Sound and “Motion,” signifying talent: Melissa Aldana, Tivon Pennicott and Godwin Louis (L to R) are the next faces of jazz. COMPOSITE BY LUCIANO CROSSA
BY SAM SPOKONY | In an era of club drug dubstep and tongue-out twerking, there are few better ways to spend your time, or your money, than by supporting young jazz musicians. And that’s because watching them perform — the great ones, at least — is, at some fundamental level, an incredible thing. These are people under the age of 30 who’ve devoted most of their lives to the craft, in the same way that Charlie Parker or Chet Baker once did.
There’s a special kind of joy that pours out of a young player’s horn, and every time I’m sitting in some club Downtown, watching a bunch of immensely talented kids blow over tunes, I’m thinking, wow, maybe this is what it was like to see Bird play in 1939.
Three young stars come Downtown
So, with that in mind, you can (perhaps belatedly) start off your year in improvised music by checking out the top three finishers at the 2013 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition — which highlights the world’s best young players — during their gigs for the “Monk in Motion” series at the BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center.
The 25-year-old, Chilean-born tenor saxophonist who won last year’s competition, is an impressive person for a number of reasons — not the least of which is that she’s the first female instrumentalist to ever take home the top prize. Along with manual dexterity that rivals anyone in the scene, she carries the horn with a rare kind of poise — and every time I’ve seen her play, she always seems so very much at home, whether it’s with a bunch of fellow young guns or a veritable master like Joe Lovano.
Aldana just recorded a new album with her Crash Trio — featuring bassist Pablo Menares and fiery drummer Francisco Mela — so you’ll hear some of those fresh tunes when she hits the stage with that very same trio on February 8. The saxophonist told us that she’s particularly looking forward to the BMCC series because of the close bond she shares with her two counterparts.
“They’re good friends of mine, and we hung out a lot during the Monk Competition, so I’m just really happy to be doing this with them,” she said.
This slick, 28-year-old tenor saxophonist initially broke out while he was still in college, when legendary guitarist Kenny Burrell spotted his talent and invited the young man to join his quintet. Pennicott finished as last year’s runner-up in the Monk Competition — but he shares Aldana’s keen melodic wit, as well as the visible sense of maturity that makes all three of these players so interesting to watch. He’ll be performing on February 22, leading his Sound Quartet that also features pianist Mike Battaglia, bassist Spencer Murphy and drummer Kenneth Salters.
Last but not least — and, in the case of this concert series, chronologically first — is 28-year-old alto saxophonist Godwin Louis, who finished as the second runner-up in last year’s competition. His resume is just as impressive as the aforementioned horn players — he’s performed with Herbie Hancock, Clark Terry, John Scofield and other icons — and Louis’ deeply soulful tone is no surprise, given his Harlem roots. He’ll take the stage on January 25, fronting a quintet that features trumpeter Billy Buss, pianist Victor Gould, bassist Ben Street and drummer Mark Whitfield, Jr.
All three of these artists are on track to become key figures in 21st century jazz, and, just like you and me, they sure as hell ain’t getting any younger. So why not see them now? Decades from now — perhaps when their collective accolades include much, much more than top finishes at the Monk Competition — you can say you were there, and that, yeah, you saw them when they were just kids.
MUSIC | MONK IN MOTION:
THE NEXT FACE OF JAZZ
Jan. 25: Godwin Louis
Feb. 8: Melissa Aldana
Feb 22: Tivon Pennicott
All performances, 7:30pm
BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center
199 Chambers Street (btw. Greenwich & West Sts.)
$25 for each concert | $15 for students/seniors
$20 for TribecaPAC Mainstage Members
Visit tribecapac.org or call 212-220-1459
Also visit monkinstitute.org