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In Gardens 2017 - Avant Jazz Outdoors in New York City

John Sharpe By

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While the NYC-based artist lead co-operative Arts For Art might be best known for putting on the annual Vision Festival, that's by no means the full extent of its activities. One regular event among the year's schedule is the In Gardens concert series. As the name suggests, this entails presenting music in public open spaces in New York City. In 2017 the series comprised four weekends of music presented free of charge across a range of locations in Manhattan, of which I was able to attend the last two.

There was no attempt to program acts which might be deemed more accessible to the uninitiated, as evidenced by sets of unaccompanied bass, a trumpet and drums duo, and a duet for bass and Korean flute. The fare on offer consisted of a mixture of stalwarts from the local avant jazz scene -the sort of folk you would expect to see on stage at the Vision Festival -and some of the younger up-and-coming players from around town.

By and large the audience was drawn from the initiated, the sort of folk you would expect to see in the auditorium at the Vision Festival. But the beauty of the open air settings was that curious passers-by could also be enticed in. For the last three days, the performance was staged at First Street Green, adjacent to Houston Street, one of the Big Apple's busiest thoroughfares. A constant stream of pedestrians passed, with many stopping to record the goings on on their phones, and some standing for longer to take in what was happening.

And what was happening, in competition with traffic, sirens, and construction noise, was at times some world class music which would grace the stage of any festival anywhere. Among the highlights were the duo of tenor saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and drummer Tom Rainey, trumpeter Jaimie Branch's trio with bassist Luke Stewart and drummer Mike Pride, and drummer Whit Dickey's trio with alto saxophonist Rob Brown and bassist Brandon Lopez.

Other stellar talents included bassist Michael Bisio, multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter, violinist Jason Kao Hwang and bassist William Parker. Dance and poetry also took their turn, with the combination of the athletic dancer K.J. Holmes and drummer Jeremy Carlstedt proving particularly uninhibited and engaging. Look out for next year's series.
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