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At the Newport Jazz Festival, 10 exciting boundary-stretchers

Celisse performs at the sixth annual Love Rocks NYC benefit concert.Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/file

Long before Coachella, Bonnaroo, or even the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, there was the Newport Jazz Festival. Since 1954, Newport has hosted the giants of jazz, and scores of crossover stars as well.

Over the years the festival has also attracted a significant portion of the jazz police, who have been known to complain that certain acts — a Frank Zappa here, a Mos Def there — don’t belong on the Jazz Festival stage. But Newport has weathered riots, fence-crashers, a years-long relocation to New York, and a sponsorship arrangement with Schlitz beer. A little quibbling over pigeon-holing — pshaw.


Back in full swing with COVID restrictions on the wane, this year’s festival, Friday through Sunday at Fort Adams State Park, features plenty of jazz stalwarts, from the pianist Jason Moran, trumpeter Terence Blanchard, and bassists Ron Carter and Esperanza Spalding to the Mingus Big Band and the Jack DeJohnette Quartet. Vocalists Jazzmeia Horn and Cecile McLorin Salvant have helped bring some newer blood to the form in recent years, and on Friday artistic director Christian McBride will present his “Newport Jawn,” featuring the pianist Vijay Iyer and harpist Brandee Younger.

Those are all sure bets. For folks who will be attending one, two, or all three days of the festival, we’ve combed the lineup for a few recommendations from out on the fringes.

Celisse (Friday)

Fresh off her stunning performance of Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me” during the Newport Folk Festival’s closing set last Sunday, this wonderful self-taught guitarist has become a music festival habitue, even as she still owes us a debut album. When the Globe spoke with her ahead of Boston Calling in May, she explained her stock answer for those who feel they need a point of reference: “When people ask me what my music is like, I say, ‘It’s very good.’ ”


BadBadNotGood (Friday)

Formed while studying together in a college jazz program in Toronto, these young fusionists have become renowned for their instrumental hip-hop covers and their collaborations with Kendrick Lamar and Tyler, the Creator, among others. Their most recent album, “Talk Memory” (2021), features string arrangements from the veteran Brazilian composer Arthur Verocai.

Pino Palladino with Blake Mills, Sam Gendel, and Abe Rounds (Friday)

Palladino, born and raised in Wales, has a rock pedigree, having played with the Who, John Mayer, and Jeff Beck. But the fretless bassist was also one of the first rhythm-section veterans to recognize the appeal of the late J Dilla’s unusual rhythmic sensibility, somewhere between straight and swing time. He was featured on D’Angelo’s second album, “Voodoo.”

Shabaka Hutchings (second from right) and the Sons of Kemet. Hutchings and Theon Cross (right) will play individual sets on Friday, followed by the Sons of Kemet on Saturday.Perrick Guidou

Shabaka Hutchings (Friday)

Best known as the leader of London’s Sons of Kemet, the saxophonist has been a key part of the city’s jazz renaissance of recent years. Internationally recognized, he’s been invited to play with the Sun Ra Arkestra and the Ethiopian jazz legend Mulatu Astatke. Sons of Kemet tuba player Theon Cross has his own set planned for Newport, and they’re tight with saxophonist Nubya Garcia. Expect plenty of Newport’s signature guest appearances and surprise walk-ons.

Antonio Sanchez and Bad Hombre (Saturday)

Returning to Newport after a visit during his Grammy-nominated year of 2017, the Mexican drummer — another product of Boston’s music training (Berklee, New England Conservatory of Music) — is probably best known for his innovative soundtrack to the dark comedy “Birdman” (2014). The multiple Grammy winner brings along the band behind his celebrated album “Bad Hombre.”


Samara JoyNoam Galai/Getty Images for Jazz At Lincoln Center

Samara Joy (Saturday)

Barely in her 20s, she’s one of the latest in a very long line of singers drawn to the precise calibrations and sublime worldplay of the Great American Songbook. A past winner of the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition, her brand-new debut album features lovely versions of “Lover Man” and “Stardust,” as well as less pervasive standards such as “Only a Moment Ago.”

Maria Schneider Orchestra (Saturday)

The composer and bandleader, who studied as a young woman with the late jazz arranger Bob Brookmeyer, has distinguished herself in recent years with her thoughtful consideration of the consequences of Big Tech. Her double album “Data Lords” (2020), based on work commissioned by the Library of Congress, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. One track is called “Don’t Be Evil” — Google’s motto. You could look it up.

Digable PlanetsChris Lee

Digable Planets (Sunday)

In the early 1990s this trio was part of the brief but brilliant “Daisy Age” of hip-hop, when a handful of groups updated the peace-love-and-Day-Glo of the hippie era for a new generation. Having reunited periodically since their 1995 breakup, Butterfly, Doodlebug, and Ladybug Mecca are bringing their chill zone to Newport. Back in the day, their music featured astute samples drawn from Roy Ayers, Herbie Hancock, and Grant Green. It was, as they dubbed it, a “Rebirth of Slick.”

Jazz Is Dead (Sunday)


Irony, however, is not. Hip-hop producers Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad (the latter a founding member of A Tribe Called Quest) were, uh, instrumental in working classic jazz samples into the music of their generation. Their “Jazz Is Dead” series has released a flurry of recordings paying tribute to the artists who made their sampling world possible. At Newport, they will present their latest mashup, with featured guest Doug Carn, whose 1970s albums with then-wife Jean are cult classics.

LaufeyBlythe Thomas

Laufey (Sunday)

This Icelandic singer, a recent Berklee graduate, calls her music “modern jazz.” It also has clear hints of bossa nova. Judging from the dreamy first singles in advance of her forthcoming debut album “Everything I Know About Love” — “Dear Soulmate” lands like rose petals — she’s bound to find the common ground between fans of Ella (Fitzgerald) and Eilish (Billie).

Email James Sullivan at jamesgsullivan@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.


At Fort Adams State Park, Newport, R.I. July 29-31. Single-day tickets start at $94.76. www.newportjazz.org