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Hotter Than July

July 1, 2019

Jazz and summer have been boon companions ever since George Wein launched the Newport Jazz Festival in 1954, offering fans the opportunity to experience their favorite artists outdoors and away from sweltering East Coast cities. The music’s image as an ideal soundtrack for long, sun-kissed afternoons came sharply into focus with Jazz on a Summer’s Day, the concert film directed by fashion photographer Bert Stern that offered a stylishly distilled taste of Newport’s 1958 fare, including performances by Thelonious Monk, Sonny Stitt, Anita O’Day, Dinah Washington, and Louis Armstrong. Here are some suggestions for your summer jazz soundtrack.

Três Baías | July 14

The musical ties between the Bay Area and Brazil seem to grow deeper by the week, and Três Baías is the latest ensemble reflecting these bonds. The band’s name refers to the bays of Rio de Janeiro, San Francisco, and Salvador da Bahia, the hometowns of seven-string guitar master Nando Duarte, percussionist Brian Rice, and string wizard Almir Côrtes, respectively. Celebrating the release of their eponymous debut album at Oakland’s Sound Room, the trio extends the tradition of virtuosic choro, a foundational Brazilian style that’s in the midst of a glorious resurgence.


Dayna Stephens Perspective | July 17

Dayna Stephens recently topped Downbeat Magazine’s Critics Poll as rising star tenor saxophonist. Not to dis my fellow scribes but this designation is about two decades late, as the East Bay-raised, New Jersey-based Stephens has long been regarded by his colleagues as a generation-defining talent. A mainstay at the Stanford Jazz Workshop, he performs at Dinkelspiel Auditorium as part of that organization’s jazz festival, with an enviable band including the insistently inventive drummer Matt Wilson, bassist Giulio Cetto (now there’s a rising star), and the brilliant pianist Carmen Staaf, who featured Stephens on the acclaimed 2018 album she co-led with drummer Allison Miller, Science Fair (Sunnyside).


Thumbscrew and Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl | July 18–21

Over the past decade, guitarist Mary Halvorson has established herself as a capaciously inventive improviser with a sharp, astringent sound and tightly coiled attack. She’s recorded prolifically in a wide array of settings, and her four-night run at SFJAZZ’s Joe Henderson Lab features two of the best. The cooperative trio Thumbscrew, with bass master Michael Formanek and highly responsive drummer Tomas Fujiwara, plays July 18–19. And on July 20–21, Formanek and Fujiwara serve as the rhythm section for Halvorson’s project Code Girl, which features her idiosyncratic songs delivered by singular vocalist Amirtha Kidambi, an artist well-versed in free improvisation. The 24-year-old trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, scion of a storied jazz clan, rounds out the quintet.


Social Stutter | July 23

Led by composer/altoist Beth Schenck, Social Stutter is a saxophone quartet that brings together four of the region’s most vivid and thoughtful improvisers. Featuring Kasen Knudsen on alto sax, Phillip Greenlief on tenor sax, and Cory Wright on tenor and baritone sax, Social Stutter ranges between delicately calibrated chamber jazz and melodically expansive free improvisation. Whatever strategy Schenck employs, the quartet finds strikingly beautiful voicings, often rendered by the unusual instrumentation of two altos and two tenors. The group’s performance at San Francisco’s Community Music Center is part of the Outsound New Music Summit, a festival that runs July 21–27.


Ed Simon | July 27  

Venezuelan-born pianist Ed Simon celebrates his 50th birthday with a solo recital at Oakland’s Piedmont Piano, which has served as his primary Bay Area outpost in recent years. The longest-serving active member of the SFJAZZ Collective, the East Bay pianist/composer is in the forefront of Latin American jazz artists forging a sweeping Pan-American vision. Sumptuously melodic, his music sounds like tomorrow.


The Alaya Project | July 30

Drawing on post-bop, funk, and the rigorous rhythmic forms of South Indian classical music, the Alaya Project is a Carnatic Jazz trio featuring alto saxophonist Prasant Radhakrishnan, Colin Hogan on piano and accordion, and Rohan Krishnamurthy on a hybrid kit combining trap drums and double-sided mridangam. A rapidly evolving work in progress, the ensemble performs at the California Jazz Conservatory’s Rendon Hall as part of Way Out West, the school’s ongoing Tuesday-night series focusing on ensembles playing original music. 

A Los Angeles native based in the Berkeley area since 1996, Andrew Gilbert covers jazz, international music and dance for KQED's California Report, The Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, Berkeleyside and other publications.