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Owen McNally writes about jazz and other music events in Connecticut's Jazz Corridor, stretching from the tip of Fairfield County, right through New Haven and Hartford, and on up beyond the state into the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts. Keep up with the best our area has to offer in music.

Guitarist Sinan Bakir’s Luxuriant Solo Ideas Take Root at Middletown’s Buttonwood Tree

Sevim Yolacti
Sinan Bakir
Bakir's music resonates with mystery, verging unpretentiously on the exotic.

Guitarist/composer Sinan Bakir, a Nutmeg State transplant who’s originally from Ankara, Turkey, has set Gold Medal standards of excellence in expression in recent years with his two acclaimed recordings and live performances in many venues stretching from Connecticut to New York.

You’ll get a chance to hear Bakir up close and personal in a solo electric guitar performance at 8:00 pm on Saturday, January 10, in the cozy, casual intimacy of the performance gallery space at The Buttonwood Tree Performing Arts and Cultural Center at 605 Main Street in Middletown.

Bakir’s freshman disc, On My Way (2009), basked in critical acclaim and international airplay. So did his follow-up release, Tales and Stories (2012), which, defying the so-called sophomore jinx that sometimes shadows promising athletes and musicians, was also greeted with wide and deep praise, both for his warm, lyrical playing, as well as for his original compositions.

As an improvising musician and composer, Bakir's evocative sound, with its savory blend of jazz, contemporary music influences and ancient Turkish traditions, is subtly layered with elements of the Empire State and the Ottoman Empire. It’s a subtle synthesis (or Sinanthesis) of the old and the new, of the Big Apple, Hartford, and Ankara, infusing the music with a sound immediately recognizable and distinctly all its own.

Instead of serving the more common, bland brand of formulaic fusion -- the prototypical pablum of jazz/pop/pap and faux, glib globalism -- Bakir concocts something new and fresh with his fluent playing and writing. His music resonates with a nuanced aura of mystery verging pleasantly and unpretentiously on the exotic. Along with its subtlety and smartness, it  also swings hard and sings with feeling, with solos and compositions unfurling as smooth banners celebrating his  signature style’s sense and sensibility.

You may have heard Bakir before in other roles from duo to sideman, and in other venues, everywhere from indoor bistros to al fresco festivals. But with its welcoming, home-like performance area which holds about 50 patrons, The Buttonwood is certainly one of the better forums to really hear and see Sinan the Architect at work, all alone while designing elegantly structured conversations with himself on guitar.

Bakir's repertoire will include selections from his original works, standards, and improvised pieces inspired in the moment at the Buttonwood, a relaxed, inviting spot he’s played in before.

Credit Sevim Yolacti
Sevim Yolacti
Sinan Bakir, On My Way

The door and The Buttonwood’s Café/Bookstore open a half-hour before the performance, in case you feel like browsing, schmoozing, or even buying a book.  The bookstore features a collection of rare and old finds for jazz loving bibliophiles. Admission for Bakir’sSolo Electric Guitar performance is $10.00. Tickets available at the door. 

Buttonwood’s Ecumenical Roots

Since opening in 1989, the non-profit Buttonwood Tree has been what it describes as “a grassroots, avant-garde center for all ages, all comers, artists and audiences.” Widely recognized as a  music venue with broad ranging fare, it has, it says, “also offered programs led by outstanding artists in contemporary theater, literature, art, poetry and dance—from belly to hip hop—as well as opening its doors to community activists, educational and religious groups.” 

Credit buttonwood.org
The Buttonwood Tree Performing Arts & Culture Center

Along with its full calendar of various performances, it also offers everything from yoga classes to kids’ arts summer programs.

In January alone, it offers, in addition to Bakir’s evening of solo electric guitar, performances by the globe-trotting, Hartford-born pianist Warren Byrd celebrating his 50th birthday with a solo piano concert at 8:00 pm on January 24; the cool, expressive trumpeter Ricky Alfonso leading his group at 7:00 pm on January 30; and the rising, young contemporary Latin jazz guitarist, Greg Diamond, at 8:00 pm on January 31.

Byrd Sightings

The high-flying Byrd, who seems constantly in migratory flights from Hartford to Amsterdam and back with the celebrated Dutch trumpeter Saskia Laroo, plans to launch new works on The Buttonwood Tree’s refurbished, vintage Steinway grand, plus a few vocal numbers.

