FRIDAY, JUNE 10
Perhaps it’s serendipitous (or perhaps not). But however it happened, this year’s DC Jazz Festival is scheduled such that on opening night, the best bets will allow you to get a sampling of the best local jazz on offer, the best national jazz on offer, and someone with a foot in both worlds.
To begin with, make a beeline after work down to the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, their free stage that presents live music 365 days a year. This night’s program will be Aqua Leo, a quartet led by the excellent D.C. drummer Mark Prince. (The show is part of the Kennedy Center’s “Dis is Da Drum” series.) It makes music with a high gloss in the composition and arrangement, but it dives into edgy, chance-taking virtuosity in its improvisations. Naturally, the people making such music would be top tier: Marshall Keys on sax, Federico Gonzalez Pena on keyboards, Rich Brown on bass. They play at 6 p.m. at the Millennium Stage, 2700 F St. NW.
That show will let you out just in time to run 13 blocks down F Street to The Hamilton, as ever the hub of DCJF’s musical activity. Their opening act is an astonishing doubleheader. The first half belongs to bassist Ben Williams and his band Sound Effect. You surely know Williams if you know jazz: He’s an astonishing talent, and a homegrown one, born and raised in D.C. and an alumnus of Duke Ellington High School. He’s also on the leading edge of jazz in his generation, the ones who were raised in the hip-hop era and have a firmly established handle on its nuances—and how they can be reconciled with jazz. The show’s closer is Regina Carter, one of the most accomplished and imaginative artists working today. A virtuoso of the violin, Carter has the chops of the greatest classical soloists (and has played that canon). But she has her ears on the folk essence of jazz and other African American vernacular music, often with added ingredients of African and other world musics. The show begins at 8:30 p.m. (doors open at 7) at The Hamilton, 600 14th St. NW.
SATURDAY, JUNE 11
Our fair city is the focus of the DC Jazz Festival, as of course it should be. But some seriously exciting music is coming out of Chicago, and a major festival is remiss if it doesn’t bring a taste of other cutting-edge scenes to its own shores (so to speak). Enter CapitalBop, whose yearly series at the DCJF is virtually synonymous with “taste of the cutting edge.” Both of the headliners this evening are extraordinary and innovative young artists. Marquis Hill, a strikingly melodic trumpeter whose new album My Foolish Heart (with his Blacktet) bears fruit on the promise he showed when he won the 2014 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. Makaya McCraven, a young drummer, leads an ensemble of hypnotic, cunningly—but spontaneously—made jazz whose 2015 debut, In the Moment, was one of the most astonishing releases of last year. They’ll play separately, in a pop-up venue just adjacent to the Navy Yard, and then join the bands together in a special jam session to end the evening. It goes down beginning at 8 p.m. at Arris, 1331 4th St. SE.
SUNDAY, JUNE 12
Somehow or other, double bills keep popping up in this year’s DC Jazz Festival. Not only that, but they keep on constituting the highlights of their respective evenings of programming. That’s great news all around, isn’t it? The best stuff in the festival comes in twofers! And this evening’s twofer, the Bill Cole and Matthew Shipp Trios at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, would be one of the highlights of any jazz festival, anywhere in the world. Both are avant-garde expeditioners (produced by Transparent Productions): Cole is, well let’s use the word “multi-double-reedist.” In other words, he plays several reed instruments, but specializes in those that have two reeds. He also specializes in instruments that are native to East Asia, which has led him to develop his own sonic palette that soaks every aspect of his music in idiosyncratic beauty. Shipp’s instrument is the piano, hardly exotic to American listeners. But he makes it sound so anyway, combining an extraordinary smorgasbord of great figures in jazz piano history into a dense torrent of sound that both reveals and transcends its wide swath of musical inspirations. Cole plays at 7, Shipp at 8:30, at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE.
MONDAY, JUNE 13
Let’s get down to brass tacks. Go to the Kennedy Center tonight for another installment of the Dis is Da Drum series on the Millennium Stage—this one led by Lenny Robinson, a precise, kit-rattling musician whose signature is a crisp roll on his snare. (Not that he is ostentatious about it…but listen to him over an extended period and you’ll start to notice the omnipresence of that roll, and his ingenuity in placing it.) Robinson’s trio, Mad Curious, doesn’t so much stand on the cutting edge as it does leap right off of it. But that’s what you get when you mix Robinson’s snap with the audacity of bassist Tarus Mateen and saxophonist Brian Settles. D.C. jazz alchemy at its finest, starting at 6 p.m.
