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Friday, May 25
The classic sound of the bebop quintet really is a building block for jazz that can’t be diminished; it may have been the sound of the 1950s, but it never gets old. Certainly not in the hands of the District of Columbia’s own Michael Thomas and his quintet, the rare breed of jazz ensemble (in D.C. or anywhere else) that has weathered what is now over two decades with the same personnel on hand as were there on day one. That would be Thomas on trumpet, Zack Graddy on tenor saxophone, Darius Scott on piano, Kent Miller on bass, and Frank “Sparkplug” Williams IV on drums. Thomas is intensely loyal to his band, and two bars of listening reveals why. You can listen to a lot more for a little cash this evening. The Michael Thomas Quintet performs at 6 p.m. at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 400 I St. NW. $5.
Saturday, May 26
It might be best to think of jazz’s current state in the District of Columbia as—well, a diaspora. From its centrality on U Street and environs, it’s branched out all over town, without real patterns save for wherever will book the musicians. One of the most popular, lively, and consistently interesting is each year’s Petworth Jazz Project, which occurs once a month throughout the summer at Petworth Recreation Center off Georgia Avenue. Now it’s not technically summer, but it is nonetheless time to get rolling again in Petworth. The beloved Baba Ras D is on hand for the kids, followed by the stellar trio of Federico Gonzalez Pena on piano and keys, Tarus Mateen on bass, and Cory Fonville on drums. It’s fun, it’s free, it’s kid friendly, and it’s over by dark. (And in time to check out our next pick for the week). The Petworth Jazz Project begins at 6 p.m. at Petworth Recreation Center, 801 Upshur St. NW. Free.
Setlist doesn’t exactly overflow with vocalists, which may suggest that this column is not big on jazz singers. In fact, Setlist has quite a number of favorite D.C. singers, and chooses not to broadcast their ever gig, for the sake of not watering down their considerable impact. Although Lori Williams may actually make it into this column nearly every time she has a big date coming up. Her velvet voice, expressive and elastic time, and delectable phrasing and precision communicates joy with every syllable. She’s got a soft-edged, creamy voice that’s a natural vehicle for introspection, but also one that you could happily curl up and get lost in. It’s stunning, supple, subtle, sumptuous, soulful music—let’s call that the five S’s of Lori Williams, shall we? Somebody remind us to refer back to this in her assured next appearance in Setlist. Lori Williams performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW. $27.50.
Wednesday, May 30
When seeing the band name Jack Kilby and the Front Line, it may be natural to think to oneself, “Oh! Traditional New Orleans stuff, interesting! Oh, wait. That’s second line.” (At least I flatter myself that it’s natural, because it’s what I did.) In fact, Kilby’s band (which varies in size, instrumentation, and personnel) is a hard bop unit with some very funky spices where applicable. Neither of those things should be surprising: Kilby is a drummer, and jazz drummers—correctly—love hard swing and funky groove, the stuff that the Front Line brings in abundance. The core for D.C. performances appears to be trumpeter Marcus Tenney, monster pianist Allyn Johnson, and young up-and-coming bassist Kris Monson, a murderer’s row of the finest kind. Kilby plans an album release later in the year that he promises “is not to be missed.” Meantime, here’s your opportunity to take his band for a test drive. Jack Kilby and the Front Line perform at 6 p.m. at Marvin, 2007 14th St. NW. Free.