No doubt, there will be surprise Byrd flights of imagination to celebrate the pianist/ composer/ vocalist’s birthday, perhaps even a grand journey through Miles Davis’s Milestones to mark his own personal milestone year.

Alfonso the Great

Alfonso, a smart, stylish trumpeter, sums up his aesthetic philosophy and artist’s credo with words that he actually lives by from gig to gig: “I like to play tunes that swing and have a groove. People want to have a good time when they hear live music. To me, that’s what it’s all about.”

Jazz Jewels at Bargain Rates

Diamond, yet another Buttonwood January jazz jewel, has shared his multi-faceted light on stage with heavyweights ranging from Seamus Blake to Gretchen Parlato, and performed at top jazz clubs ranging from The Blue Note to the Zinc Bar.

All these jazz events offer a bargain admission price of only $10.00 apiece. That’s a retro rate right out of perhaps the '70s or '80s, a good deal for modern, progressive products.

For information about The Buttonwood Tree, a neighborly, communally-oriented, happily hip art and entertainment center, and its diverse offerings of events and special programs, go to: buttonwood.org or call (860) 347-4957.

Jazz Shares Pick Nix Fare

Although perhaps best known for his 12-year-stint with Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time band from 1975 to 1987, guitarist/composer Bern Nix has carved a distinguished niche for himself with a handful of much-prized and praised recordings and countless live performances as a leader.

Credit jaynecortez08.com
Jayne Cortez and Bern Nix

Besides leading his own classy experimental jazz chamber groups, Nix has long been an  invaluable sideman who has  shared his expressionistic art with everybody from John Zorn, a guardian and grandee of the avant-garde, to Jayne Cortez, the firebrand poet, activist and performance artist.

Thanks to Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares, a grassroots, volunteer group of jazz advocates, Nix leads his quartet in a sure to be surprise-packed concert at 7:30 pm on Saturday, January 10, at the Arts Trust Building at 33 Hawley Street in Northampton, Massachusetts. His collaborators are Matt Lavelle, trumpet and alto clarinet; Francois Grillot, bass; and Reggie Sylvester, drums.

Nix learned much from Coleman, his great mentor and longtime boss, absorbing the great innovator’s original “harmolodic” theories about the inter-relationships among melody, harmony and rhythms. At the same time, of course, Nix was honing his own melodic style and expressive voice. Nix knack for originality and openness also abound on his own recordings, starting with his first album as a leader, Alarms and Excursions, a trio date in 1993 with bassist Fred Hopkins and drummer Newman Baker. His discography includes a bold solo recording, Low Barometer in 2006, and, more recently, Negative Capability, a quartet session from 2013 uniting him with the same three allies he’ll have for his concert in Northampton.  

Credit Facebook
Bern Nix

Even if Nix had, for some inexplicable reason, taken an early retirement after his Ornette years, he’d still be much more than a mere footnote in some pedant’s doctoral dissertation on Coleman’s career. During those dozen years, he recorded albums with Prime Time (including Dancing in Your Head, one of the all-time great album titles), and performed with the band in hundreds of concerts around the world.

With Prime Time, in fact, Nix played in Hartford in the summer of 1985 at Real Art Ways’s remarkable, week-long Ornette Coleman Festival, whose bill boasted a free, live concert in Bushnell Park with Prime Time at its visceral best.

More than 2,000 fans jammed the lawn around the park’s bandstand as Hartford Mayor Thirman Milner, at mid-concert, presented the American master with the keys to the city. The jazz bash, which featured Coleman on alto, violin and trumpet,  marked the avant-garde maestro’s first appearance in the capital city as well as the celebration of RAW’s tenth-year anniversary.

Among the ambitious festival’s lineup of diverse attractions were:  a screening of documentarian Shirley Clarke’s "Ornettte Made in America," and the presentation of several of Coleman’s chamber works. Among these was his "Time Design," a string quartet piece dedicated to his friend Buckminster Fuller, making its east coast premiere in what were then RAW’s Spartan, bohemian loft digs in downtown Hartford on Allyn Street.

