Cincinnati's Liberty Jazz Lab concert series is wrapping up its inaugural season this Saturday, Dec. 8 with The Bad Plus, one of many contemporary acts that have helped keep Jazz healthy and vital by pushing the music forward and exploring beyond genre boundaries and expectations, making it appealing to younger audiences in the process.
The acclaimed Minneapolis trio is a great closer for the concert series, and not just because they are one of the more widely-known acts to perform so far. A crossover favorite, The Bad Plus is incredibly reflective of Liberty Jazz Lab’s mission and dedication to modern, cutting-edge Jazz.
“The community’s passion for this most American art form extends well beyond simple enjoyment of the genre,” the mission statement on libertyjazzlab.org reads. “Jazz Labers share a commitment to supporting the next generation of musicians by giving them a reliable audience, a hip venue and a source of financial support.”
The concerts are held at Liberty Exhibition Hall, a historic former vaudeville theater in Northside that hosts a variety of events by local arts groups like MamLuft Dance Co. Improv Cincinnati and Clifton Players, which purchased the building in 2017. Kicking off in February with John Raymond & Real Feels, in its first year, Liberty Jazz Lab has presented national Jazz acts like Progger, Rob Dixon, Triptych and Noah Preminger, as well as local groups like Spherical Agenda, Down Home Collective and The Original Farm League Big Band.
Cincinnati-based Jazz guitarist Brandon Coleman says he was approached after one of his gigs by local young professionals Craig Brammer (CEO of The Health Collaborative and the Network for Regional Healthcare Improvement) and Tim Engle (of Tim Engle Design) about helping them launch the series. A technically stellar player with a mind for exploration, Coleman’s own musical approach is perfectly aligned with Liberty Jazz Lab’s conceptual vision (read CityBeat’s 2017 profile of the guitarist here).
Coleman curates and books the artists for Liberty Jazz Lab, which has nonprofit status, allowing them to pay the artists well and also contribute to the upkeep and renovations of Liberty Exhibition Hall with the ticket proceeds. The guitarist says the series’ first season accomplished a lot of what it set out to do — nurture the genre on a grassroots, local level and cater to the tastes of younger Jazz fans (who perhaps got into Jazz via modern acts like Snarky Puppy or Kamasi Washington) so that there’s an audience for the music for generations to come.
“So far the response has been overwhelmingly positive and we've seen a lot of fresh faces and newcomers to Jazz (come to the show),” Coleman says. “This is a big plus for me as one of my missions is to find and cultivate the 'new' audience for Jazz in Cincinnati. The overall audience is aging and going out either less to their regular haunts. We want to show a new audience how exciting and relevant Jazz can be by presenting an energetic and diverse lineup.”
Coleman says there are plans to have the series return in 2019, possibly in early spring. But right now he’s looking forward to having The Bad Plus play the finale.
“I'm really, really stoked to have them,” he says. “They aren’t just one of my favorite bands… they really embody what the series is about, and I think they will be a good endcap to the season.”
Tickets to The Bad Plus’ Liberty Jazz Lab performance Saturday (Dec. 8) are $25 ($15 for students) and available here in advance. The band starts at 8:30 p.m.
For more info, visit libertyjazzlab.org.
Here's a recent video profile of The Bad Plus from Jazz Night in America: