Thursday, Sept. 13
It happens every year, and every year it’s a major feature of D.C.’s autumn jazz calendar: the Congressional Black Caucus annual jazz concert, a linchpin of the CBC’s legislative caucus (which is happening this week at the Convention Center downtown). That said, quite a few changes are afoot for the concert this year. To begin with, it’s got a new host, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), who replaces retired congressman and concert founder John Conyers. For another, this year, for the first time, it is not located at the Convention Center along with the rest of the conference, but is down in Ivy City at the new City Winery. It also features a price tag for the first time—but before you balk at that, you should also consider that the featured attraction is among the most ambitious at the CLC in quite some time. Joe Chambers, an iconic jazz drummer and composer, leads large the percussion ensemble M’Boom, augmented with a string quartet and two D.C. musicians (bassist Herman Burney and tenor saxophonist Brian Settles) in a performance of his own music. It begins at 8 p.m. at City Winery, 1350 Okie St. NE. $55.
Friday, Sept. 14
The name of the band alone is enough to both give you a grin, and make you want to know what they’re up to: Christian McBride’s New Jawn. (Yes, he’s a Philadelphian to the end.) One of the most celebrated and visible bassists (hell, musicians) on the scene these days, McBride seems to have a new project happening every time you look up. A few years back he was running a funky sextet, the quintet Inside Straight, as well as his own big band; shortly thereafter he disbanded the sextet pared the quintet down to a trio with piano and bass, but kept the big band going. The New Jawn is a quartet—a pianoless affair that features saxophonist Marcus Strickland, trumpeter Josh Evans, and the awesome drummer Nasheet Waits. This is something of a sneak preview event, in the sense that their self-titled album together doesn’t drop until late October. However, what you’ll hear on this gig is something that combines the wallop of Sonny Rollins’ early ’60s chordless band (especially the one with Don Cherry) and the “tempered scale is only a suggestion” approach to tonality that you know from the Ornette Coleman ensembles of yore—but a hell of a lot funkier. The New Jawn performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW. $35-$40.
Speaking of pianoless quartets, Cortex’s most recent album from last year is titled Avant-Garde Party Music. Truer words have rarely been spoken. The Norwegian foursome has an enormously strong melodic sensibility—Ornette strong—and a gift, individually and collectively, for finding a riff and working its possibilities exhaustively, even when they’re working freeform (which is often). They’ve also got the most violent, punchiest swing you’ve ever heard. This again sounds like Ornette, but Cortex, and bassist Ola Høyer above all (but kudos as well to trumpeter Thomas Johansson, saxophonist Kristoffer Berre Alberts, and drumming demon Gard Nilssen), is far more groove-centered: that’s the party in their avant-garde party. If you’re looking for that rare combination of music that will tickle your cerebellum at the same time that it makes you bob your head uncontrollably, they may be exactly what the doctor ordered. Cortex performs at 8 p.m. at Rhizome, 6950 Maple St. NW. $10.
Wednesday, Sept. 19
If you happened to be around D.C. and checking out its jazz scene during, say, the mid 1990s, you may remember Cheyney Thomas as a hot bassist, a guy on the one-to-watch list, with his rock-ribbed sound and solid support. Thomas was one of the regular items on the menu at the defunct HR-57, one of the stalwart few that the beloved 14th-then-H-Street establishment depended on to fill out its roster every weekend. He’s not a particularly fancy bassist; not that he doesn’t have lots of chops, but he is very much a meat-and-potatoes kind of player, the type that prizes holding down the rhythm and the harmonic foundation above all else. A Ray Brown bassist, for those of you who know the history. That said, Thomas has a few tricks up his sleeve; without letting go of the aforementioned foundation, for example, he has a charming tendency to break out in countermelodic statements on his axe, especially during a horn player’s solo. Cheyney Thomas performs at 6 p.m. at Alice’s Jazz and Cultural Society, 2813 12th St. NE. $10.