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This week’s Setlist arrives on International Jazz Day, fortuitously. It is also, from this writer’s vantage point, a relatively bright spot in a fraught and very trying week for our nation and region. This is a predominantly local edition of the column, then, in the hopes that D.C.’s formidable homegrown jazz talents will get the chance to demonstrate to you the healing power of music.
Thursday, April 30 Nobody who pays attention to jazz in this city is unaware of Elijah Balbed at this point. He is everywhere, both because he hustles his ass off for gigs in town and because other musicians love to have him sharing their bandstands. Little wonder, with his slightly acidic, thoroughly bluesy sound (which draws from hard bop and greats like Hank Mobley and Gene Ammons) and intense commitment to swing. The latter is the major takeaway from Balbed’s recordings: Checking In and especially the new Lessons From the Streets, which finds him tapping out the deepest pockets of swing and soul in not just his own reserves, but those of his bandmates, too. It’s quite a shrewd and well-earned skill for someone who (did I mention?) is a tender 25 years old. Balbed hosts a CD release party for Lessons From the Streets at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. at Bohemian Caverns, 2001 Eleventh Street NW. $15.
Friday, May 1 It’s been 56 years since it dropped, but Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue remains not only beloved, not only thoroughly timeless, but relevant. It reigns as the bestselling jazz recording of all time, with countless jazz musicians having learned its songs and improviations by heart; at least two of the tunes, “So What” and “All Blues,” are stone-cold jazz standards, and the other three (“Freddie Freeloader,” “Blue in Green,” “Flamenco Sketches”) are played nearly as often and certainly as well known. It looms so large that the experimentalist quintet Mostly Other People Do The Killing recorded a note-for-note remake that briefly became a controversy last year. The Jeff Antoniuk Update doesn’t seem interested in going quite that far. But the saxophonist has nonetheless assembled his own sextet (himself and Lyle Link on saxes, Thad Wilson on trumpet, Wade Beach on piano, Tom Baldwin on bass, Tony Martucci on drums) to explore the legendary music. They do it at 6 p.m. at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Fourth and I Streets SW. $5.
Saturday, May 2 Sine Qua Non, the jazz/funk/classical/world fusion group led by bassist Michael Bowie, was—-as you can tell by that laundry list of styles—-an ambitious undertaking from the start. Then, earlier this year, the band released the stunning new single “Silver Rain,” which represented a new phase of ambition all together. In addition to the band’s core personnel (Bowie, soprano saxophonist Lyle Link, steelpannist Victor Provost, drummer Mark Prince), the recording includes the Elite String Quartet and the soothing, gliding vocals of Christie Dashiell. Together, they make a stately groove that sounds alternately like a neo-soul ballad, a jazz setting for a poem, and a chamber-music art song. It also has the unusual virtue of sounding both simplified and opulent. The group is onto something new, and it’s impossible to know quite where it’ll end up. One way to find out may be Sine Qua Non’s next single, “Make It Feel Good,” whose release the group is marking this week. Sine Qua Non performs with special guest (and pioneering funk trombonist) Fred Wesley at 8 and 10 p.m. at Bohemian Caverns. $30.
Tuesday, May 5 Seattleite Anton Schwartz proudly, as he should, brandishes a compliment he received from the great Illinois Jacquet: “You play the tenor sax like it’s meant to be played.” That it came from Jacquet, one of the transitional figures between swing-era jazz and postwar R&B, is interesting, and maybe it’s because of that quote that Schwartz seems to have just a touch of the Jacquet swagger in his playing. But he doesn’t have an R&B style at all—-unless, of course, you use that label to account for an aggressive rhythmic conception, one that’s precise but also just ahead of the beat, and a huge sound that includes an ever-so-slightly coarse edge that I think of (and refer to) as “sticky.” Nevertheless, Schwartz is ultimately a straightahead post-bop jazz player, and a damn good one. He performs with a quartet (including at least one other damn good post-bop jazz player, pianist Orrin Evans) at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Avenue NW. $20.
Photo: Jim Bourne