I neglected to mention last week’s hottest jazz ticket—singer Kurt Elling‘s performance at the White House state dinner—on the grounds that I assumed it was impossible to get admission.
Now let’s get down to it.
Too much is made of Esperanza Spalding‘s singing. Technically adept, she’s also emotionally callow at this point in her career. Don’t let it fool you; at 25, Spalding is already one of the major bass players of her generation. Indeed, on her instrument comes the nuance that is missing from her vocal, and it matches the astonishing technique she exercises. (Taken together, it got her a job teaching at Berklee, the youngest professor in the school’s history.) What’s more, she’s an adventurer— imbuing standards like “Body and Soul” with clever rhythms and harmonies —who is on the cusp of real mainstream success with her light touches of pop and hip-hop, even while she works with hardcore jazzers like Joe Lovano and Nicholas Payton. See the young phenomenon with her quartet at 8 pm at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. $30.
Like any experimental group worth its salt, the Claudia Quintet is difficult to explain. Drummer John Hollenbeck‘s combo is rooted in the Downtown avant-garde movement, but is also readily identifiable with Chicago post-rockers like Tortoise with its use of pointillistic vibraphone (Matt Moran) and ambient accordion (Ted Reichman). The group also includes two of jazz’s quirkiest intellects, saxophonist/clarinetist Chris Speed and bassist Drew Gress, who take the band on an unpredictable course from minimalist classical to abrasive fusion and everywhere in between. The Claudia Quintet’s adventures have garnered the attention of Chamber Music America, who gave them a 2009 grant for composition. Some of that work will be premiered (with another sonic explorer, pianist Gary Versace) at 8:15 pm at Towson University’s Center for the Arts Recital Hall, 8000 York Road in Towson. $13.
It’s hard to overstate the promise of Elijah Jamal Balbed. The 20-year-old tenor saxophonist is a music student Howard, where he plays with the Large Ensemble and the Jazztet, and has already developed a personal sound: rich, lean, and implying more muscle than it demonstrates outright. Perhaps that’s why he’s able to keep so busy in DC: In addition to the Howard bands, Balbed currently works with the Cricket Fusion Quartet and leads two of his own bands: the Elijah Balbed quartet, and a trio known as the Elijah Balbed Experience. On Wednesday nights, however, Balbed invites any and all players in town to join him on the bandstand when he leads an open jam session at U Street’s Cafe Nema, 1334 U Street NW, from 7-11 pm. Free.