Just because an artist is second on the bill doesn’t make he’s fluff or filler. Nasar Abadey pummeled the drums, especially his rack toms, following fierce volleys from trumpeter J.S. Williams, alto saxophonist Joe Ford, and pianist Allyn Johnson while playing Wayne Shorter‘s “Free Fall” last night at the Hamilton. Jabari Exum (percussion) and James King (bass) were also in the house, holding the groove down—-no easy task given the brilliant interplay going on around them (which they miraculously participated in, even as they unfailingly accompanied it).

The DC Jazz Festival made a remarkably canny move putting Abadey’s Supernova in to open for Roy Haynes. They’re obviously not the ones the (very full) audience came to see, and probably not the ones the crowd talking about (particularly after Haynes’ stunning performance, which included the octogenarian getting up frequently to tap dance). But this is a burning band, one of the best D.C. has (and an infrequent attraction, which makes its  shows all the more compelling). As a leader, Abadey is incredibly thoughtful and careful, but never at the expense of power or intensity. And he knows how to work the guys on  stage with him. As the set neared its conclusion with Shorter’s “More Than Human,” Abadey and his hi-hat all but goaded Johnson into a bluesy spitfire of a solo.

So if they weren’t the draw or the payoff, Abadey and Supernova have a good chance of being a takeaway—-a group that can still leave an impression on attendees who don’t know them. Some folks surely walked away last night thinking, on some level or another, “Damn, these D.C. guys are killin’.” They might even remember that the next time they’re planning a night out.

And really, what else can we ask?