“This will be a taste of things to come,” Charlie Fishman, the DC Jazz Festival’s founder and producer, told the crowd of VIPs assembled at the Mandarin Oriental for last night’s festival gala. He meant it literally. The lineup for the evening featured a group of musicians who will also appear tonight at the NEA Jazz Masters Live Concert: Roy Hargrove on trumpet and flugelhorn; vocalist Roberta Gambarini; and the quartet of pianist Cyrus Chestnut, bassist John Lee, guitarist Yotam Silberstein, and drummer Willie Jones III.
Their chemistry onstage was electric. On the opening number, “Bebop,” Chestnut’s playing reclaimed the phrase “greased lightning” from the wretches who created Grease, while Hargrove demonstrated once again that bebop is a language he knows as well as any trumpeter alive. Gambarini joined them on “If You Could See Me Now”; her flawless and emotionally loaded articulation was a stunning complement to Lee’s virtuosic work on fretless electric bass, and equally effective as a counterpoint to Hargrove’s dry-champagne solo.
The highlight of the performance, however, was the ensemble workout on Johnny Griffin’s blues “The Jamfs Are Coming”—-Gambarini delightedly sang the fed-up irony of the lyrics (“I changed the locks and set you free”), then launched into a freewheeling scat solo followed by a sumptuous, melodic flugelhorn solo from Hargrove. Better still were the back-to-back choruses by Silberstein (whose low-grade blues sounded surprisingly like Ellington’s “Things Aint What They Used To Be,” which opened the show), and Chestnut (whose gospel-blues was so potent that the audience erupted into spontaneous clapping on the backbeat).
If you hadn’t caught on, the reason for recapping the excellence of last night’s invite-only performance is to whet your appetite for this evening’s public showcase…which will be even better. The NEA Jazz Masters Concert this year honors saxophonist James Moody (pictured above) and will feature his music as well as his favorite standards and collaborators. In addition to the sextet from last night, tonight’s concert features the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band (of which Chestnut, Silberstein, Lee, and Jones are members), violinist Regina Carter, and Moody’s fellow NEA Jazz Masters pianist Kenny Barron and clarinetist (and DCJF artistic director) Paquito D’Rivera. It can’t help but bring the house down.
The NEA Jazz Masters Concert begins at 7:30 pm at the Lincoln Theatre, 1215 U St. NW. $25-$35.