7 Must-See Performances at 2017's New York Winter Jazzfest Marathon

Chris Dave performs in 2014
Peter Van Breukelen/Redferns via Getty Images

Chris Dave performs on July 14, 2013 in Rotterdam, Netherlands. 

There are jazz festivals, and then there’s the New York Winter Jazzfest, whose thirteenth annual edition will be staged across downtown New York City this week (Jan. 5-10). Far from the genteel crowds and sedate stages of summer standbys like Newport and Monterey, the Winter Jazzfest -- and specifically its two-night, dozens-of-artists-strong marathon -- is programmed to show just how young and diverse the genre is (yes, in 2017). Instead of sprawling outdoor stages and massive theaters, artists both up-and-coming and world-renowned play in the same small Manhattan clubs that host jazz and pop every other night of the week. Every other night, though, one $45 wristband wouldn’t get you into 13 of them, each hosting about five different acts (for those looking to get the full festival experience, a pass to all the week’s concerts is available for $160).

The scale can be a little overwhelming, especially since the venues span New York’s Greenwich and East Village. This year, WJF is offering a few themes to help guide those daunted by the massive schedule: social justice, with a focus on music tied to the #BlackLivesMatter movement (a portion of the ticket proceeds will go to organizations that promote equality); Thelonious Monk’s centennial (he was born Oct. 10, 1917); and artist-in-residence drummer and composer Andrew Cyrille, who will perform four times during the festival. Below are seven acts selected to show the festival’s range -- and the best part is, if you come prepared for a little trekking around the city, you’ll be able to catch all of them.

Friday, Jan. 6

Dayme Arocena (Le Poisson Rouge, 6:20 p.m.)

The 24-year-old Cuban singer sounds like she’s lived five lifetimes when she opens her mouth -- signed by Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings, she brings a distinctive blend of Santeria (the reason she wears all white), R&B, and of course, jazz to what will inevitably be a dance-inducing set.

Jacob Garchik's Ye Olde (Subculture, 8:40 p.m.)

It would be wrong to talk about WJF without giving time to its sampling of the local experimental scene, and what better example than this ensemble led by trombonist Jacob Garchik: he’s backed three guitarists, including the incandescent Mary Halvorson, and a drummer. Far from chaotic, the result is surprisingly funky -- there’s no more low-pressure way to try something a little out, as the cats say (forgive the jazz-speak, but also don’t be surprised if you hear it more than usual below 14th Street this week).

Melissa Aldana (New School 12th Street Auditorium, 9:20 p.m.)

Aldana proves that there’s no reason swing needs to sound vintage, offering original compositions and standards that show her distinctive melodic sensibilities just as clearly as they do her ability to straight-up shred. The Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition winner (the first woman to receive that award) will be joined by a sextet -- she typically performs with a trio -- so there’s a chance she’ll be testing out some new material.

Chris Dave & the Drumhedz (Bowery Ballroom, 12:20 a.m.)

There’s a strong possibility Chris Dave is your favorite drummer’s favorite drummer -- his career has included stints with everyone from Mint Condition to Meshell N’Degeocello to Robert Glasper to, finally, his own band, which might finally release their studio debut in 2017. Even if those names don’t ring a bell, you’ve heard him play: recently, Dave’s been the backbone of albums from pop artists including Adele, Justin Bieber and most recently, John Legend. Seeing him play his own music, though, is an entirely different experience than what’s on both his jazz and pop resumes. Come prepared for a #vibe, and given his catalog, more than a few special guests.

Saturday, Jan. 7

Ravi Coltrane / David Virelles (New School Tishman Auditorium, 8:40 p.m.)

One of jazz’s most reliable and compelling soloists, Coltrane (yes, as in John’s son) will offer a rare duo performance with pianist David Virelles -- one-offs like this are a major part of what makes the festival so special. Also, it’s a taste of what Grammy voters were considering when they nominated Coltrane for a 2017 best improvised jazz solo award.

Justin Brown NYEUSI (Bowery Electric, 9:40 p.m.)

Between gigs as both Ambrose Akinmusire and Thundercat’s regular drummer, Brown’s been working on some original recordings as well. Here, he shows off some new music with a little high-profile support from pianist (and WJF top-billed artist) Jason Moran.

Ben Wendel Seasons Band (New School Glass Box Theater, 12:00 a.m.)

Ben Wendel has been a fixture of WJF for a while, both with his group Kneebody (who are also on this weekend's bill) and as one of the more prolific saxophonists on the New York scene -- this band is a continuation of his Seasons project, which found him releasing a new song and accompanying video every month of 2015. The result was a collection of lyrical, stripped-down pieces, a perfect way to wrap up an inevitably overstimulating experience.