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Friday, October 10 The world badly needs a text of critical analysis of the music of Muhal Richard Abrams. The fact that he is a co-founder, and the founding president, of the legendary Chicago avant-garde collective the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) would all by itself make Abrams (who has lived in New York since the 1970s) a figure of profound historical importance, since in that capacity he’s one of the music’s great organizers, promoters, and above all, mentors. But he is somehow less noticed for his own astonishing, 50-year career as a pianist, improviser, and composer. When he is mentioned, it’s often as a “free jazz pianist”—-quite a misleading proposition.
For one thing, Abrams’ composing, and the improvisation that comes with it, is more often than not as carefully premeditated and deliberately structured as any other form (and many of his freer-oriented efforts are also his least interesting). And if his work extends far beyond “free,” it also extends far beyond “jazz.” Abrams is endlessly experimental, trying his hand at minimalism and classical forms but also urban blues and R&B as much as in the bebop and swing traditions. He uses, he says, whatever milieu will best fit the composition he has in mind for any given project. (He also uses whatever ensemble size will best fit: Abrams goes from solo piano performances, as on his wondrous 1975 release Afrisong, all the way up to the 18-piece big band that played on his masterpiece, 1989’s Hearinga Suite.) What else would you expect from the founder of organization that takes as its motto “Great Black Music: Ancient to the Future?”
Well, the truth is, one never knows quite what to expect from Abrams. But in a phone conversation last week, he has let slip some important details about this weekend’s performance at the Kennedy Center. Namely, that he, Abrams, will be leading a quintet that also features trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, vibraphonist Bryan Carrott, bassist Brad Jones, and drummer Reggie Nicholson through a single, 70-minute piece that he has written specifically for this occasion. It may well be the most exciting event in Washington D.C. jazz this year—-and, if we’re lucky, another worthy opus to add to that critical text-to-be. Muhal Richard Abrams performs at 7:30 at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater, 2700 F Street NW. $32.
Saturday, October 11 And now for something completely different: a collaboration between two discrete small ensembles. If you haven’t heard Ryan Keberle‘s name, you’ve nonetheless heard his trombone, because it’s everywhere. Everywhere: from Sufjan Stevens’ backup band to Alicia Keys’; from the orchestra for the Broadway musical In the Heights to the Saturday Night Live band; from Darcy James Argue’s big band to Maria Schneider‘s. Drummer Deric Dickens, on the other hand, locates his muse in two very specific places: the New York jazz world, in which Dickens now resides, and the south Georgia folk-music sphere in which he grew up. (OK, that last admittedly cuts a wide swath of country, gospel, blues, soul, and bluegrass, among others.) That makes for an enormous spectrum of ideas when Keberle’s quintet Catharsis (trumpeter Mike Rodriguez, bassist Matt Clohesy, drummer Eric Doob, singer Camila Meza) joins the trio Dickens Campaign (Dickens, trumpeter Kenny Warren, guitarist Jesse Lewis) in an innovative, collaborative performance. They perform at 8 p.m. at Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street NE. $25.
Sunday, October 12 Surely I needn’t remind anyone what the second Sunday of the month means on the jazz scene. Yes, it’s the triple-bill fiesta known to all and sundry as the D.C. Jazz Loft, CapitalBop‘s monthly showcase of live and local music. The Loft often shoots for an eclectic lineup of musicians, and this month’s is a winner in that department. Actually, the opener, pianist Hope Udobi, could fill the “eclectic” requirement all by himself, with his love of soul and hip-hop as well as the piano jazz tradition (acoustic and electric); he’s a young man who has nonetheless been on the scene for several years, honing his craft. Next up is alto saxophonist Fred Foss, more about whom below. And ending the night is Donvonte McCoy, the shrewd musician who holds it down at 18th Street Lounge every weekend with his thoughtful, dark-hued trumpet tone. Proceedings start at 7:30 p.m. at Union Arts, 411 New York Avenue NE. $15 (suggested donation).
Tuesday, October 14 It’s safe to say that Buck Hill, very old now and very rare in his performances, has moved up to the “emeritus” category of D.C. saxophone greats. That makes Fred Foss the reigning Dean. But Foss has never been just some heir apparent, waiting around to fill Hill’s shoes. He’s earned every metaphorical stripe he wears, being a veteran of the Lionel Hampton Orchestra as well as the bands led by South African legends Hugh Masekela and Abdullah Ibrahim. Foss has a vinegary tone on his alto sax, which he uses to give shape and pungency to the arsenal of soulful, melodic licks and lines that he keeps on hand. Almost as importantly, though, Foss is a teacher and mentor to just about everyone involved in jazz in the District of Columbia; that makes it somewhat ironic that he should be the October artist in residence at Bohemian Caverns, since Foss is the kind of elder that should be providing residencies. He performs at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. at Bohemian Caverns, 2001 Eleventh Street NW. $10 advance, $15 door.