mr. Wooley was playing fabulous long tones, blowing into what looked like a sheet of metal and making a music of blistery reconstitution? But ultimately, your body won out. It wanted you to find an arbitrary vantage and sit still, allowing the shape of the room and the vague drift of sound to determine what you heard.
The final Four Simultaneous Soloists performance takes place on Friday, featuring Jules Gimbrone playing objects and electronics, Okkyung Lee on cello, Chris McIntyre on trombone and synthesizer, and Yoshi Wada on bagpipes and sirens.
ANAT FORT QUARTET Cornelia Street Café, Feb. 20
Most of the tunes that the Anat Fort Quartet played at Cornelia Street Café last week came from the group’s most recent album on ECM Records, “Birdwatching.” But something new emerged. On the album, Ms. Fort draws elliptical harmonies around the clarinet sound of Gianluigi Trovesi, a distant and ephemeral player. But at Cornelia, her sparring partner was the alto saxophonist Michael Attias, and the pair drove each other into a flintier exchange.
Midway through “Song of the Phoenix,” Ms. Fort took a solo in the low-middle range that had a kind of generative fury, body and fire united. Then, on a freshly composed Fort original, provisionally titled “Sort Of,” Mr. Attias took a solo that exhibited his roughly chiseled attack, answering Ms. Fort’s provocation. Even the lovely or dreamlike moments had a sense of hard-won embodiment and purpose.
That tune was followed by “Murmuration,” from the album. As Mr. Attias’s solo neared its summit, Ms. Fort drove her rhythm section — the bassist Gary Wang and the drummer Rudy Royston — toward a splintered dissolution. Her chords had the bright payoff of internal octaves as well as the acrid carp of dissonance. Altogether, the group was finding a new cooperative language, sometimes hitting a sputtering stride, sometimes avoiding cohesion altogether.
The Anat Fort Quartet returns to the Cornelia Street Café on April 13.