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Thursday, Feb. 19 You’ve got the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra; the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Orchestra; the Jonathan Parker Octet; and the institutional big bands, like the Airmen of Note and the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. But (on the local scene at least) it’s the Thad Wilson Jazz Orchestra that started the trend. Most of the folks you find on D.C. bandstands today were, at one point, playing with Thad, and even now the trumpeter’s got many of the area’s best players playing in his big band. The group has done some shifting around in terms of personnel, location, and what have you, but the last several months have seen it settle in quite comfortably in the environs of Adams Morgan’s Columbia Station—-something of a road less traveled as far as jazz outposts in the city, and entirely unfairly so. So here’s a good chance to remedy that, and to see one of the District’s most enduring and important jazz ensembles. The Thad Wilson Jazz Orchestra performs at 8:30 p.m. at Columbia Station, 2325 Eighteenth Street NW. Free.
Sunday, February 22 Here’s a short list of reasons to check out the Sunday afternoon jazz vocalist jam session at Bistro Bohem. First, there’s the musicians running the show, including the booming, supple-voiced Sharón Clark and the Mark Meadows Trio (Meadows on piano, Eliot Seppa on bass, Ele Rubenstein on drums). They’re a formidable combination even if nobody else steps up to the mic. Second, there’s the location. Bistro Bohem is a casual, laid-back little joint with a menu full of Czech cuisine and even Czech wine…and how many other Czech restaurants are there in the District? Third, there’s the buzz, which has been steadily increasing since its move from Dupont Circle for the reasons already listed; word on the street is that the vocal jam here is better than any such jam session in New York. If after all that, you’re not going to go see what’s happening down there, you’d better have a really good reason. The DC Vocalist Jam begins at 5 p.m. at Bistro Bohem, 600 Florida Avenue NW. Free.
Every year, without fail, it’s at the top of my personal jazz calendar. All of the D.C. area’s festivals, its galas, its jazz capital-E Events, none of them are as sublime as the annual Black History Month performance by Kahil El’Zabar and his Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, which incidentally is also celebrating its 40th anniversary with this performance. It’s not a big ensemble, mind you—-the drummer and percussionist leads a trio featuring fellow Chicagoans (and AACM-ers) Ernest Khabeer Dawkins on saxophones and Corey Wilkes on trumpet, both of them also contributing percussion.
But it’s enough to constitute a full-on and fervent spiritual experience. At the peak of a show’s intensity, Dawkins might be playing two saxophones at once while Wilkes twists his body from side to side so the timbre of the trumpet distorts as it changes position relative to your ear. Meanwhile, El’Zabar will be knocking the hell out of the traps or pounding out rhythms on his huge African hand drums, or pulling powerful, mystical tones out of his kalimba, and chanting or moaning along with any and all of it. Or, the intensity might be in its pathos, in which everything is muted but palpable nonetheless. Either way, it’s breathtaking. The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble performs at 7 and 8:30 p.m. at Bohemian Caverns, 2001 Eleventh Street NW.
Wednesday, Feb. 25 You know all about Sine Qua Non, great local bassist Michael Bowie‘s vehicle for his compositional vision, at this point. That vision has been a deeply ambitious one from the start, fusing jazz, classical, and world music traditions, and it’s only getting more elevated as it goes along. The band has a new project in the works, augmenting its core quartet (Bowie, steelpannist Victor Provost, saxophonist Lyle Link, drummer Mark Prince) with a string section and the seemingly boundless vocal talents of Christie Dashiell. And even by those expansive standards, it’s complex, heady stuff that signals a creative restlessness on the part of its progenitor. Think of this performance, then, as a reintroduction to Sine Qua Non and its inquiring new musical direction. The band performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Avenue NW. $20.