The New Thing: 5 Artists to Watch From NYC Winter Jazzfest 2016

Deneka Peniston
Keyon Harrold performing at Winter JazzFest 2016.

The NYC Winter Jazzfest, the annual summit of some of the genre’s most forward-thinking veterans and hottest up-and-comers, provides unmatched access to what’s happening in the world of improvised music today. Over the past week, festival-goers have watched everyone from The Arcade Fire and Bon Iver’s Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld to Kendrick Lamar collaborator Terrace Martin explore their more experimental, irreverent modes onstage -- a rare treat (for Martin, it was his first performance in the jazz capital as a bandleader). Mark Guiliana, recently heard on David Bowie’s most recent (and tragically, final) album Blackstar, performed a moving tribute to the late revolutionary as part of his set of lilting compositions.

New York Values On Display at 2016 NYC Winter Jazzfest

A-list connections aside, WJF is an ideal place to find jazz’s ever-sought “next big things” -- here are five names from the festival you’ll likely be hearing much more from in the coming months.

Camila Meza

The Chilean singer and guitarist has been making waves on the New York jazz scene for the past few years, but with the upcoming release of her first album on Sunnyside (Traces, Feb 26), Meza is aiming for audience that reflects her international influences. Alongside an all-star band including James Francies, Linda Oh, and Kendrick Scott, Meza captivated the crowd at intimate new club Django with her performance as she hinted at the fluid, lyrical stylings of Gretchen Parlato with an extra dose of eclectic brashness.

Keyon Harrold

Harrold is hardly a new face on the scene. As a session trumpeter, he’s played with everyone from Jay-Z to Mary J. Blige, and he released his debut in 2009. 2016, though, might just be the year he steps into the spotlight -- the St. Louis-born horn player will be the sound behind Don Cheadle’s take on Miles Davis in upcoming biopic Miles Ahead, due out April 1, and is plotting to release a new album this year as well. Harrold wowed the packed SubCulture theater Friday night (Jan. 15) with an impressive cast including The Robert Glasper Experiment’s Casey Benjamin and in-demand drummer Chris “Daddy” Dave. Though he’s currently label-less, he may not stay that way for long -- Blue Note president and legendary producer Don Was appreciatively watching at the front of the crowd.

Makaya McCraven

McCraven’s set was all about the groove -- extended jams found the Chicago-based drummer experimenting with all shades of rhythm, easily tying jazz to a wide-range of international influences. The hypnotic set showcased his versatility and consequently, potential crossover appeal. It’s only a matter of time before the house remixes start piling up…

Emile Parisien Quartet

This energetic group made their stateside debut at WJF this year -- perfectly in-sync and totally transfixing, Parisien and his (you guessed it) French compatriots brought a taste of the continental avant-garde to Tribeca, as they danced and thrashed around the small stage to their own eclectic, and occasionally Middle-Eastern inspired, music.

Kris Bowers

Bowers has been making fresh jazz fusions for a few years now, playing on Kanye West and Jay-Z’s 2011 album Watch the Throne and scoring a number of recent movies -- during his Saturday set at Judson Church, meditative riffs erupted into rock-tinged jams that drew the listless crowd close. As with most of the sets at the lively, youth-centric festival, one left realizing that anyone saying jazz is dead clearly just hasn’t checked its pulse recently.