Sisters and brothers—-especially sisters—-if you’re reading this, you probably already know that the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival is taking place this weekend at the Kennedy Center. It’s taking a refreshing approach this year, featuring, alongside legendary singer Sheila Jordan and pianist and past MLW Competition winner Helen Sung, the inventive up-and-coming Dutch saxophonist Tineke Postma and no fewer than two members of Chciago’s AACM, the country’s elite organization of avant-garde musicians. (Arts Desk will publish an interview with one of them, flutist Nicole Mitchell, later today.) What’s more, as we learned yesterday, it will be the last year that the performers will be exclusively women.
Still, picking highlights from the festival seems a moot point. There are three nights (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday), one venue—-hell, one room—-and there’s not a dud in the bunch. There’s not even one night this year that’s weaker than the others. Each evening’s performance is $38, and whomever you choose to see, or just happen to see, will be well worth it.
So, let’s talk about the other music happening in town this week.
Thursday, May 16
“Post-jazz” sounds like a meaningless critical buzzword, and it usually is. When it comes to a musician like Marco Benevento, however, it’s the only term that pinpoints what he does. He’s got a basic piano-trio configuration—keys, bass, drums—and much of the language and interplay of jazz. But Benevento has other tools in his arsenal. He uses electronics for texture, and plain old weirdness; he also likes to use the endless vamps more associated with funk, hip-hop, and EDM. Those styles also describe his trio’s rhythmic vocabulary: They groove, all right, but with loud—often vicious—repetitive figures designed first and foremost to make you move. It’s when you fall under the spell of all this that he lobs the complex harmonic colors and melodious flourishes at you, apparently from the future. If there’s a better description than “post-jazz,” let’s hear it. Marco Benevento performs at 7:30 p.m. at The Hamilton, 600 14th St. NW. $17–$19.
Friday, May 17
Bethesda Blues and Jazz technically opened its doors in March, shortly thereafter premiering its own resident big band and thereafter keeping a steady calendar of mostly local jazz acts (with, yes, some blues thrown in for good measure). But BB&J is the current occupant of the historic Bethesda Theatre, which turns 75 years old on Friday, and as such the club is hosting a gala grand re-opening—-complete with ribbon-cutting and Branford Marsalis. Thirty-plus years after making his breakthroughs (first with Art Blakey, then with brother Wynton), the eldest Marsalis brother remains among the closest things jazz has to a superstar. He’s a virtuoso tenor saxophonist, proudly standing in the tradition of Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter. He’s also a staunch defender of the old-school tradition of straightahead jazz; he describes his approach to jazz (and indeed his ideal approach overall) as “don’t play the changes, play the song”—-an approach reflected in the title of his quartet’s latest CD, last year’s Four MFs Playing Tunes. And indeed they will, with blues and swing claiming pride of place within them. Branford Marsalis performs at 8:30 p.m. at Bethesda Blues and Jazz, 7719 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda. $75.
Saturday, May 18
Darcy James Argue has been among the buzziest of buzz jazz artists of the past five years or so, impressive because he’s primarily a nonperformer. Argue is the composer and bandleader for Secret Society, an 18-piece ensemble that defies genre, aesthetic, and musical era by pushing all of them into an inspired, multicolored mashup that he calls “steampunk big band.” For their sophomore project, Argue found a visual artist who shares that aesthetic, comic artist Danijel Zezelj; together they created Brooklyn Babylon, a multimedia effort commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music that features Zezelj’s images with through-composed Argue music. The musical aspect of the work is now being released as a CD, and Secret Society will be presenting it in D.C. 8 p.m. at Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. $30.
Tuesday, May 21
This year may turn out to be the Year of the Trumpet in D.C., with great players gigging (and releasing records!) all over the place. May, certainly, is the Month of Donvonte’ McCoy, artist in residence at Bohemian Caverns. His first performance was tremendous, his pungent tone and acrobatic skill charging through bebop tunes (“Billie’s Bounce,” “Woody ‘N You”) and compelling, straightahead originals (“Third Floor,” “Our Deliverance”). But he really shone on his genre-blending moments: In particular, an arrangement of the standard “The Gal in the Calico Dress” that was set in the sweetest, surest kind of funk—-just two congas and a “warm it up Chuck” away from go-go. He’s a hell of a player. Incidentally, his first residency gig was also a CD release party for McCoy’s CD, 3rd Floor; not to worry if you missed it, though—-he says every Caverns show will be a CD release party. Donvonte’ McCoy performs at 7:30 and 9:30 on Tuesdays in May at Bohemian Caverns, 2001 11th St. NW. $10.
Note: Due to a reporting error, the original version of this post inaccurately said that Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society would present the “full multimedia experience” of Brooklyn Babylon. However, the D.C. performance will be strictly musical.