Besides all that, you could hear the superb duo of trumpeter Don Cherry and drummer Ed Blackwell (two of Coleman’s greatest collaborators) perform in the afternoon in a downtown church, followed that evening by a concert featuring guitarist James “Blood” Ulmer leading his quartet. Tickets for the Nix concert in Northampton are $15.00, and are available at jazzshares.org or at the door. Check out the website for more information on Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares and its innovative shareholding concept of raising capital to invest in future concerts.

Side Door Welcomes Roxy Coss

As part of its open door policy of welcoming emerging young talent, Old Lyme’s Side Door Jazz Club presents the quicksilver-witted saxophonist Roxy Coss (Downbeat’s 2014 Critics Poll “Rising Star” winner on soprano saxophone) leading her quintet at 8:30 pm on Friday, January 9, at the shoreline jazz spa at 85 Lyme Street.

Coss’s collaborators are: Rafal Sarnecki, guitar; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Dave Baron, bass; and Willie Jones III, drums. Admission: $28.50. Information: thesidedoorjazz.com and (860) 434-0886.

Coss, who has won acclaim as a featured sideperson on recent High Note albums by noted  trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, has also performed with other notables ranging from Louis Hayes to Claudio Roditi, and as a show-stopping soloist for the power-packed, all-female band, Sherrie Maricle and the Diva Jazz Orchestra.

Credit Gulnara Khamatova
Roxy Coss

A native of Seattle, Washington, the New York-based woodwind wizard (tenor, alto and soprano saxophones, flute and clarinet) has toured throughout Europe, Canada and the United States, and played at festivals ranging from the North Sea Jazz to the Montreux Jazz festivals in Europe to the JVC-New York Jazz Festival. Leading her own groups, she’s played at such Big Apple venues as Smalls and Smoke and at Cecil’s Jazz Club in West Orange, New Jersey.

Awarded a full scholarship, the versatile multi-instrumentalist, with a focus on tenor saxophone artistry, attended William Paterson University in New Jersey where she studied with such luminaries as Harold Mabern and Mulgrew Miller, among others.

If you read her smart, articulate blogs -- bristling with bright, razor sharp reflections on everything from feminism to the art of jazz -- you won’t be at all surprised to learn that she’s a magna cum laude graduate who, in 2008, earned her bachelor of music degree in jazz studies/performance at Paterson.

For her eponymously titled debut disc, whose release in 2008 caused a stir, Coss, in a display of her signature originality, wrote all the tunes. A second album, scheduled for release in 2015, will feature, among other musicians, Jeremy Pelt and the great Hartford-born bassist Dezron Douglas.

For all her training, technical mastery and cerebral interests, Coss writes in a blog that her “end goal” as an artist inventing at the top of her craft is “to reach and move people through beautiful music.”

Baby Grand Touts Trumpeter

Although it’s named Baby Grand Jazz, The Hartford Public Library’s admission-free weekly series, also sometimes headlines non-piano playing performers. It does just that at 3:00 pm on Sunday, January 11, as it presents the New Haven-based trumpeter/composer Nicholas “Nick” Di Maria leading his quintet in the downtown library’s atrium at 500 Main Street.

A graduate of Western Connecticut State University, Di Maria has studied with such brass masters as Eddie Henderson, Jeremy Pelt and Taylor Ho Bynum. His studio release, The Beatnik, is described as half straight-ahead, half electro-acoustic jazz, and features nine original compositions. His library lineup features himself on trumpet; Andrew Kosiba, piano; Andrew Zwart, bass; and Eric Hallenbeck, drums.

Credit Christine Bartolucci
Nick DiMaria

On the  following Sunday, January 18, the series puts the focus back on piano, specifically on the iconic baby grand for which it was named, by presenting  an encore performance by the outstanding, Japanese-born pianist Eri Yamamoto, who will be accompanied by drummer Ikuo Takeuchi. Downbeat time for the duo’s one-hour performance is 3:00 pm.

To get choice spots up front and as close as possible to the baby grand, the series’ holy of holies, it would be wise to arrive early to stake out seats that go on a first-come, first-served basis. This might well be another one of the popular series’ chamber jazz gems drawing a packed house of nearly 500 or more. As many devout, early arriving, concert-goers well know, the downtown library’s doors open on Sundays at 1:00 pm. Information: hplct.org and (860) 695-6300. 

Please submit press releases on upcoming jazz events at least two weeks before the publication date to omac28@gmail.com. Comments left below are also most welcome.   

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