Jen Shyu ranked second in the Rising Female Vocalist category of the Downbeat Critics Poll this year, just behind Kate McGarry, and her 2015 release, Sounds and Cries of the World (Pi), placed thirteenth in the Beyond Album category, alongside albums by David Bowie (#1), Lucinda Williams (#5), Willie Nelson (#11), Steve Martin (#13), and the cast of Hamilton (#23). Downbeat’s “Beyond” categories are reserved for artists whose work owes a musical debt to jazz or blues but that doesn’t fit neatly into either of these buckets. To be sure, any bucket big enough to hold Shyu’s work would have to be very big indeed.
Shyu’s experimental jazz compositions traverse musical, cultural, and emotional boundaries; with her classically trained voice, her movements, and her instruments, she investigates how elemental things fit together—earth/water, animals/humans, percussion/strings, spirit/body. Many of the sounds she uses (those of the moon lute, trumpet, viola, bass, gayageum, lakadou, drums, various objects, multiple languages) don’t often have the chance to meet up in your everyday concert world, so her compositions by their very existence beg the question, why not? The answer could be a simple one: most composers stick with the music of their own culture, the music they were raised in. Shyu has very consciously stepped outside the Western classical arts of her youthful training to gain expertise in music and dance forms less known in the US; she seeks to build bridges across cultures, she explains. A danger with multi-stream experimental works like this (and with bridge-building in general), however, is that the well-intentioned project can descend into cacophony or meaninglessness, where everyone is expressing and no one is listening. In her works, though, Shyu carefully sidesteps this problem. Her presence is sufficiently commanding that all the elements of her performances fall into place respectfully around her.
Shyu will be at The Stone Aug. 8-14, presenting six shows called “Rituals,” one Ritual piece per day, with instrumentalists such as drummer/percussionist Tyshawn Sorey, violist Mat Maneri, guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Mark Dresser, and soribuk player Hong Jinwook. On Ritual Days 1-5 Shyu will play either solo or in a small group, but on Ritual Day 6 she will re-create portions of her musical drama “Song of Silver Geese,” which debuted at Roulette in March of this year and features her eight-person band Jade Tongue. Serious and thought-provoking, the piece exemplifies Shyu’s ability to rally multifarious forces into a single, compelling vision.
Singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Joni Mitchell also moved effortlessly through many musical environments, often challenging the established order of the music industry in doing so. Singer Tierney Sutton (#9 in the Female Vocalist category in Downbeat Critics poll) took Mitchell’s innovative songwriting one step further with her 2013 album, “After Blue,” a sensitive, reflective reinterpretation of 12 of Mitchell’s most oft-played tunes. Sutton will present selections from this Grammy-nominated album in “After Blue: The Joni Mitchel Project” at Jazz Standard on Aug. 4-7. The recorded setting for these remakes is intimate and simple, and the Jazz Standard gig promises to be the same, with Mark Summer on cello, Serge Merlaud on guitar, and Ralph Humphrey on drums.
Each summer, around the time of Charlie Parker’s birthday (August 29), the City Parks Foundation sponsors the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, a series of free outdoor jazz concerts in some of the city’s parks. This year the concerts feature some accomplished NY-area jazz singers: on August 26 Etta Jones’ protégé Antoinette Montague will share the ticket with pianist Jason Lindner and his group Breeding Ground in Marcus Garvey Park; on August 27 Thelonious Monk competition winner Jazzmeia Horn and Duke Ellington competition winner Charles Turner III will take to the bandstand with Randy Weston African Rhythms Septet and Cory Henry and The Funk Apostles, also in Marcus Garvey Park; and on August 28 the sultry-voiced Allan Harris will join drummer Jack DeJohnette, bassist Dave Holland, pianist Jason Moran, and saxophonists Donny McCaslin and Grace Kelly in Tompkins Square Park. These talent-heavy concerts, packed with audiences of both old and new jazz listeners, are a fitting tribute to the Bird from his adoptive home town.
Swiss-born, New York-based singer Beat Kaestli’s rich, rangey voice charms the ear on his sixth CD and first non-studio album, Live In Europe (B+B Productions). Kaestli recorded the nine tunes while touring Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic last year; most are standards framed by neat, swinging arrangements expertly rendered by his dextrous trio. Kaestli will launch the album officially with a show at Birdland on Aug 18.
(Reprinted from the August 2016 issue of The New York City Jazz Record.)