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It’s that time of year again! The kickoff of this year’s DC Jazz Festival means an expanded version of Jazz Setlist; and this is just the first seven days, kids. More next week.
Thursday, June 7
The festival’s hub this year is at the new D.C. outpost of City Winery, occupying the large, high Ivy City building formerly known as the nightclub Dream (back when the nightclub Dream was the only thing in Ivy City). Hence it is where this year’s opening ceremony takes place. The opening address, then, belongs to a harmonicist of surprising weight, given that instrument. Although Toots Thielemans remains the touchstone of the instrument in jazz, other practitioners have shied away from his approach—they prefer a thin, reedy, single-note-line approach that doesn’t account the harmonica’s natural blues-friendliness. Its thick, meaty chords, the fat tones, and the beautiful note bends are the things that made it an archetypal vessel for the country blues in particular. Frederic Yonnet, however, picks up that gauntlet. His are hearty lines, spicy and unpredictable, and as full of soul as any player you’ll ever hear on the instrument—even Stevie Wonder. Opening is the always (and I mean always) wonderful Washington Renaissance Octet—don’t miss either act. Also, Dave Chappelle. Yes, the Dave Chappelle will be performing. It begins at 7:30 p.m. at City Winery, 1350 Okie St. NE. $21-$36.
Friday, June 8
This writer had his Best-of-2017 list all finished and ready to go when, suddenly seeing a blurb on Twitter about Chicago trumpeter Jaimie Branch’s album Fly Or Die, the realization hit that an important release had been overlooked. Upon digging it out and giving it a listen, every entry on the used-to-be-finished list moved down a notch and Branch’s disc went immediately to Number 1. In retrospect, that snap judgment was correct. Branch is a free player, with a powerful, penetrating sound, whose spontaneous inventions are as often tonal as not. They consist perhaps less of fully formed melodies than of related series of memorably pugilistic phrases, interspersed with alien, guttural resonances and expectorations. She makes it all listenable and logical, in no small part thanks to the band of explorers who’s willing to follow her every direction, no matter how dangerous or convention defying it may be. Jaimie Branch and Fly or Die perform at 9 p.m. at Union Stage, 740 Water St. SW. $15-$20.
Saturday, June 9
To hear Pharoah Sanders today, or even to hear about him, it’s strange to think he was ever the flame-keeper of jazz’s most serrated cutting edge. Albert Ayler famously put the saxophonist in the holy trinity of 1960s “New Thing” radicals, for one thing. He was John Coltrane’s frontline partner in the latter’s final ensemble, and to a great extent the heir to his spiritual, sheets-of-sound paroxysms. But as Coltrane never fully abandoned the modal music he’d cultivated so fruitfully, neither did Sanders—indeed it became the dominant impulse in his music by the 1980s, by which time that sound had moved from the radical to the mainstream branch. The music didn’t move by itself, though; Sanders reinvented it, and himself, in a more traditional idiom. It’s beautiful stuff. There are still flights of fury, however—and he still lays down his calling card, “The Creator Has a Master Plan.” Pharoah Sanders performs at 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. at City Winery. $38-$50.
Sunday, June 10
He’s a frequent performer in D.C.—was artist in residence at the Kennedy Center in 2016-17, in fact—but Terence Blanchard hasn’t performed as part of the DC Jazz Festival since 2009. At that time he was unveiling what became his album Choices, the title track of which now forms part of the trumpeter’s set with his E-Collective. Blanchard has surrounded himself with a group of young innovators—keyboardist Fabian Almazan, guitarist Charles Altura, electric bassist David Ginyard, and drummer Oscar Seaton—to create a band that is best described as latter-day fusion. Not jazz-rock, per se, but fusion with R&B, funk, hip-hop, and electronic music. Grooves, in other words. (Though rock is still in there: how could it not be, when working out on a song called “Dear Jimi”?) The music seeks to take on the politics of its time, the reckoning underlined by the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s fiery, even angry at times, and its passion is scintillating. Terence Blanchard and E-Collective perform (with opener Mark G. Meadows, DC’s own formidable, politically inspired composer) at 7:30 p.m. at The Hamilton, 600 14th St. NW. $24.75-$62.75.
Monday, June 11
Tom Teasley usually refers to himself as a “world percussionist,” since his musical scope is much bigger than any single tradition. He plays the trap drum kit, as well as just about every other form of drum and percussion imaginable, and while his music has global reach, it is also deeply personal. For the festival, Teasley pays tribute to legendary jazz drummer Max Roach, one of his influences. He’s not planning to do so on a traditional drum set, however—he has a sort of Frankenstein’s-monster homage to the traps on which he combines drums from several cultures and traditions into an idiosyncratic “kit.” Already, you can find shades of Roach’s percussion ensemble M’Boom in that approach; more importantly, though, you can see how Teasley is able to synthesize the entire history and range of percussive music into something that’s his own. Tom Teasley performs a solo percussion concert (with guest vocalist Charles Williams) at 7 p.m. at UDC’s Performing Arts Recital Hall, 4200 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free.
Tuesday, June 12
Since jazz first was committed to record 101 years ago, aspiring players and hardcore fans have learned their favorite improvisations note for note. It took the vocalist Eddie Jefferson, though, to have the brilliant idea to write lyrics that could be sung to those improvised solos. The product of this alchemy was a style called vocalese, which has developed into a widely used language of its own (and of which D.C. has its own brilliant practitioner in the great George V. Johnson). It should be noted that Allan Harris, the warm, thoughtful baritone vocalist, is not known for his vocalese singing per se—but the suppleness of both his voice and articulation are particularly suited to it. Therefore, his paying tribute to the style and its creator in a concert performance that he’s titled “The Genius of Eddie Jefferson” can only beget good things. Allan Harris performs at 7:30 (with opening act D.C. singer Lena Seikaly) at The Hamilton. $17.25-$47.25.
Wednesday, June 13
Speaking of paying tribute: the late, great Keter Betts remains the touchstone for the deep, steady tradition of the D.C. bass, one of the most wondrous and rich center points of the music as played in the nation’s capital. Betts begat Michael Bowie, Wes Biles, and Herman Burney; Bowie and Burney (among others) begat Ben Williams, the Michigan Park native and Duke Ellington School alumnus who is of course now tearing it up in New York. Williams is important enough to the District that he has a gala birthday concert here every December; he’s also important enough that he has this year become the DC Jazz Festival’s first artist-in-residence. One expression of that residency is to pay tribute to the Grand Master of the tradition from which he blossoms, with Bowie, Biles, and Burney all on hand to help. Four D.C. bassists celebrating the D.C. bass? Who can say no to that? It begins at 8 p.m. at City Winery. $20-$30.