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Thursday, August 23
D.C. may be a bass town first and foremost, at least as far as jazz is concerned; the trombone, however, has been making a surge lately. We’ve always had strong players, including the late and beloved Calvin Jones, who founded the jazz program at UDC. But in the past few years, powerhouse Greg Boyer has taken on renewed prominence on the scene, and Corey Wallace, Gary Gill, and Ryan McGeorge have been steadily increasing presences along with stalwarts like Dupor Georges and John Jensen. Even so, it’s Reginald Cyntje who is probably the most prominent among them. The St. Thomas native enjoys searching the possibilities of mixing Caribbean rhythms with straightahead bebop jazz—-with a generous helping of his passion for social justice. All of these things combined in wondrous ways on Cyntje’s CD from last year, Freedom’s Children: The Celebration. Cyntje celebrates the album’s first anniversary with a concert of tunes from it, and, he promises, a sampler of new tunes from his next recording. That’s at 8 and 10 p.m. sets at Twins Jazz, 1344 U St. NW. $12.
Friday, August 24
This writer’s college radio station had a CD copy of the 1973 soundtrack to Last Tango in Paris, the legendary and controversial Marlon Brando film; on the jewel case was written a review by a station staffer, who insisted on referring throughout to Gato Barbieri‘s “sexophone.” One need only hear four notes from the Argentinian tenor player, however, to understand that wordplay completely. Barbieri is as virile a player as they come, with a tremendous swagger and growling machismo that stands in sharp relief on that record to the luscious string arrangements behind him. Those backgrounds, though, pointed the way in which Barbieri’s music would turn in later years. Beginning his career as an avant-gardist who worked with the likes of Don Cherry and Carla Bley, Barbieri got caught up in the pop-jazz movement of the late ’70s and his trajectory since then has been dominated by that aesthetic. What you hear today has a great deal in common with smooth jazz, in fact—-but it could never really be pigeonholed that way. Barbieri, you see, has never watered down his own playing, his carnal growl and sweeping conquest of the tunes intact from his arrival into jazz, even as he approaches his 80th birthday. Gato Barbieri performs at 8 p.m. at The Howard Theatre, 620 T Street NW. $24.
Saturday, August 25
Thad Wilson has a beautiful trumpet sound. Full, clear, and tinged with vibrato, it has a certain longing, crying quality to it that can’t easily be imitated. From that description, you might think Wilson is a balladeer; he is, but that same romance-friendly sound stands him in equally good stead on the fast stuff. Wilson has the chops and the melodic imagination that a player needs to go ’round the bends at racecar speeds, true enough, but the wistful tone of his trumpet gives them a new dimension: questioning, probing, searching the tune for its ins and outs. Simultaneously, that edge can come off as a champing-at-the-bit assertion, an eagerness to get in there and say what he’s gotta say (and often play circles around everyone else). It makes for great music, one that D.C. doesn’t hear often enough these days. Wilson gigs are few and far between, but usually worth the wait, featuring small bands that draw on the local scene’s lifers. One of those rare performances comes in one of the area’s most interesting summer showcases, The Petworth Jazz Project. Wilson performs at 6:30 p.m. at Petworth Recreation Center, 8th and Taylor streets NW. Free.
Sunday, August 26
At the very least, Terence Blanchard returns to D.C. every summer for a stretch at Blues Alley. (At the very least: He’s usually in town for other events throughout the year, too.) And every time he does, it’s an event. One need not be musically conservative to think so; Blanchard isn’t. Yes, he’s got roots in the neo-conservatism that ran through jazz in the 1980s—-though his albums with saxophonist Donald Harrison, while hard to find, have aged beautifully. But he quickly outgrew that constrained view of jazz. His prolific career in film scoring has seeped into his jazz more than vice versa; it makes him reach hard for new voicings, new textures, new vocabularies and ways of expressing what he has to say. It’s also reflected in what does make up the constant in his music: dramatic tension, and narrative arc. No, he’s not reinventing the wheel whole cloth, nor is he attempting to; nevertheless, Terence Blanchard is a treasure. He performs with his quintet at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Avenue NW. $40.