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Inverse? Yes—-in contrast to our usual weekend-heavy setlists, each of this week’s picks falls on a weekday. If you can bear to brave the heatwave this week, school nights are where the action’s at.
Thursday, June 21
By and large, you can take it for granted that every jazz musician in the world will have a bad night. Sometimes it’s a show-killer —-Sonny Rollins, for example, famously wears his bad nights on his sleeve—-and other times it leads to a perfectly serviceable performance where inspiration is all that’s missing. But there may be an exception to this rule: I have never heard Cyrus Chestnut have a bad night. One of the wave of neo-traditionalist piano players that hit the scene in the ‘80s, Chestnut is also arguably the most pedigreed gospel musician currently working in the jazz world. His father was a church organist, his mother a gospel choir director; child-prodigy Cyrus was playing piano at church when he was six. Chestnut went on to have an equally potent jazz pedigree, graduating from Berklee and training in Betty Carter’s band along with Blanchard and Harrison’s before embarking on a career in his own right. But about 15 years ago Chestnut began with his fifth album (Blessed Quietness: Collection of Hymns, Spirituals, Carols) to create sparking gospel jazz records in addition to his straightahead work. The latter is still his specialty, bebop with profound and soulful virtuosity, but he ballasts it with intros, riffs, turns and quotes that you’ll immediately recognize as coming straight from the church. Cyrus Chestnut performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW. $25.
Monday, July 25 We all talk about how D.C. is a congregation of people from all over the United States, and we’re not just talking about the people who work on the Hill. It turns out that applies to the jazz community too, and that includes the avant-garde community. Dig, if you will, the stellar lineup that’s billed as The B.E.B. Ensemble. Its front line, which gives the band its name, consists of trombonist Joseph Bowie, a St. Louis native who came up through that city’s free-jazz collective, Black Artists Group (B.A.G.); saxophonist Ernest Khabeer Dawkins, a member of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians; and trumpeter Lewis “Flip” Barnes, a New Yorker whose reputation is mostly centered on Manhattan’s Downtown scene. These all-stars are joined by two locally based folks: bassist Luke Stewart, originally from southern Mississippi, and drummer Warren Crudup III, a native Washingtonian. Our fair city brings them together, but so does their desire to explore the outer reaches of jazz. The B.E.B. Ensemble performs at 8 p.m. at Red Door, 443 I St. NW. Donation requested at the door.
Tuesday, July 26 It seems a little misleading to call Maryland Summer Jazz a “festival,” per se. What it really is is a continuing education program for local jazz musicians. We’re talking full-scale immersions in jazz workshops for various genres, ensembles, venues, and playing techniques. Let’s call Maryland Summer Jazz a “bootcamp,” then; it just happens to be a bootcamp that kicks off with a great concert of area musicians. Well…Baltimore-area musicians, really, but each of these musicians has appeared at D.C.’s jazz venues often enough to get a pass. Vocalist Felicia Carter leads the charge; the sultry young singer with a high, come-hither voice, but an articulation drawn directly from her fellow Baltimorean, Billie Holiday. Her accompanists will be the great and powerful Amy Shook on bass, thoughtful and adventurous pianist Alan Blackmann, virtuoso saxophonist Jeff Antoniuk, and drummer Frank Russo, all of them strong enough musicians to lead the charge on their own. Hence no name appears at the top of the bill; it’s just the Maryland Summer Jazz Kick-Off Concert. It happens at 8 and 10 PM at Bohemian Caverns, 2001 11th St. NW. $22.
Wednesday, July 27 Having just been to the 2011 Copenhagen Jazz Festival, I can testify with conviction that Denmark has one of the richest, most creative, most thriving jazz scenes imaginable—-indeed, much of the Danish jazz I saw there cut the American performers to ribbons, and I’m talking big names like Brad Mehldau and Joshua Redman. And one of those performers, as it happens, is now appearing in D.C. Karen Bach has chops that keep feet in the pop and classical worlds; think a European Bad Plus for comparison’s sake. She also has a flair for drama in her compositions, a suspensefulness that heightens with each turn of phrase, even as that same phrase resolves the tension created in the previous one. Her trio comprises includes two New York-based musicians, bassist Thomson Kneeland and drummer Ian Froman, and is notable for the sharp-toothed sense of encounter between the members that is firmly a part of the Danish jazz tradition. Thus, Copenhagen comes to you; don’t miss it. The Karen Bach Trio performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Twins, 1344 U St. NW. $10.