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Here beginneth the 2011 DC Jazz Festival. But, as usual, it’s an incredibly low-key beginning. The headliners and special events are yet to ramp up; by and large, tonight is the usual lineup of local musicians who make up the “Jazz in the Hoods” arm of the festival. There is, however, an act that has more than its share of the annual spirit.
Each year, the DC Jazz Festival moves closer and closer to the vision of its spiritual father, Dizzy Gillespie: an event of one-world unity with jazz as the common language, currency, and culture. That makes the Berklee World Jazz Octet an ideal choice for its first performance this year. Indeed, the Octet were leaders of the charge at the 2010 festival, but there seems to have been significant turnover in the band’s multinational roster—featuring musicians from Canada (drummer Adam Arruda), Mexico (percussionist Yuriana Sobrino Garcia), Lithuania (vocalist Simona Jakubenaite), Israel (pianist Eitan Kenner), Puerto Rico (saxophonist Mario Castro), and the continental U.S. (bassist Zach Brown, a local; guitarist Alex Baboian; and violinist Duncan Wickel). That eclectic heritage is very much the point of the World Jazz Octet: It’s a diorama of jazz’s function as both a cross-cultural bridge and a versatile assimilator of global musical traditions. The result is a tangled but nonetheless insoluble whole, with melted streaks of this or that country’s own sound running through; it’s unique, but sumptuous indeed. The Berklee Jazz Octet performs at 6 p.m. at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, 2700 F St. NW. Free.
The band also performs at Bohemian Caverns Thursday night at 8 and 10 PM, for $15.