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Celebrity Series Jazz Festival brings eclectic musical mix

Scott Haas
Celebrity Series Jazz Festival brings eclectic musical mix
Saxophonist Melissa Aldana. PHOTO: EDUARDO PAVEZ GOYE

The Celebrity Series of Boston’s Jazz Festival is back! From Wednesday, March 8 through Saturday, March 11, this year’s festival presents an eclectic mix of internationally celebrated musicians. The Melissa Aldana Quartet, Hiromi, Nnenna Freelon and Ambrose Akinmusire are the headliners. The festival takes place at the Artists for Humanity EpiCenter on 100 West 2nd St. in South Boston. 

Each night features performances at 7 p.m., starting off on March 8 with the Melissa Aldana Quartet. 

Pianist and composer Hiromi. PHOTO: MUGA MIYAHARA

Aldana, a composer and saxophonist based in New York City, teaches in the New England Conservatory’s Jazz Studies Department. Her oeuvre is varied, from sounds that evoke the influence of Wayne Shorter to songs of deep originality. Aldana is also co-founder of Artemis, an all-female jazz group on the Blue Note Label.

“We will be presenting the music from my latest album, ‘12 Stars,’” Aldana tells the Banner.

Next up is Hiromi on Thursday, March 9. As a pianist and composer, Hiromi is a virtuoso, and creates music that often has a tempo to make listeners’ pulses race; she is energetic on the keys. While her show is sold out, you can still check the box office for last-minute availability.

Hiromi tells the Banner that she will play solo pieces mainly from her latest solo album, “Spectrum.” 

Vocalist Nnenna Freelon. PHOTO: CHRIS CHARLES

Asked what bearing Japanese culture has on her music, Hiromi says, “I am just naturally Japanese, so I am sure it is there naturally. I never try to show it artificially. I bow to people when I greet them, not because I want to show my culture; it is just naturally in me. Just like that, I am sure it is somewhere in my music, because music comes from the soul.”

March 10 features vocalist and composer Nnenna Freelon, who was born and raised in Cambridge. “Time Traveler,” her most recent album (2021), is a deeply melodic recording that can have a calming effect.

“I’ll be performing music from my latest Grammy-nominated CD, ‘Time Traveler,’” Freelon tells the Banner. “It will be a duo concert featuring Brandon McCune on piano, and very special guest Chelsey Green on violin. It’ll be an evening of healing and hope — a sonic love letter to my hometown folks! I’m looking forward to coming home again. It’s been a long time.”

Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. COURTESY PHOTO

The festival closes out on Saturday, March 11 with Ambrose Akinmusire, composer and trumpeter, whose poetic imagination is evident in his album titles alone, such as “The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint,” and “On the Tender Spot of Every Calloused Moment,” his most recent recording (2020). He is also featured in “Mortal Man,” the closing track on Kendrick Lamar’s album, “To Pimp A Butterfly.”

Akinmusire told the Banner in 2021, “I really am African. I can recognize other cultures, to understand what it means to be an outsider. At the same time, my mother is from a small town in Mississippi, so she has had influence on my sensibilities, too. I feel mixed. My father introduced me to the music of Fela Kuti and King Sunny Ade; my mother introduced me to the music of Bobby Bland. Two deep cultures with traditions.”

Audiences can expect four nights of music that at times is familiar, yet overall opens new doors to realms so new and surprising that it may change how you look at and experience music.