Once upon a time it seemed that New Orleans trumpeter Nicholas Payton was the reincarnation of Louis Armstrong, with his bright virtuosic phrases and Big Easy swing. Then came 2003’s Sonic Trance and last year’s Into the Blue, which transplanted Payton into slow, spacy fusion jams that had more in common with Bitches Brew than Satchmo Plays W.C. Handy. Though he now grounds himself with electronics (and occasionally even techno beats), Payton hasn’t sacrificed his roots in blues, lyricism, and swing—he just lifts them into the stratosphere. Payton performs with his quartet at 8 and 10 pm at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Avenue NW. $30.
On the other hand, Marcus Strickland jumps freely back and forth between acoustic and electric musical projects. The tenor saxophonist has worked with drummers Roy Haynes and Jeff “Tain” Watts as well as the two (equal and opposite) major trumpeters of the era, the traditionalist Wynton Marsalis and experimentalist Dave Douglas, and finds a comfortable and unique niche in all settings. That also applies to his own bands – Strickland leads both the Twi-Life group, which flirts with electro-funk and hip-hop, and a straight-ahead trio. It’s the latter that appears at Bohemian Caverns at 9 and 11 pm, featuring Strickland’s identical twin brother E.J. on drums and DC native and this year’s Thelonious Monk Competition winner Ben Williams on bass. Don’t be fooled: the acoustic trio will offer plenty of surprises from the other side of the fence.
Despite Art Blakey’s admonition that “jazz doesn’t have a damn thing to do with Africa,” musicians everywhere have never stopped trying to establish the link. Americans usually think of African music in terms of traditional percussion and tribal rhythms; guitarist Lionel Loueke, who’s from Benin, fuses his jazz with melodic West African pop. Its primary effect is to generate music of startling beauty. Loueke is an acoustic player, and the new songs often sound like folk music at first (an impression that Loueke reinforces with soft humming and tongue-clicking); the harmonic labyrinths and the focused interplay are the jazz element. Loueke performs with his trio at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, Stadium Drive and Route 193 in College Park. $37.
They sometimes call them “organ-grinder groups” —- the soul-inflected jazz trios centered around a Hammond B-3 organ, in the tradition of players like Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff. D.C.’s contribution is the Rodney Richardson Trio. Richardson is actually the guitarist; Will Rast is the organist (and Larry Ferguson is the drummer). But it’s Richardson’s subtle, delicate touch that pushes the trio into its idiosyncratic sound. Rast pulsates and explores, doesn’t jam, and Ferguson punctuates and makes surprisingly careful fills. It keeps audiences guessing, but also intrigued. Find them at Twins Jazz, 1344 U Street NW. $15.