If a pianist is of any import, we’ll usually hear about them in the context of a trio. (A colleague of mine actually suggested several years ago that anyone receiving the “pianist of the year” title must of necessity lead one of “the major piano trios,” a proposal with which I vehemently disagree.) Tim Whalen, on the other hand, we talk about as the leader of a septet. His three-horn-plus-guitar ensemble works well for his labyrinthine, knotty compositions, it must be said. But that band was also the vehicle he employed two years ago on his album Oblivion: The Music of Bud Powell, and in the shows he played surrounding that album’s release. It’s all the more remarkable for the fact that Bud Powell never used a septet; it was he who codified the piano-bass-drums trio in jazz, and the largest unit with which he ever recorded was a 1949 quintet (admittedly, one of his best and most iconic sessions). Well, perhaps Whalen wants to give that a shot himself, because he plays this weekend with a quintet. Regular guitarist Paul Pieper, saxophonist Tedd Baker, and bassist Tom Baldwin join Whalen and drummer Dominic Smith for a gig that will undoubtedly include Whalen’s tunes, Powell’s, and some other unusual stuff. They perform at 9 and 11 p.m. at Twins Jazz, 1344 U St. NW. $15.
So you know that U Street’s historic Lincoln Theatre does this thing, the Labor Day Weekend Music Festival, in collaboration with the DC Council on Arts and Humanities. It comprises three nights of local music—free, open to the public, but strictly first come/first served. No reservations, in other words; it’s a bit of a free-for-all in more than one sense of the term. Depending on the date and on the lineup, then, it can become a scramble. Scramble, then, boys and girls, scramble. Because the top of the bill on Saturday night is the storied Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra, whose occasional gigs since the Caverns’ closure 18 months ago have been lovely… but they haven’t been situated on U Street, where D.C. jazz was born and reborn. That makes this, well… not quite a homecoming per se, but the closest we’re likely to get for quite some time. The evening begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, 1215 U St. NW. Free.
Sunday, Sept. 3
The stalwart D.C. saxophonist Ron Sutton Jr. plays the alto—and he’s firmly in that tradition, especially with regard to the legacy of one Charlie Parker. Sutton is no imitator, mind you: He’s followed the extensions of Parker’s approach through Jackie McLean and Kenny Garrett, and he’s incorporated the sonic liberations of Ornette Coleman and even tenor man John Coltrane. He’s his own man. But when you hear Sutton play, it’s still rather easy to make an association with Bird, because Sutton has retained one key facet of the legend’s sound: his brittleness, toughness, that causes each note to hit the air (and the ear) like a hailstone. It’s a feeling that above all connotes serious business; it might have fun, and soul, and groove, but it’s nothing to sneeze at. Neither are the musicians backing Sutton up: Alan Jay Palmer on piano, Herman Burney on bass, Aaron Walker on drums. They perform at 6 p.m. at Alice’s Jazz and Cultural Society, 2813 Franklin St. NE. $10.
Wednesday, Sept. 6
If you’re a young jazz guitarist on the scene today—say, younger than 40—there’s a damn good chance that Kurt Rosenwinkel is your musical touchstone. His is as distinctive a style as there is: unimpeachable clarity of tone (one that he works on constantly); remarkable melodic fluidity, characterized by glissandos (and slurs) that he employs against cleanly picked passages; avalanches of eighth notes; and, most prominently, a wordless vocal that he uses to double his guitar improvisations. Rosenwinkel is probably the current generation’s most influential jazz guitarist—but his new album, Caipi, actually takes a completely different path. It launches itself into what we might even call an indie-rock vein—if indie-rock had Eric Clapton guesting on it—and using that angle to approach the Brazilian jazz tradition. Divisive? Yup. A fearless, major statement? You bet. Kurt Rosenwinkel performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW. $30.