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The DC Jazz Festival is something of a glutton, in that it consumes everything within its sphere. The “Jazz in the ‘Hoods” wing of its programming means that all of the club gigs, bar gigs, even unique weekly events like Jazz Night in Southwest get absorbed into the festival’s scope. There are two exceptions, though, which prefer to stand separate: HR-57, the H Street NE club that’s currently in the process of moving across the street, and Blues Alley, the famous Georgetown spot at 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW.
With HR-57 out of commission, Blues Alley holds a virtual monopoly on non-festival jazz performances for the next 10 days. Stay tuned for a full overview of the DCJF tomorrow. Meantime, here are Blues Alley’s highlights:
Friday, June 1 It’s not hard, in a pool as small as jazz harmonica’s, to distinguish oneself; still, Frederic Yonnet manages to be something special. The French-born musician’s got a thick, soulful sound on the harp, laden with R&B feeling and a carnival of rhythm from swing to funk to hip-hop. It’s stood him in good stead, too: Yonnet has already made rather a legend of himself working with another legend (and fellow harmonicist) Stevie Wonder in titanic onstage harmonica battles. He’s also made a name for himself working with Prince and Erykah Badu, to name two. Among harmonica players themselves he’s looked on with awe—-Yonnet is able to find notes on the harmonica that even scholars on the instruments didn’t know were possible. How do you argue with an artist of that kind of spectrum-spanning caliber? Frederic Yonnet performs at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley. $25.
Tuesday, June 5 “A groove is a terrible thing to waste,” says Maryland drummer Marty Knepp. You’ll get no challenge to that statement here, nor from the Marty Knepp Trio, who plays straightahead jazz laced with Latin ingredients. Specifically, Latin rhythms: Knepp formed the small band out of the orbit of his Big Band Caliente, based on Swing-era Latin bands. The trio can swing, no doubt about that, but even when that’s their direction, they manage to sneak in percussive accents and little nibbles of clave. For spice, you know. It’s music, in short, to make you move, and pianist Clem Ehoff and drummer Jason Gano know it too. Especially Ehoff, the band’s in-house composer, who loves a good melody but isn’t afraid to pull hip-twisting stunts out of them, either. The fun part is waiting to see where, and how, they’ll come. The Marty Knepp Trio performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley. $18.
Friday, June 8 Let’s just go ahead and call Kenny Garrett the best and most important alto saxophonist of his generation, because he is. He’s also perhaps the boldest of that generation—-the “Young Lions” movement that took the stage in the early 1980s; he went further than any of his contemporaries in shuffling off the rigid “swing and blues or it didn’t happen” ideology of the movement. How could you not when your major internship was with Miles Davis? He’s thus moved through the ranks of rock, both mainstream (Peter Gabriel) and fused with jazz (the all-star Five-Peace Band); played jazz-infected hip-hop with GURU in his “Jazzmatazz” ensemble; and, under his own auspices, explored funk, gospel, African and Asian music, and free jazz. His 2012 release Seeds From the Underground, though, is a back-to-the-roots exploration of the post-bop matrix of the 21st century. It may sound from this description like a holding pattern, but far from it—-it’s on the short list of the year’s best albums so far. Seeing it live is a treat. Kenny Garrett performs at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley. $35.
Blues Alley photo by Flickr user Daquella Manera used under a Creative Commons license.