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Thursday, April 21 It’s quite surprising how many people are still finding out that Thad Wilson is leading the Twins Jazz Orchestra at U Street’s Twins Jazz every other Thursday. But that’s not DC.’.s best kept secret—-it’s what trumpeter Wilson does on those alternate Thursdays. He holds down the fort on those nights at Columbia Station in Adams Morgan, with an octet/nonet called the Thad Wilson Free Ensemble. The personnel is drawn largely from his big band, including saxophonists Elijah Easton and Antonio Parker, trumpeters Joe Brotherton and Charles Whalen, and (when I saw them) a rhythm section of bassist Tarus Mateen, drummer Kelton Norris, and a rotation of Bob Murad and Wilson himself on piano. It’s unquestionably freeform, and touches on the Ornette Coleman sensibility. But it’s stunning just how fresh, adventurous, and thrilling they sound when they get going. You don’t need to be deeply immersed in the avant-garde to be dazzled by it, either. The Thad Wilson Free Ensemble performs at 8 p.m. at Columbia Station, 2325 18 St. NW. Free (but order something!).
Sunday, April 24 Have you heard about GoGo Penguin yet? You will. The Manchester-based trio features piano (Chris Illingworth), bass (Nick Blacka), and drums (Rob Turner), but the sound is not like the jazz trios you might have come to expect. GoGo Penguin prefers minimalist melodies, delivered with the propulsive rhythms of electronic music—but on acoustic instruments. Indeed, the group has sometimes been called “acoustic electronica.” But it would be folly to overlook the jazzy turns in Turner’s cartwheeling drum lines, or—-especially—-the protean voicing and dynamics of Blacka’s bass and its harmonic effects. Not to mention the ensemble interplay that all three members share, of course. Best, then, to classify GoGo Penguin as the next step in the evolution of jazz fusion, on a continuum with the likes of Esperanza Spalding or Snarky Puppy. And, very possibly, as the next big thing. GoGo Penguin performs at 7:30 p.m. (with opener Anthony Pirog) at The Hamilton, 14th and F streets NW. $15-$20.50.
Monday, April 25 It’s time, once again, for what has long been the capstone of April’s Jazz Appreciation Month on the local D.C. scene. Well, maybe that’s a little bit of a stretch, but it’s a consistently high-grade experience nonetheless. I speak, of course, of the Calvin Jones Big Band Festival, the last Monday of April every year. It’s a mammoth triple bill featuring performances by three area university big bands: the Howard University Jazz Ensemble, directed by Fred Irby; the University of Maryland Jazz Ensemble, directed by Chris Vadala; and the University of the District of Columbia Jazz Ensemble, directed by Allyn Johnson. These are all crack ensembles, and there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll be hearing at least one of the great jazz stars of tomorrow in their ranks. And this is its 30th anniversary! Give it your support! The Calvin Jones Big Band Festival begins at 8 p.m. at the UDC Auditorium Building (46 East), 4200 Connecticut Ave. NW. $20.
Wednesday, April 27 Been wondering about that Reginald Cyntje fellow? Nice, super thoughtful dude, plays the trombone? Where’s he been lately? Well, actually, the redoubtable Mr. Cyntje has been taking on the jazz scene in his native U.S. Virgin Islands. But! He has come back to our fair District, and is bringing a quartet (with pianist Allyn Johnson, bassist Herman Burney, and drummer C.V. Dashiell—-a subset, if you like, of his usual septet) to the Jazz and Cultural Society. JACS, as I seem to recall saying somewhere, is the embodiment of jazz grassroots in this city, and Cyntje is a man with a message to bring to the people. One should expect to hear selections from his Moods and Colors album, the latest iteration of that message. The Reginald Cyntje Quartet hits at 6 p.m. at the Jazz and Cultural Society, 2813 12th St. NE. $5.