Leslie Mendelson
Leslie Mendelson

Con Vivo, a group of chamber musicians, received a $17,500 program grant from the Jersey City Arts and Culture Trust Fund. No entity got more. Jazz and classical pianist Alon Nechushtan took home $5,000. Nimbus, the dance company that has been one of Jersey City’s most visible — and flexible — arts organizations, scored a $25,000 operating grant. That was the upper limit awarded to any institution in town.  Collectively, these Trust Fund awards represent an implicit value judgment: this is what the designated arts representatives of the City of Jersey City believe we ought to be paying attention to.

Are they right?  Was this forty-seven thousand taxpayer dollars wisely spent?  We begin to find out this month, when Con Vivo, Nechushtan, and Nimbus join forces for an expansive project: five thirty-minute presentations of chamber music, opera, and movement, all done outdoors in public places, all directly engaging with the history of Jersey City. Nechushtan wrote the music and some of the libretto, Con Vivo supplies the orchestration and performances, and the Nimbus crew, choreographed by the imaginative Harumi Elders, will be supporting the project with dance. They’re calling it “Chilltown Boogie,” and it’ll be running all Sunday. That means a comic piece on Owen Grundy Pier about work on the Morris Canal (12:30 p.m.), a Revolutionary War-era handshake with George Washington in Paulus Hook Park (2:00 p.m.), a confrontation with the ghosts of mayors Frank Hague and John Kenny on the steps of City Hall (3:30 p.m.), a ride on the Underground Railroad at Berry Lane Park (5 p.m.), and a trip to the beautiful Temple Beth-El (6:30 p.m.)

Does Con Vivo really expect you to chase their vision all over the town, right in the middle of the Studio Tour?  Maybe, and maybe not, and maybe it doesn’t matter. Perhaps they’re just hoping to capture the interest of curious passersby on a pretty fall day.  Opera singing in a park is remarkable enough; opera singing on unusual topics of local interest ought to be worthy of a few minutes of your weekend.  So while there’s plenty of interest happening in Jersey City in October, we lead our monthly roundup of upcoming musical performances with:

Chilltown Boogie (Oct. 2)

From the terrible name to their decision to do this right in the middle of JCAST to the number of participants whose biographies lead with their New York City credits and don’t mention Jersey City at all, this endeavor is wallpapered with red flags. We’re all painfully aware of the ways in which our Jersey history gets told — and doesn’t get told — by our well-meaning friends across the Hudson.  But the Nimbus dancers have proven themselves adept at fitting movement to music of all kinds, and Nechushtan knows how to get experimental and strange without stranding his audience in thickets of sound.  As for Con Vivo, it’s hard to knock their ambition, or their willingness to say thank you by giving Jersey City a great big bear hug. It’s been a while since any organization has attempted something of this scope. That alone is commendable. I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt, and I think you ought to, too. I’ll see you on the Pier — or at Paulus Hook Park if I sleep in after a long Studio Tour Saturday. (All over town, all day, free; visit convivomusic.org.)

La Perversa @ The Factory Restaurant & Lounge  (Oct. 14)

This, I confess, is a little more my speed: an appearance by a quick-witted, occasionally foul-mouthed, but undeniably talented Dominican-American rapper and urbano artist. “Pompa,” her summer single, walked the line between hypercaffeinated wonderment and sheer irritation and provocation, as all music like this should, and La Perversa rapped it in a voice that was simultaneously adorable and utterly depraved. She won extra points for shooting the video in Inwood, a neglected Manhattan neighborhood that shares more than a little with Bergen-Lafayette. (Now that’s an intervention from across the Hudson that I can get behind.) Prior single “Mi Necesidad” demonstrated the artist’s softer side. It’s a sweet track, but it’s the rowdy stuff where she’s most at home, and it’s what you can expect when she gets a microphone in those tattooed hands. (The Factory, 451 Communipaw Ave., 9 p.m., $50; visit boletosexpress.com and facebook.com/factory451.)

Cordâme @ Jersey City Theater Center (Oct. 15)

JCTC also received the maximum operating grant from the Jersey City Arts and Culture Trust Fund — $25,000, just like Nimbus, Art House Productions, Ariel Rivka Dance, Riverview Jazz, Shakespeare@, and the Speranza Theatre Company. Musical performances certainly aren’t all they’ll do with the money. But it is noteworthy that they’re bringing in an act that exists at the same intersection of jazz and classical music that Nimbus, Nechushtan, and Con Vivo are exploring. In fairness, Cordâme isn’t really either thing: the Montreal sextet is a bit too percussion-driven and pop-aware to be called a chamber music group, and they don’t have much of the Mississippi River grit common to jazz practitioners. But they’re aces at texture and virtuosos of feel, and they’re practiced hands at generating gorgeous atmosphere. At JCTC, they’ll be performing their “Da Vinci Inventions,” a set of compositions by Cordâme bandleader Jean Félix Mailloux inspired by the Renaissance painter. Mailloux is an inventive composer, but he’s even better as a standing bassist. His energetic, melodic bottom-end suggests he’s heard a Danny Thompson recording or two in his time. (Jersey City Theater Center, 165 Newark Ave, 6 p.m., $20; visit jctcenter.org.)

