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Thursday, Oct. 20
There was a time in America when jazz (or jazzy) artists didn’t cause the jazz world to wring its hands when they had any kind of crossover success. That time ended with fusion, which to some degree is understandable—artists toned down their jazz language in order to merge with the popular styles of the day. At the same time, though, it makes no sense. Merging with the popular styles of the day was THE WHOLE POINT. Consider The Blackbyrds, who formed themselves out of the lessons that trumpet legend Donald Byrd was teaching at Howard University in the early ‘70s; they had genuine hits with “Walkin’ in Rhythm” and “Rock Creek Park” (the latter a D.C. anthem that’s been sampled from one end of hip-hop to the other). Somehow they’re deemed to have gone too far into the R&B world and don’t get included in surveys of jazz fusion. (A) That’s ridiculous. (B) They’re spectacular, even today, with the brilliant jazz drummer (and founding member) Keith Killgo heading their ranks, and young turk Elijah Balbed playing saxophone. See them prove it at 7:30 p.m. at Bethesda Blues & Jazz, 7719 Wisconsin Ave. in Bethesda. $25.
Saturday, Oct. 22
On the other hand, one can make fusion that’s uncompromising. Case in point? Terence Blanchard, whose place in the popular media landscape is already secure between his three-decade jazz career and his work in film scores with people like Spike Lee (among others). There are many takeaways from his new E-Collective, a jazz-electronica hybrid, but that Blanchard is attempting to appeal to the lowest common denominator is not one of them. This is hard, edgy stuff, with a dense layer of social commentary baked in. (The name of its album, Breathless, derives from “I can’t breathe,” the now-infamous last words of police victim Eric Garner). It’s moody, intense, and stacked with fierce polyrhythms and sharp textures both synthesized and organic. And it’s amazing, another splendid step forward in one of the most fascinating musical careers in contemporary music. Terence Blanchard and E-Collective perform at the Kennedy Center’s Atrium, 2700 F St. NW. $35.
Monday, Oct. 24
One of the programming initiatives that Blues Alley is proudest of is its Embassy Jazz Series, an acknowledgement of the truly international reach that jazz has acquired. “I realized that for the first time, America was no longer just exporting jazz, but importing it,” Harry Schnipper told me last year. “And I began knocking on the doors of the embassies in an effort to create partnerships.” Hence the presence of Assaf Kehati, a guitar player of fascinating range. He has great melodic beauty and perhaps even more interesting concepts of harmony… but most important of all, he uses space and quiet volume more effectively than any guitarist this side of the late Jim Hall. Top all that off with a tone that combines smoke and liquid gold (it’s a tortured metaphor, I know… but it’ll make sense when you hear him) and you’ve got a fine musician worthy of your ears. Assaf Kehati performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW. $20.
Wednesday, Oct. 26
It’s time that Michael Price was a bigger name in the world of jazz in D.C. He’s got a regular weekly gig, Friday nights at Columbia Station in Adams Morgan (where he leads The Good Life Trio); he also plays here and there around town, like in the downstairs charcuterie Sotto in Logan Circle. Price has both a percussive, chordal touch and, when needed, a more dulcet and mellifluous touch. But he also folds in a fondness for blues licks, and another for the “funny” notes, those Monkish tweaks to the harmony. And he has a lot to say, both on and off the bandstand: He’s both friendly and outspoken in both guises. His Wednesday night performance is listed as himself only; maybe The Good Life Trio will accompany him, or maybe you’ll get a rare chance to see an excellent pianist unfettered. Michael Price performs at 6 p.m. at Alice’s Jazz and Cultural Society, 2813 12th St. NE. $5.