Among the many centennials in this landmark jazz year is Ella Fitzgerald, born in Virginia on April 25, 1917. And among the people celebrating that birthday the hardest is Ann Hampton Callaway. Callaway’s voice sounds, well, nothing at all like Fitzgerald’s: it’s deeper, lungier, and even when she scats it retains an intangible kind of gravitas that Ella was always ready to gleefully abandon to her own palpable joy at being able to sing for you. And yet, at the same time, Callaway has clearly learned a tremendous amount from the woman she readily calls “my hero” (and for whom she recorded a tribute, To Ella With Love, 20 years ago). You hear it in her phrasing, especially the high note flourishes she throws into classic melodies like “How High the Moon”—a standard, but one that was a favorite in Ella’s repertoire—and in her approach to scat singing. Who better, then, to perform a program called “The Ella Century”? It begins at 8 p.m. at Bethesda Blues and Jazz, 7719 Wisconsin Ave. in Bethesda. $40.
There is little to add to what I’ve said many, many times about vocalist Akua Allrich, so I’ll just reiterate here instead. She is an absolutely bottomless reservoir of soul. She has extraordinary technique, a beautiful and powerful voice, a phenomenal sense of rhythm and time. She has a deep understanding of the musical concepts that her greatest influences, Miriam Makeba and Nina Simone brought to bear, and she has successfully synthesized those influences and concepts into a sound uniquely her own. Her hold over an audience is uncanny. Her musical partnership with bassist Kris Funn is a spectacular one, the two of them both empathizing with and challenging each other in ways that high talents need to be challenged. And, okay, I will add something new to the mix: Allrich has what may be the most gorgeous smile in Washington. Akua Allrich performs (with Funn, pianist Mark Meadows, and drummer Tyler Leak) at 7 p.m. at Penny Whisky, 618 H St. NW.
Saturday, Sept. 9
Much of the notice that The Flail gets is for its longevity as an intact working unit, a rare commodity that is thrown into even greater relief when similarly long-lived collaborations change personnel. But it’s a bummer to see their quirky, melodic, rich-in-tradition music get the short shift. There’s particularly a rhythmic depth to the NYC quintet’s sound; they swing, and swing hard, but also bring forth the shuffles of earlier days as well as calypso and Latin flairs… and sometimes remove time from the equation entirely. But their melodies are also marked by a certain antsy quality—even the ballads, where trumpeter Dan Blankinship’s languid tones might suddenly be offset by strange dissonances from Stephen Moutot’s saxophone or Brian Marsella’s piano—that suggest creative restlessness writ large. The Flail perform at 9 and 11 p.m. at Twins Jazz, 1344 U St. NW. $15.
Sunday, Sept. 10
D.C. native and jazz fusion mainstay Mike Stern suffered a potentially debilitating injury last year. He had a bad fall that severely damaged his right arm and shoulder, both of which are crucial to his ability to play guitar. But the key word above is potentially debilitating, because Stern did not stop working with the guitar. He simply developed new technique as a workaround for his injuries, and formulated a new band (with trumpet legend Randy Brecker) to showcase that technique. He also recorded a new album, Trip (out on Friday) with a large number of collaborators—including on three of the tracks the aforementioned Brecker, bassist Tom Kennedy, and drumming powerhouse Dennis Chambers (who also recently overcame a severe medical situation). That’s a badass lineup, even before you consider Stern’s spitting in the face of adversity. The Mike Stern Quartet performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW. $30-$35.