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New Atlantis Fest: DIY Free Jazz In D.C.

Sonny Simmons headlines Friday night at the New Atlantis Festival in Washington, D.C., which runs July 23-24. _mattxb via Flickr hide caption

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_mattxb via Flickr

The summer music festival season may be drawing to a close, but at least a few more weekends of unbearable heat, gauged prices on bottled water and sunburned music lovers remain. Here in Washington, D.C., we don't get much in the way of Bonnaroos or Newports. But thanks to the grassroots efforts of locals Ed Ricart and Peter Staas, we do get the first New Atlantis Festival, with 100 percent of proceeds going to the artists.

It's a well-curated weekend, bringing original free jazz vets like Sonny Simmons (!) and young, raw talent under one umbrella — or rather, a D.C. warehouse loading dock turned art gallery called The Fridge. That's not to say the multi-neighborhood crawl of this past summer's DC Jazz Festival wasn't great. It just didn't feature much in the way of the jazz that I regularly enjoy — i.e., paint-peeling improvisation.

Five Must-See Artists At The New Atlantis Festival

The highlight, of course, is mighty saxophonist Sonny Simmons, who never really stopped playing since the late 1960s, but spends much of his time abroad. I've never seen him live myself, but this video suggests the fire hasn't gone out.


After having laid waste to Chicago and Oakland, drummer/composer/record label owner Weasel Walter recently moved to Brooklyn. It didn't take long for him to settle into the extreme improv community, as he brings fellow New Yorkers saxophonist Darius Jones and bassist Tom Blancarte to The Fridge.


I know how it usually works: you skip out on the afternoon acts because it's a bunch of names you don't recognize. But the one-two-three punch of New Loft, Many Arms and Wasteland Jazz Unit is a must-see. (Full disclosure: my record label released a split LP featuring Wasteland Jazz Unit.) These three acts will likely be the noisiest of the festival — especially Wasteland, whose amplified reeds sound like locusts descending upon Valhalla.


Guitarist and bassist Joe Morris plays twice on Saturday night, and while his Wildlife Trio is not something to miss, I'm also curious about his quartet with festival organizer and guitarist Ed Ricart, bassist Jason Ajemian and drummer Sam Lohman (of D.C. free-rock duo Matta Gawa). Something tells me it will be a blowout. No video of this first-time quartet, of course, so here's a Joe Morris video with Whit Dickey, Roy Campbell and Rob Brown.


Saturday night's headliner is none other than Charles Gayle, a self-taught pianist and saxophonist with a huge tone. He splits his instrumental allegiances live, as I first experienced at Vision Festival X, but he'll focus on the horn at The Fridge.


If you can't quite read the official poster below, click here for text-only.

New Atlantis Collective
New Atlantis Festival poster.
New Atlantis Collective
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