NYC Winter Jazzfest at Nublu: Isaiah Collier, Katalyst, Pedro Martins with Genevieve Artadi, Justin Brown and more

Wif Stenger
Monday, January 29, 2024

Winter Jazzfest yields sonic fire on an icy night at two East Village venues

Isaiah Collier lifts off at Nublu - Photos by Anna Yatskevitch
Isaiah Collier lifts off at Nublu - Photos by Anna Yatskevitch

The 20th New York Winter Jazzfest was a sprawling celebration of new sounds and old-school heritage over nine nights around Manhattan and Brooklyn.

As the city dug out from its first snow in two years on a frigid Tuesday, a planned celebration of Sun Ra’s poetry featuring Moor Mother and Abiodun Oyewole of the Last Poets was cancelled at the last minute due to illness. Sad, but luckily there was plenty else on offer at the twin Nublu clubs in once-hazardous Alphabet City.

The original Nublu opened in 2002 but still has no sign outside. It feels like stumbling into a house party, with people lounging on sofas while musicians jam on a worn Persian rug.

That loose feel suits the lo-fi mix of indie rock, fusion, bossa and funk from Brazilian guitarist Pedro Martins (pictured below), who also played Rhodes and sang – somewhat shakily – along with vocalist Genevieve Artadi (whom he introduced as “the love of my life”). She and keyboardist Felipe Viegas were overshadowed by Martins’ stinging, skittery guitar solos, which have earned him collaborations with Kurt Rosenwinkel, Thundercat and Eric Clapton.

Martins, meanwhile, had stiff competition from preternaturally fast drummer Justin Brown and bassist Michael Pipoquinha, who added melodic solos and frenetic duos with Brown.

The newer, posher Nublu 151 is four blocks away, around the corner from Charlie Parker’s old place. A triple-level stage in the middle allows the crowd a 360-degree sense of involvement. That was intense during the evening’s most transcendent set, featuring saxophonist Isaiah Collier.

He pulled no punches, diving right into John Coltrane’s arrangement of ‘My Favorite Things’, which still sounds radical in 2024, sheets of sound and all. Along with extended, fierce solos on soprano and tenor, Collier spurred on his audience and ferocious band with a bullhorn, sirens and an array of percussion instruments. These were spread on an altar-like stand with an African cloth and portrait of a recently passed Nigerian musical mentor. Along with Afrofuturism and the Coltranes’ spiritual heritage, Collier tapped into the yodelling tradition of Leon Thomas and the shamanic improv of early Patti Smith. He’s a rare bird in contemporary jazz: a non-corny male vocalist. Collier, whose last release was a collaboration with trumpeter jaimie branch, recorded just before her death, previewed strong material from a new album due this spring.

Next up was Katalyst, a nine-man collective that began jamming in LA a decade ago. In 2022, they were the first contemporary band on the Jazz is Dead label. The members are busy with their own groups and session work for the stars, but clearly enjoy playing in this muscular soul-funk-fusion outfit. It’s powered by twin drummers, double keyboards, and a tuba-driven horn section. Reference points might be 70s CTI funk and blaxploitation soundtracks, with inventive arrangements and solos. There are plenty of bands that play similar mixtures, including Butcher Brown and fellow Los Angelenos in the Kamasi Washington orbit, but this is one of the best. There was nothing ground-breaking on this smoother end of the WJF spectrum, but it was pure pleasure, a burst of California warmth on an icy New York night.


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