Thursday, Aug. 4
Sharón Clark is frequently compared in the jazz press to Sarah Vaughan. There’s some truth to that, certainly in terms of technical prowess and precision of articulation. But where Vaughan was deceptively, subtly powerful, Clark wears her power right on her sleeve. That’s not to say she doesn’t have subtlety in her arsenal, mind you…but walk in on even the softest of Clark’s notes and you will feel your hair stand on end. Vaughan was velvet—she made you feel at home. Clark is brass—she puts you directly into the presence of majesty. Perhaps she’s more of a cross between Vaughan and Aretha Franklin—and I dare you to call that a criticism. Clark is an astonishing talent, one of the most formidable in D.C.’s already formidable stable, and internationally recognized as such. A good fit for the summertime “Jazz on Jackson Place” series. Sharón Clark performs at 6:30 p.m. at Decatur House, 748 Jackson Place NW. $30.
Friday, Aug. 5
Herewith, Setlist goes boldly where it has never gone before: Onto the dramatic stage. Specifically, it goes across the Potomac to Arlington’s much acclaimed Signature Theatre. Currently in residence there is a production of Jelly’s Last Jam, the 1992 Broadway musical exploring the life, career, legacy, and identity of the great Jelly Roll Morton—the New Orleans native who was also the earliest major pianist, composer, and arranger in the history of jazz. (Morton also did some time in D.C., running a late ’30s piano club in the U Street building that now houses Ben’s Next Door.) The play won several awards, including three Tonys, but that’s not what ensures its placement in this column. No, that would be the casting of Mark G. Meadows, D.C.’s own great pianist, composer, arranger, and vocalist, who can now add actor to the already considerable list of his talents. Go see him now. Jelly’s Last Jam begins at 8 p.m. at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Avenue in Arlington. $40-$79.
Saturday, Aug. 6
There’s a school of thought about the jazz bass that says that if they’re doing it right, you should barely notice them. Certainly the bass in jazz tends to be its steadiest and least ostentatious piece of the ensemble. But this makes it easy to overlook how difficult their job is. Bassists, not drummers, are the keepers of the beat, and at the same time they are the ones who have to tie the rhythm to the harmonic witchery that’s going on elsewhere in the band. That last is the real rub—but it explains what I mean when I say that when he composes, Jeff Denson thinks like a bassist. The phrases he builds, the notes he chooses for them as lines and as layers, are inseparable from the rhythms he puts to them. And indeed, on his new CD Concentric Circles, it’s often easy to forget he’s in the mix, especially with the prominence and unusualness of his frontline player, bassoonist Paul Hanson. But then Denson will emit a quavery, bowed solo that makes his voice not only audible, but is unmistakably of a piece with the compositional voice. Jeff Denson, with Hanson and local players Warren Wolf (vibraphone) and Eric Kennedy (drums), performs a Concentric Circles release concert at 8 p.m. at Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street NE. $25-$28.
Monday, Aug. 8
On the short list of things you don’t hear often: “Dude, I’m going to go check out this jazz oboe player!” All right, in fairness, Paul McCandless (a cofounder of the jazz-folk-fusion group Oregon) is a multi-woodwind player, and probably performs more often on soprano sax than oboe. And while we’re being frank, the music he plays with the electric jazz trio Charged Particles doesn’t always feel so jazzy at first blush. The band’s use of certain well-worn synthesizer voicings, mixed with the electric bass, can get uncomfortably close to the dreaded smooth jazz. But that’s a scrim. Concentrate on the rhythms, especially the interplay between McCandless and drummer Jon Krosnick, and all your doubts will fade away. This is serious jazz, intricate and surprisingly aggressive. Paul McCandless and Charged Particles perform at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Avenue NW. $22.50.