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The holiday weekend prevented me from properly addressing the death last week of Jerry Gordon, a favorite local guitarist who was renowned for his lovely melodic imagination and mastery of the playing style first developed by Wes Montgomery. Gordon was a longtime area resident, having performed in D.C. for over 20 years, and was a regular performer at Columbia Station in Adams Morgan. His funeral was this past Tuesday, a sad loss for the D.C. jazz community. This edition of Jazz Setlist is dedicated to Gordon.
Thursday, Sept. 6 There’s an unfortunate tendency in examining the history of jazz to overlook one of its taproots: the African-American gospel tradition. It’s tough to downplay the deep-seated presence of the blues, or of the marching bands as they developed in New Orleans at the turn of the last century. But the music of the black church is as important and as inextricable from jazz as anything else. For living proof, look no further than pianist Cyrus Chestnut. A member of the original “Young Lions” movement that defined jazz in the 1980s, Chestnut is one of the most technically proficient pianists at work. He’s got bebop chops to spare, and an extraordinary ear for less codified language and phrasing. But there is simply no discussing Chestnut without acknowledging his undiluted gospel tendencies. He’s done several albums of hymns and traditionals, and has composed some of his own work in similar veins; even when he’s playing perfectly straightahead jazz, though, the word “inspirational” is the first that comes to mind to describe his piano touch and solo constructions. Cyrus Chestnut performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW. $25.
Saturday, Sept. 8
Something has happened to the Rosslyn Jazz Festival lately. These days, when they claim to focus on booking “the genre’s most visionary artists,” they’re not exaggerating. The obligatory local artist is none other than Afro-Blue. The festival lineup is not the same one that competed on TV (they’ve renamed themselves the Afro-Blue Vocal Band); it’s the current batch of Howard students. But that just means they can concentrate on jazz and more challenging, unique arrangements. Rene Marie, another artist with local roots (she was born Warrenton, Va.), is an increasingly buzzed-about singer. Her stunning facility to move between jazz, soul, blues, and pop is actually trumped by her songwriting, in which stories unfold with dramatic tension and poetic grace. Adventurous clarinetist Don Byron, meanwhile, who’s courted styles from free jazz to soul to klezmer, here pursues yet another new avenue with his New Gospel Quintet. The headliner, Joshua Redman, is one of the most influential tenor saxophonists of the last two decades, equal parts hard-charging aggression (à la Sonny Rollins) and sinuous, atmospheric experimentalist (à la Keith Jarrett). It’s a small festival, obviously, but who cares when it’s also a festival with imagination and edge? The Rosslyn Jazz Festival starts at 1 p.m. at Gateway Park, 1300 Lee Highway in Rosslyn. Free.
Sunday, Sept. 9 Yup, it’s that time again. The second Sunday of the month means a CapitalBop Jazz Loft, and for September they’re making a big move—-to U Street NW. The city’s premier jazz advocates have relocated to Montserrat House, the much-ballyhooed mixed-use venue on 9th Street NW. And to celebrate their new digs, they’ve broken out one of the most promising new ensembles in town as their headliners: Sine Qua Non, a quintet founded by bassist and educator Michael Bowie to explore what he calls “world-music fusion.” The quintet is, however, a full band effort, not just a Bowie project, so the presence of steelpannist Victor Provost, saxophonist Lyle Link, drummer Mark Prince, and percussionist Sam Turner is of equal priority. And the downbill artists? No slouches. The mighty drummer Howard “Kingphish” Franklin, one of our unsung treasures, leads a straightahead ensemble with some of the District’s hottest yong musicians. And Pete Muldoon, a popular guitarist-about-town who can be seen on just about every jazz bandstand D.C. offers, leads his own ensemble to start things off. The Jazz Loft takes place at 7 p.m. at Montserrat House, 2016 9th St. NW. $10 suggested donation.
Tuesday, Sept. 11 Brent Birckhead has a truly original sound on alto. The tone has the creamy feel of prewar alto saxophonists, and the phrasing uses a thoroughly contemporary raw power and abrasiveness—-like shaving with a rough stone. His transitions, though, have that certain feathery feel that echoes Charlie Parker. It’s an approach that seems to embrace the entire alto-sax tradition at once, no easy accomplishment and made more impressive by the fact that Birckhead is only 27. (His baby face might give that away, of course.) No complaints, then, that he is the September choice for Bohemian Caverns’ monthly Artist in Residence series. He’s gathered an excellent local ensemble for that purpose, too: pianist Tim Whalen, guitarist Samir Moulay, bassist Eric Wheeler, and drummer Kingphish Franklin, plus some assistance from trombonist Corey Wallace on standards and Birckhead originals. His set is energetic and joyful, a more than worthy candidate for this kind of showcase. Brent Birckhead performs at 7 and 9 p.m. at Bohemian Caverns, 2001 11th St. NW. $10.
Jerry Gordon photo by Elvert Barnes