Must-see Twin Cities Jazz Festival shows from six local artists

The Illicit Sextet

Who do Twin Cities jazz musicians want to see at the 2012 Twin Cities Jazz Festival?


The musicians' selections, like the festival's, balance national and local acts and include a variety of styles. Here are some top picks. The musicians who chose them are listed first, in bold.

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Drummer Mac Santiago plays with the Jazz Central All Stars at 10:30 p.m. Thursday and at 9:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday

Tough one. So much good music to narrow down to three.

My selections are based on what I believe to be conceptually strong and representative of the quality of musicianship found right here in the Twin Cities -- not necessarily in this order.

1. The Illicit Sextet -- Tight. Modern. Original. 8 p.m. Friday at the Amsterdam Bar

2. Zacc Harris Group -- Caught this quartet at the Artists' Quarter last month. Impeccable interaction. They really listen to each other in a freaky(intuitive) way. 7:30 p.m. Friday at Studio Z

3. Peter Schimke -- One of the most creative, soulful improvisers on the scene. Always exciting and rhythmically intense. 5 p.m. Saturday at the Amsterdam Bar

Pianist Mary Louise Knutson performs at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Amsterdam Bar

Here are my must-see picks:

1. Jon Weber -- Jon has chops to burn and a deep knowledge of jazz history. I'll probably show up in hopes that some of his technique will rub off on me! 10 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 9 p.m. Saturday at the Artists' Quarter

2. Red Planet - Dean Magraw, guitar; Chris Bates, bass; Jay Epstein, drums. These guys are master improvisers. They aren't going to play your typical set of standards, but they will engage you with their textural originals and inspired interaction. 9 p.m. Friday at the Hat Trick lounge

3. Kevin Washington Band -- I haven't heard Kevin's band, but it's worth the price of admission to hear Kevin play anywhere! 11 p.m. Saturday at Minnesota Music Café

Guitarist Evan Montgomery performed June 16 with the Jana Nyberg Group at the Hayden Heights Library in Paul.

Probably at the top of my list are:

1. Koplant No -- I've known these guys for a while now, and Lulu's Playground and the Jana Nyberg Group have both done several gigs with them. These guys put on not only one of the best live shows I've ever seen, but are some of the nicest and coolest people on the planet. They line up somewhere between Radiohead, Ron Miles, David Binney, and Squarepusher, and they make it work. They are as epic as Koyaanisqatsi having a baby with Prince and then THAT baby having a baby with the physical embodiment of Pat Metheny's The Way Up. Seriously, don't miss that show. 7:15 p.m. Saturday at the 6th Street stage

2. The Graydon Peterson Quartet -- Graydon is a fantastic bassist, and I know he's been getting some pretty good press about his new group. GPQ straddles the line between accessible and the ultra-complex, making music that is clearly very difficult sound effortless and beautiful. Very few words describe what they really sound like, so I'm gonna use one that some old friends made up. The Graydon Peterson Quartet is totally SLAMFT. 6 p.m. Friday at Hat Trick lounge

3. The Bad Plus with Joshua Redman -- There's of course no question that I'm gonna check [them] out. I still have yet to see any of those guys live, and in the Twin Cities that's almost a cardinal sin. 8:30 p.m. Saturday at the Mears Park main stage

Pianist Bryan Nichols performs at 9 p.m. Thursday with the Zacc Harris Group and 7:30 Friday with guitarist Todd Clouser, both at Studio Z.

1. The Bad Plus with Joshua Redman -- One of my favorite modern jazz groups, who I've seen live at least five to 10 times, working with the excellent (but stylistically divergent) Redman. Seems like the kind of combination made for jazz festivals: intriguing, new, almost certainly rewarding. 8:30 p.m. Saturday at the Mears Park main stage

2. Francisco Mela -- I had the brief opportunity to meet Francisco and hear him with Jose James' band last time I was in New York. Having heard his musical, energetic approach to someone else's music, I'm eager to hear his own vision and band. 6 p.m. Friday at the Mears Park main stage

3. Zeitgeist with Nirmala Rajasekar -- Not jazz but could be one of the highlights of the festival. Zeitgeist is always first-rate and Nirmala is incredible (and doesn't perform in the Twin Cities often enough,) so with them combined I can imagine that this will be a fantastic show. 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Saturday at Studio Z

Guitarist Todd Clouser's A Love Electric performs at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Studio Z.

At this year's jazz festival, I'll be in the less publicized rooms checking out:

1. Framework featuring Chris Olson -- I have this record thanks to [bassist] Chris Bates, and love the playing of all three guys, the way guitarist Chris Olson's compositions and melodic sensibilities cross with drummer Jay Epstein's phrasing and touch give the band vibe, concept, identity. 11 p.m. Thursday at Minnesota Music Café

2. Red Planet -- Dean Magraw is a musical hero of mine, and has been since my late teens, I feel fortunate to be able to say that I've been seeing Dean that long, and at a young age there was a player in town that could inspire to the degree Dean has and continues to. Epstein is on drums again, he should have his own jazz festival. I'm running over after our set, along with Chris Bates. 9 p.m. Friday at the Hat Trick lounge

3. Zeitgeist with Nirmala Rajasekar -- I have no idea what kind of music Zeitgeist plays, which is wonderful. It's very expressive and, to me, comes from a very personal space. 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Saturday at Studio Z

Singer Jana Nyberg performed June 16 at the Hayden Heights Library in Paul.

These are my top three picks:

1. Atlantis Quartet -- This is one of the Twin Cities' greatest ensembles, boasting a lineup of Zacc Harris, guitar, Brandon Wozniak, saxophones, Pete Hennig, drums, and Chris Bates, bass. Original compositions, and just great music with some of the Twin Cities' greatest jazz musicians. 5 p.m. Friday at the 6th Street stage

2. Debbie Duncan -- This woman is the definition of soulful. I grew up on Debbie's tunes- love her music, and her person. She's amazing, enough said. 2 p.m. Saturday at the Mears Park main stage

3. Charlie Christenson Trio -- New to the Twin Cities from L.A. and New York, Charlie is a Downbeat award-winning jazz vocalist and also plays a mean piano. Charlie was one of Manhattan School of Music's only vocal graduate students. Check him out. 8 p.m. Thursday at Minnesota Music Café

See the entire Twin Cities Jazz Festival schedule here.