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Thursday, March 2
The Washington Women in Jazz Festival this year is a fairly long one, over two weeks—but it wouldn’t be complete without a contribution by Shannon Gunn and the Bullettes. The D.C. area’s pre-eminent (only?) all-female jazz orchestra has a fine and hard-swinging sound, very much rooted in the Count Basie “New Testament” style. But in the case of this year’s festival, the 13-piece iteration of the band is planning a retrospective of big band music from its 1920s birth to the present day. They’re throwing around names like Basie, Henderson, Ellington, Oliver Nelson, and Thad Jones, for a start—and when they bring us up to the present, it will be with world premieres of their own original material. If you’re going to celebrate jazz, celebrate it with gusto—and with range. Shannon Gunn and the Bullettes perform at 7 and 9 p.m. at Republic Restoratives Craft Distillery and Bar, 1369 New York Ave. NE. $7-$15.
Saturday, March 4
Perhaps you remember reading Norman Cousins’ influential essay “Who Killed Benny Paret?” in high school. It’s a short piece about one of the greatest controversies in sports history: the 1962 boxing match in which Emile Griffith won the welterweight title by killing the champion, Paret, in the ring. The story, including the circumstances that led to it and the lifetime fallout for Griffith, turns out to be an operatic one—as rendered in Champion, Terence Blanchard‘s “opera in jazz.“ Premiered in St. Louis in 2013, the opera features a full orchestra and a jazz trio—as well as vocal talents the likes of Arthur Woodley and D.C.’s own Denyce Graves in the lead and ingénue roles. It’s a first attempt at opera by one of the most important composers of jazz music in the last 30 years, which may alone make it worth checking out. Champion begins at 7 p.m. at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House, 2700 F St. NW. $30-$300.
Sunday, March 5
In the interest of providing as much accuracy as possible, Thundercat is a jazz/rock/soul/funk/R&B/hip-hop/electronica bassist/guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist/producer. That’s an awful lot of slashes, but the erstwhile Stephen Bruner has earned every last one of them. He’s been a member of the LA punk band Suicidal Tendencies, worked frequently with the similarly omnivorous Flying Lotus, and was a key player on two of 2015’s most acclaimed and important album releases: Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, and Kamasi Washington’s The Epic. Then there’s his own music, which incorporates all of the slashes above (and adds in ‘70s yacht rock on his new album Drunk); a complex recipe, expertly prepared. And as with such recipes, which flavors dominate surely depends on the palate one brings with them to the table. To this writer’s ear, though, it’s glorious jazz fusion, determinedly contemporary and enough steps ahead that the musical world is going to need a few years to catch up. Thundercat performs at 7 p.m. at U Street Music Hall, 1115 U St. NW. $20.
Monday, March 6
“Whoa,” you said to yourself as you listened to David Bowie‘s final album, last year’s Blackstar. “Who’s that band he’s got with him? They’re dark, intense, have so much attitude they’re even a little scary, are heavily into electronics but are actually kinda, dare I say, *jazzy*?” You were talking, when you made those surprisingly insightful remarks, about the Donny McCaslin Quartet. Tenor saxophonist McCaslin is no outsider jazz man; he’s a veteran of Gil Evans‘ Orchestra, and a current member of the one led by Evans protégée Maria Schneider. But he has also long courted an edgier approach to the music, especially with his remarkable group featuring Tim Lefebvre on bass, Jason Lindner on keyboards, and Mark Giuliana on drums. If Bowie’s swan song pulled McCaslin’s band over to his side of the equation rather than vice versa, their own 2016 album Beyond Now suggest that Bowie really didn’t have far to pull them—they even cover two of the Thin White Duke’s songs. The Donny McCaslin Quartet performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW. $35.