Leslie Mendelson @ Nimbus (Oct. 15)

There are many good reasons to attend the daylong Hudson West Folk Festival at Nimbus. The arch but sensitive Ari Hest will be strumming there, and the country and bluegrass veterans in the Ebony Hillbillies will be plucking banjos and scraping washboards. But the real star attraction here is pianist and singer Leslie Mendelson, who’s probably best known as an opener for The Who and a duet partner with Jackson Browne. The tough, tense If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…, her 2020 full-length album, showed that she was more than just a classic rock sidekick. Her buddy Browne bangs out thoughtful, ruminative protest songs; Mendelson is just as wise and just as trenchant, but she’s quite a bit more heated. On the set, she turns her pen against overmedication, guns, casual misogynists, saturation news coverage, and the prevarications of those in power, and although she (rightfully) gets worked up, she keeps things pretty tuneful. The cathartic model is the Plastic Ono Band, right down to the drum sound and the vocal effects, and the tone is one of old-fashioned protest.  If you’re also a little peeved about the parlous state of the nation, you’ll likely find Mendelson a fellow traveler. (The Hudson West Folk Festival at Nimbus Arts Center, 329 Warren St., noon until 10 p.m., $20-$100; visit hudsonwestfest.org.)

PJ Morton
PJ Morton

The Ghost Of Uncle Joe’s (Oct. 22) 

As certain apparitions do (see Ghostbusters, the collected works of H.P. Lovecraft, etc.) the ghost of Uncle Joe’s has grown so big that it threatens to engulf the town. Afterparties are scheduled for Porta, both levels of the Pet Shop, Lo-Fi, and the Jersey City Theater Company, and the haunting continues past All Saints Day and into November. It’s probably best to approach and celebrate this annual event as the festival of misdirection it is. But the main event takes place where it aways does — the Historic Harsimus Cemetery, and it’ll feature performances by the Bee Gees, Def Lepard, the Native Tongues, Tame Impala, the Cars, and other legends. We cannot confirm or deny whether these are the actual artists, or local favorites like CR and the Nones, Hudson City Rats, and Concrete Dream in Hallowe’en guise; direct your inquiries toward “Dancing Tony” Susco, who has thrown this legendary local party and cemetery benefit for years. Of special interest to fans of progressive rock: at 2:40 in the afternoon, Marty O’Kane of the ambitious Jersey pop-rock band Spiraling will attempt to channel the spirit of Yes.  It’s worth remembering that his Spiraling bandmate Tom Brislin was briefly in Yes. Will Jon Anderson stop by the graveyard to put on a high harmony, or will he just be there in celestial spirit? (Historic Harsimus Cemetery, 435 Newark Ave., 1 p.m–10 p.m.; visit theghostofunclejoes.com.)

PJ Morton @ White Eagle Hall (Oct. 27)

Yes, he was a member of Maroon 5 for awhile.  Don’t hold that against him.  Back then, Maroon 5 was a real band (yes they were), and Morton’s synths and piano were essential elements of their surprisingly rocking stage show.  He took Adam Levine to church, which was a trick he turned with everybody he accompanied: he imparted some gospel soul to all of the projects he participated in.  Finally, in 2020, he broke down and made a devotiona abum, and a really good one, too. Gospel According To PJ features guest performances from many of the living greats of the tradition, including Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams, The Clark Sisters, and Smokie Norful. This year, he’s touring behind the secular follow-up Watch The Sun, a musical tribute to his hometown of New Orleans. Even in the Big Easy, it’s the rare musician who is as comfortable with bounce as he is with vintage R&B.  He’s a living encyclopedia of essential American styles, and he’s ours for one evening. (White Eagle Hall, 337 Newark Ave., 7 p.m., $34.50; visit whiteeaglehall.com.)

Tris McCall

Tris McCall has written about art, architecture, performance, politics, and public culture for many publications, including the Newark Star-Ledger, the Bergen Record, Jersey Beat, the Jersey City Reporter,...