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Thursday, Dec. 8
It’s a great week to see a big band. On Sunday, you had the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra, playing their annual holiday program at the Atlas. Friday, well, see below. But this week is also the regular week for U Street’s last remaining resident big band, the Twins Jazz Orchestra. The reconstitution of the former Thad Wilson Jazz Orchestra plays every other Thursday at Twins, and every show is an adventure. The first of the evening’s two sets combines trumpeter Wilson’s original compositions with charts by his band members and arrangements of the jazz songbook (including an assortment of unusual, lesser-known pieces). For the second set, the band’s book closes; the ensemble goes free, with every sonic experiment crafted in the moment and without restraint. Stalwarts like Reginald Cyntje and Joe Brotherton join the younger-guard players like Kelton Norris and tenor saxophonist Elijah Easton in a gorgeous, comfortable musical atmosphere led by Wilson’s sterling trumpet sound and occasional winking vocals. The Twins Jazz Orchestra performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Twins Jazz, 1344 U St. NW. $10.
Friday, Dec. 9
The sobriquet “spiritual jazz” has become associated mainly with the depths plumbed by John Coltrane and his disciples, from Pharoah Sanders to Nasar Abadey. But of course, spirituality has been a major facet of the jazz tradition since… well, since before the jazz tradition, with African American spirituals and gospel music forming a central pillar of the music even as it was still being created. The early repertoires of the New Orleans traditional jazz bands, for example, comprised spirituals and hymns. (What do you suppose “When the Saints Go Marching In” is, anyway?) That rich history is natural fodder for yet another local big band, this one our de facto national jazz ensemble: The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. The program, which also includes Howard’s vocal supergroup Afro Blue and guest vocalist Harolyn Blackwell, is entitled “Jazz and Spirituality: From Ellington to Sun Ra and Beyond.” It begins at 7:30 p.m. at the American History Museum’s Wallace H. Coulter Performance Plaza, 14th Street and Constitution Avenue NW. $25.
Wednesday, Dec. 14
Yup—one more big band. This one, however, is a heavily specialized ensemble— rooted in the golden age of the big band. It’s the Eric Felten Jazz Orchestra, who usually makes an appearance at this time of the year. Jazz aficionados probably know Felten best as the host of Beyond Category, Voice of America’s jazz show produced here in Washington. But the smooth-as-silk presenter is also a trombonist, guitarist, and vocalist. On the latter point he is a capable crooner, but more at home in the kind of raucous, joyful setting of the high swing era. That, of course, is the aforementioned golden age in which his orchestra centers itself, and it’s the style—dancing jazz—that they play even in their Christmas concert. And yes, it does bear mentioning that the core of their set is once again the Ellington/Strayhorn arrangement of the Nutcracker, but it’ll sound more different than you think. The Eric Felten Jazz Orchestra performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW.