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The notion of melding jazz with fringe religious beliefs seems like an insufferable ethnomusicology exercise. But the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, better known as the Shakers, may offer fertile ground for musical experimentation. The Shakers fancied themselves the avant-garde sect of the kingdom of God. Scholars dubbed them “charismatic Christians” because they promoted sexual equality and celebrated God by dancing and shouting. But a society that celebrates celibacy can’t last forever, so the Shakers gradually dwindled, leaving behind a hefty discography. The Shakers’ music, composed of thousands of songs, is pretty odd: Much of it is delivered in indecipherable freestyles spoken in tongues. All the better for New York’s Shakers n’ Bakers, the jazz ensemble that draws its inspiration from the Shakers’ frenetic services. The collective is rounded out by seasoned veterans of New York City’s downtown jazz scene. Even if you’re not researching a paper for a religious studies class, the show’s worth a look.
Shakers n’ Bakers perform at 8 p.m. at Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. $15–$25. (202) 399-7993. atlasarts.org.