And stay at the Kennedy Center for the evening’s big event: A gala tribute to the jazz legacy of Howard University. Does anyone doubt that Howard is worthy of such a tribute? Its jazz program, founded by trumpet legend Donald Byrd, cultivated talents the likes of Benny Golson, Greg Osby, Loston Harris, Tim Warfield, and Afro-Blue, not to mention our Kris Funn, Reginald Cyntje, Paul Carr, Donvonte McCoy, Savannah Harris, and C.V. Dashiell—all of whom will be making appearances, as will current piano professor Cyrus Chestnut. Fred Irby, trumpeter, instructor, and founder of the Howard University Jazz Ensemble will be the guest of honor, alongside founding Howard Jazz director Art Dawkins. It begins at 8 p.m. at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, 2700 F St. NW.
TUESDAY, JUNE 14
If you’re reading this pick, you’re reading the fifth or sixth attempt to try and explain the massive accomplishment and influence of Steve Coleman during the last 30 years or so. It’s honestly hard to quantify. But it’s no exaggeration to say that he rewrote the notion of the avant-garde in his own image. Coleman’s music isn’t free—it’s anything but free, with its layers and layers of rhythm and its defiant explorations of tonality and ensemble construction. But it’s spontaneous to a mind-boggling degree, the music less composed than conceptualized, structured on notional templates like the cycles of nature, or the rhythms of human physiology, or various traditions of divination. And yet Coleman is almost certainly the most important jazz musician of his generation, with protégés who range from Cassandra Wilson to Vijay Iyer to Jason Moran to Ravi Coltrane for a start. Coleman and his band Five Elements (which very rarely has five members, name be damned) may be the ultimate arbiter, at least in its time, of jazz and its direction. Steve Coleman and Five Elements perform at 8 p.m. at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue, 600 I St.NW.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 15
Regina Carter, who played the DC Jazz Festival’s opening night at The Hamilton, is only the most prominent of jazz violinists who’s performing in this year’s DCJF. Indeed, violin is cutting a surprising profile this time out. But Luca Ciarla is particularly intriguing. He’s a jazz player, make no mistake about it, in his conception of rhythm (and his relationship to his rhythm sections) and his improvisational approach. But he’s also very, very Italian, in terms of his instrument’s sonority and that of his regular quartet (which uses an accordion, for heaven’s sake!) However, this performance—a part of the Fishman Artist Embassy Series, which partners with D.C.’s embassies to produce concerts by international jazz artists—appears to be a solo performance. And in those sorts of events, Ciarla typically accompanies himself via live loops: He improvises a riff he likes; makes an electronic loop out of it, onstage and in real time; then creates an improvised melody over that. It’s really cool, and splendid music to boot. Luca Ciarla performs at 7:30 p.m. at the Embassy of Italy, 3000 Whitehaven St. NW.
THURSDAY, JUNE 16
What, again with the world jazz?! But of course! It was always a part of DC Jazz Festival founder Charlie Fishman’s vision—realizing the hopes of his friend Dizzy Gillespie to unite the peoples of the world in music. That said, it’s probably unfair to suggest that Mika Mimura is really “world jazz.” She was born in Osaka, but lives in New York; likewise, she was trained at Berklee College of Music in Boston. But the music she plays—on vibraphone, marimba, and glockenspiel—does stretch some boundaries. It’s influenced by traditional and contemporary classical and percussive music, and of course Japanese music as well. Still, it tends to be quite recognizably jazz. (Japan is very much a jazz-loving nation, but in general they prefer it straight-ahead!) That doesn’t take away, however, from its beauty. Mimura has phenomenal technique and a glassy, happy tone on each of her mallet instruments. Her group, including guitarist Ignacio Hernandez, bassist Kuriko Tsugawa, percussionist Ken Wanabe, will also feature a special guest, D.C./Baltimore’s beloved vibraphone virtuoso Warren Wolf. It doesn’t get better than that, kids. The Mika Mimura Group performs at 6:30 p.m. at the Japan Information and Culture Center, 1150 18th St. NW.
FRIDAY, JUNE 17
Let’s say this right up front: Michelle Rosewoman and New Yor-uba can be exhausting. It’s music of such density, so many ideas blending together in her imagination and their expression. It’s a large orchestra—the exact configuration varies, but it’s usually somewhere around a dozen—that weaves together strands of African, Afro-Cuban, bebop, avant-garde, and jazz fusion styles. There are vocals. There is groove. There is percussion by the score. Rosewoman is one of the finest talent scouts in jazz, so the people playing her music are the real thing. New Yor-uba thereby produces an orgasm for the ears. And even if it’s overwhelming, it’s not to be missed, period. Especially in this case: Rosewoman will be presenting the D.C. premiere of a new suite, Oru de Oro. D.C. kora player Amadou Kouyate opens the show, which begins at 9:30 p.m. at Arris, 1331 4th St. SE.
