If you're looking for the steal of the weekend -- or steal of the month -- you can't beat the eleventh installation of the long-running free jazz festival that's been gracing Mears Park right around the beginning of summer. And by "free jazz", we're not just talking about a specific strain of experimental post-bop. In this case, it means jazz you don't have to pay for, though the artists gigging around Downtown St. Paul this weekend have been worth the cover charge before. One of those artists is Esperanza Spalding (pictured), fresh off a recent, raved-over Dakota engagement earlier this year, and the 24 year-old bass virtuoso's blend of fusion chops and classic bop make her one of the most promising new sounds going. And while there's plenty of other top-notch local jazz fixtures to fill the bill -- Irv Williams, the Atlantis Quartet and the George Avaloz Quartet amongst them -- there's also contributing artists from the worlds of indie rock (Solid Gold), folk-blues (Nikki & the RueMates) and R&B, the latter category represented by the legendary New Orleans soul catalyst Allen Toussaint.
Fri., June 19, 4-10 p.m.; Sat., June 20, 12-10 p.m., 2009