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Thursday, Nov. 18
In the neo-traditionalist jazz boom of the ’80s, there was one dominant drummer: Jeff “Tain” Watts. He had (and has) all the virtuosity of your Marsalises, Millers, and Roneys—-and anyone who claims there were no real innovators during that period would do well to listen to him play. The man can smear beats together or break them down into seven parts; either way, you won’t be able to count, though you couldn’t miss the whip-snap swing feel if you were trying. And that’s not counting the Latin pieces and ballads, on which he’s equally adept, and equally swinging. Thus it’s redundant to say he’s one of the best drummers alive. His quartet this week, not coincidentally, has among the best living pianists (David Kikoski), saxophonists (Steve Wilson), and bassists (Yunior Terry Cabrera). They perform 8 and 10 p.m. sets at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW. $27.
Friday, Nov. 19
If the Smithsonian’s Museums of Asian art include Asian-American art, then violinist Jason Kao Hwang fits the bill. The Chinese-American plays the music of his own ancestry, but is a lover of cross-cultural explorations that led him to fuse the Chinese traditions with jazz—-so he also throws in generous helpings of Korean and Japanese music, plus huge sides of classical and the avant-garde. All of these lineages once again intersect in Burning Bridge: a concert piece that Chamber Music America commissioned from Hwang in 2009. Premiered in September at the Chicago World Music Festival, Hwang is now touring with a performance of the work by his own quartet Edge (cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, bassist Ken Filiano, drummer Andrew Drury), plus trombonist Steve Swell, tubaist Joseph Daley, erhuist Wang Guowei, and pipaist Sun Li. They perform Burning Bridge 7:30 p.m. at the Freer and Sackler Galleries (Smithsonian Museums of Asian Art), 1050 Independence Avenue SW. Free.
Saturday, Nov. 20
Wadada Leo Smith is an unquestioned American original. The son of a Mississippi blues guitarist, Smith and his trumpet moved to Chicago in the 1960s to work with Anthony Braxton and become an early member of the AACM. The takeaway was a new conception of musical composition and improv, and a voracious appetite for sound—-this last, amplified by Smith’s deep study and appreciation of the music of Miles Davis. His unique approach to music manifests itself in leadership of several ensembles; the “permanent one” is his Golden Quartet, featuring three of the most lauded and progressive musicians of the 21st century: keyboardist Vijay Iyer, bassist John Lindberg, and drummer Pheeroan Aklaff. They are deep thinkers, all of them (it’s a prerequisite for playing with Smith), and their music is as cerebral as it is spiritual and haunting. The Golden Quartet performs at 8:00 p.m. at the Library of Congress’s Whittall Pavilion, at the LoC Jefferson Building, First Street and Independence Avenue SE. Free. (Arts Desk will feature an interview with Smith tomorrow.)