SATURDAY, JUNE 18
Obviously, on Saturday, you will want to devote your entire day to the DC Jazz Festival, because who wouldn’t? Well, I suppose you might have a family or something—like that should stop you—so it’s certainly possible you’ll only want to do one of these three picks for the day.
The DC Jazzfest at the Yards program is one of the high points of the festival every year, and for good reason. The festival brings a spectacular lineup of music, plus beer, food trucks, and a beautiful park on the cusp of summer. This year is a particularly exciting one, though, because it begins with the finalists for the DC Jazzprix, the sparkly new jewel in the festival’s crown. The three finalist bands (Cowboys and Frenchmen and the New Century Jazz Quintet, both from New York; and Mark G. Meadows and The Movement, from here in D.C.) open the afternoon—then come the Eddie Palmieri Latin Jazz Septet, one of the best in the world; The Chuck Brown Band, featuring some of D.C.’s best musicians; and vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant, currently one of the hottest jazz acts going. That begins at 2 p.m. at The Yards Park, Fourth and Water Streets SE.
At The Hamilton tonight comes an extraordinary double bill. Steve Turre, one of the most versatile, powerful, and delightful trombonists in the world, is bringing his quartet to blow you away with bebop, ballads, and more than a little bit of Latin flavor. Turre—you know him as the big ponytailed trombone player in the Saturday Night Live band—backs up his powerful tone with a rhythmic wallop and a penchant for rounding harmonic bends like a Formula One racer. He’s followed by another quartet, led by Harold Mabern, who for going on 60 years has been one of the most consistently underrated pianists in jazz. Born and raised in Memphis, Mabern brings the blues to everything he touches—even when he’s going off on a bebop frenzy, as he frequently does, it sounds like he’s pulling it out of a box of blues. Mabern leads his quartet with a special guest, his longtime associate saxophonist Eric Alexander. It all begins at 7:15 at The Hamilton, 800 14th St. NW.
There are still some fools out there who think of big bands as something passe, some relic of ancient jazz history that refuses to go into the scrap head gracefully. I should hope not. The truth, plain and simple, is that when you’ve got a tight, swinging big band with a great arranger, there’s no better sound in the world. And helming one is a great place for Orrin Evans, a Philadelphia pianist who straddles the worlds of straight-ahead and experimental jazz with aplomb, to be. I’m not even sure what else to say about them; they’re simply a fantastic big band. And they’re paired here with another fantastic big band, The Washington Renaissance Orchestra that our own Nasar Abadey assembled out of D.C.’s best musicians. That’s something like 30 musicians in one night, two sets, unbelievably killing music brought to you by CapitalBop. It begins at 9 p.m. at Arris, 1331 4th St. SE.
SUNDAY, JUNE 19
Well, I mean, you can’t just see half of DC Jazz Fest at the Yards, right? Especially one that opens with a new band by drummer E.J. Strickland, who by all rights should be known to the world for his unbelievably tight rhythm. Mainly he’s known in his acoustic ensembles, especially behind folks like pianist George Colligan and saxophonist David Sanchez, but in this case he’s leading a new electric band called Transient Beings. Its conception, however, will surprise you… and that’s all I’m going to say about that. (Except that it also features D.C. native Rashaan Carter on bass!). In the meantime, the day will progress with D.C. altoist Fred Foss, one of the city’s elders and grand masters, doing a tribute to his friend and mentor Jackie McLean. Next comes Igmar Thomas and the Revive Big Band, and if you need proof of their credentials with fusing jazz and hip-hop simply reference the fact that their special guests at this performance are Talib Kweli, Bilal, and saxophonist Ravi Coltrane.
Finally, there’s the festival closer: Kamasi Washington, the Los Angeles-based saxophonist, composer, and bandleader, and if you don’t know about him you haven’t been paying attention to jazz or hip-hop the last five years or so. Not that Washington plays hip-hop; some of the press likes to claim he fuses it with jazz, but those people haven’t been listening. (Hip-hop knows his name because he’s the musical director for some dude named Kendrick Lamar.) What Washington does is revive and refresh the intense, and intensely spiritual sounds made by the likes of Pharoah Sanders. It’s intricate and complex, but it’s also feel-good, healing music that can and should make a true believer of the most jazz-skeptical out there. Spend the Festival’s closing day at the Yards Park, 4th and Water Streets SE.