Thursday, May 26
You might know Levon Mikaelian from his idiosyncratic fusion project, The United States of Artistry—they’re a frequent attraction at Twins Jazz, in particular. You may also know that the Armenian-born pianist is the musical director for the Mayland Youth Ballet. In that context, as well as frequently within the USA project, he plays much more delicate, silk-fine piano lines that merge jazz precepts with those of the Armenian music he was born into. (He also sings along in a soft tenor voice.) It would seem appropriate that the intersection of those two approaches would put Mikaelian at the head of a piano trio. But that’s not a context I’ve often seen him in. That should make for intriguing stuff when he does indeed lead a piano trio, in this case one with Ethan Philion on bass and Ele Rubinstein on drums. They perform at 7 p.m. at Potter’s House, 1658 Columbia Road NW. Free.
Friday, May 27
He hasn’t exactly been small potatoes by any means… but his work as an accompanist on Blackstar, the final recording by David Bowie, has considerably upped the ante for tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin. He is now an integral part of the great Bowie myth—and so is his quartet, featuring Jason Lindner on keys, bassist Jonathan Maron, and drummer Mark Giuliana. That’s the band that played on Blackstar, giving the album its weird aesthetic position as jazz caught in electronica’s glitches. Bowie, it should be said, pulled the McCaslin band into his orbit, not vice versa; much of their jazz language and harmony was shaved away to make room for Bowie’s vision. But the spirit, the weirdness and often gloom, is integral to their work, even when the jazz language is restored. The Donny McCaslin Quartet performs at AMP, 11810 Grand Park Ave. in North Bethesda. $30-$40.
Sunday, May 29
You may know the work of my colleague Sriram Gopal (who, full disclosure, is also my friend), who writes up the weekly jazz listings over at DCist. You may also know that Gopal plays drums, and that he is the nucleus of a loose collective that fuses jazz with Indian musical ideas (among other things). The project is called The Fourth Stream, and they’ve performed regularly for several years now at Bossa in Adams Morgan—as well as gigs at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage (which may carry something of a higher profile). What The Fourth Stream hasn’t done before is take their exploratory, often mesmerizing sound into the recording studio. But this year Gopal has finally realized that ambition with the immensely pleasurable CD The Fourth Stream. If you think the previous descriptions have given you a handle on the sound, you’re probably wrong: Gopal takes the music down avenues of funky fusion, haunting eastern melody, combinations of the two, and even more unpredictable pathways. Sunday is his 40th birthday; it’s also the night of his CD release party, featuring saxophonist Bobby Muncy, keyboardist Geoff Rohrbach, guitarists John Lee and Rob Coltun, and bassist Kevin Pace. The Fourth Stream performs at 7:30 p.m. at Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. $15-$20.
Wednesday, June 1
When a new direction comes to jazz, the old direction doesn’t simply cease to exist, or even cease to evolve: though it’s often in the shadows, its development continues among the most dedicated practitioners, who continue to make breakthroughs, discoveries, sharpen their ears and their chops. Take, for example, Azar Lawrence. The fact that he’s heavily influenced by John Coltrane doesn’t tell us much (geez, who isn’t?), but the fact that his milieu is modal jazz, which Coltrane started to pull away from in the early ‘60s, does. Lawrence had his big break while accompanying McCoy Tyner, Trane’s classic pianist and longtime torch-bearer of modal jazz, and then Elvin Jones, Trane’s classic drummer; that’s the model that Lawrence still follows, playing with other musicians that have a strong influence of Trane’s modal period. (Pianist and former Washingtonian Benito Gonzalez is a particular favorite.) He didn’t stop pushing the music forward from that point, though, and Lawrence has maintained modal jazz as a living, breathing work of art. He performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW. $25.