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Saturday, Dec. 3
Regular Setlist readers (we have one!) know that the annual Black History Month performance by Kahil El’Zabar’s Ethnic Heritage Ensemble is perhaps our most eagerly anticipated jazz performance of each year. But if multi-percussionist El’Zabar’s music with that group is particularly scintillating and hypnotic, it’s only fair to note that it’s not his only outlet. The Ritual Trio, nearly as long-lived, can be a bit hard to explain, at least in terms of its difference from the EHE: it’s a question of nuance, which only gets more complicated with the frequent shifting of personnel. However, here’s a tip: The Trio has a long tradition of including a tenor saxophonist with a coarse tone and a trajectory both freewheeling and deliriously melodic. The current avatar is David Murray, the prolific Oakland-born sax man whose enormous swaggering sound made him perhaps the most important jazz innovator of the 1970s. (And high on the ‘80s list, too!) Joined by a third virtuoso, Chicago bassist Harrison Bankhead, and with a fourth, D.C.’s own great Brian Settles, as the opener, The Ritual Trio is hitting all the right buttons. The performance begins at 6:30 p.m. at Tropicalia, 2001 14th St. NW. $15 advance/$20 door.
Yes, it’s true: Every time the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra has had a public performance since the end of March, it’s been a pick herein. That’s because once upon a time, we could take the weekly performances of outstanding big-band jazz for granted—it was an institution. It’s still an institution, but one without a stable home. That itinerant status hits particularly close to home when it comes to the BCJO’s annual holiday tradition. It is, of course, a concert of Christmas music, be they carols, standards, or lesser-known jazz tunes written for the season. And every year, the centerpiece of the tradition is a full-length performance of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s famous arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite. This time out, the BCJO will also include a recitation and musical backdrop for “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” A Bohemian Christmas indeed. The Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra performs at 5 and 7:30 p.m. at Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. $28.
Tuesday, Dec. 6
The aforementioned BCJO has among its ranks the trombonist Shannon Gunn, who in turn is the leader of The Firebird Organ Trio. (It remains an unconventional trio—organ and trombone front lines are hard to come by.) Perhaps it’s because ‘tis the season, but Sunday night’s festivities aren’t enough holiday celebration for Gunn. Tuesday night’s Firebird performance features Todd Simon in the rotating organist seat. Simon and his brother Shawn, a bassist, have just completed their second album of holiday tunes, arranged by Todd; these, and likely the first album’s tunes as well, will be source for The Firebird’s evening of music in Adams Morgan—with drummer Allen Jones rounding out the trio. The Firebird Organ Trio begins at 8 p.m. at Columbia Station, 2325 18th St. NW. Free.
Wednesday, Dec. 7
Far more regular on the scene than on these pages, Bobby Muncy has been working constantly this year at Twins Jazz. Muncy has various projects in his bag of tricks, from his experimental ensemble Kung Fu Bastard (with guitarist Anthony Pirog) to a unit that explores the music of Radiohead. But the tenor saxophonist is ultimately a composer—a cofounder, in fact, of the D.C. Jazz Composers Collective—and much of the time he spends on the bandstand, at Twins and elsewhere, is dedicated to airing the pieces he’s written. That includes the passel of new tunes that he’ll be workshopping this Wednesday night, accompanied by pianist Gene D’Andrea, bassist Nathan Kawaller, and drummer Larry Ferguson—all Muncy favorites, all extraordinary musicians who serve his writing well. They perform at 8 and 10 p.m. at Twins Jazz, 1344 U St. NW. $10.