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Happy New Year, folks! Thought I’d ring in 2013 with a headline that screams 2011. That said, two of my picks below feature D.C. jazz musicians, so it works, right?
Friday, Jan. 4 We don’t hear enough from the trio that jump-started the new Silver Age of D.C. jazz. Yes, it was The Young Lions who in the late ’90s got U Street NW swinging again when they started playing weekly at the gone-but-not-forgotten Cafe Nema. Like much of the jazz around these parts, the trio is based in hard bop, an unsurprising effect of having a gospel-drenched pianist like Jazzy winner Allyn Johnson at the helm. But the trio also features bassist Kris Funn, one of the boldest experimenters on the scene these days, and equally versatile drummer Quincy Phillips, and when those two meet Johnson some edgy, fearsome chemistry happens: soul, hip-hop, funk, and sometimes a little rock makes its way in there as well. They’re busy musicians—-which may explain why they don’t do the weekly anymore—-but that just makes it all the more urgent when they are together. The Young Lions perform tonight and Saturday at 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. at Bohemian Caverns, 2001 11th St. NW. $15-$20.
Sunday, Jan. 6 Anthony Pirog also took Jazzies’ honors this year, and is currently the subject of a feature in Guitar Player magazine. This is a musician on the upswing, which, given his voracious appetite for all forms of music, was bound to happen. Pirog is at the very least an underground star in the making. Witness the powerful work he does in his fusion trio, featuring bassist Mark Foster and drummer Larry Ferguson. They’ve got a splendid, easily shifting rhythmic matrix, and Pirog—-excuse me while I mix my metaphors—-plays with dirty fire. It’s an unpredictable combination that can move in new directions just when they’ve started down the old one. Throw you off your game it just might, but Pirog’s is a trio that needs to be seen. It performs at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. at Twins Jazz, 1344 U St. NW. $10.
Tuesday, Jan. 8 It takes some serious chops to be able to go head-to-head with elder statesman alto saxophonists like Lee Konitz or Phil Woods—-not as an ankle-biter, but as an equal. And yet, not only has Grace Kelly worked in such a capacity with both musicians, she had done so by the time she was 18 years old. Probably no other music devotes as much attention and resources to its students, but even so Kelly is an exceptional instance. She’s 20 years old and a fully realized musician, and one that will fool you. When she plays a song, the written theme, at first, comes out cool and lightly stated; let it come around a second time and she’ll suddenly knock you off your feet. The sound is robust, energetic, and exudes remarkable confidence—-plus a soupcon of rhythm that you’d have to pay attention to even if you didn’t hear it, because Kelly tends to sashay to it as she plays. She’s a remarkable talent, and one with a fresh and exciting perspective. Grace Kelly performs at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW. $25.