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If D.C. tenor saxophonist Brian Settles is intriguing on record, he’s absolutely heart-stopping on the bandstand. An in-demand player known for his versatility, expressiveness, and dizzying imagination, Settles is also a busy freelancer on New York’s avant-garde jazz scene; it’s from that pool of talent that he formed his Central Union ensemble, with which he made Secret Handshake. The album is a heady mixture of lyricism, free improvisation, and rhythmic aggression, all filtered through Settles’ experiments with ensemble and compositional forms. It’s already one of the best performances in a year marked by stellar D.C. jazz recordings. But when you add the electricity of a live audience and the chemistry of a group of superlative improvisers who know each other’s styles inside out, that’s when the sparks really fly.

Brian Settles and Central Union perform at 8 p.m. at Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. $25. 202-399-7993.