Recent Sightings in the DMV

Don’t sell the DMV short – DC/Maryland/Virginia, the Washington, DC-metro area – as fertile ground for jazz presentations. And with new venues springing up across the DMV, including the spiffy joint known as The Hamilton (for Alexander) in downtown DC, and another showcase room springing up soon in Bethesda, MD, the scene is ever-expanding. Much of that scene is concert-based, though the DMV does have several active jazz clubs, including burgeoning scenes at the Bohemian Caverns and Twins Jazz on the bustling U Street corridor, and the venerable Blues Alley in Georgetown. For those whose tastes lean left of center there’s Transparent Productions (with Sunday evening hits at Bohemian Caverns by the likes of William Parker coming up November 11) and a brewing loft scene promulgated by DC Bop (we reported on their edgy component in the DC Jazz Festival last summer), not to mention An Die Musik in nearby Baltimore.

On the festival side there’s the annual Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival (stay tuned to these pages for details on the 2013 edition) in February, the Jazz Appreciation month cornucopia at the Smithsonian in April, the Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival at the Kennedy Center in May, the blossoming DC Jazz Festival in June, and a new event promised for Montgomery County, MD next summer (stay tuned to IE for details on that one). The launch of a brand new DC-based, composer-oriented jazz orchestra is also just around the corner.

Fall being a time of renewal, jazz performance activities are busting out across the DMVV. Here’s just a sampling of some recent gems (and believe me there were conflicting jazz activities when these were jumping off). (Meanwhile there was a weekend-long Art Blakey tribute band swinging at the Bohemian Caverns, and Roy Hargrove was in the midst of a 4-night stand at Blues Alley.)

SF Jazz Collective, October 12 @ Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

On the same evening DC was buzzing with anticipation of a League Championship Series slot, then round about midnight dealing with the Nationals’ crushing Game 5 NL Division Series loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, the SF Jazz Collective was launching its 2012-13 season at the handsome Clarice Smith Center (which boasts six venues) on the University of Maryland campus. Fresh off what from all reports was a very successful week-long residency – one which also enabled them to rehearse their new program right on stage each evening – the SF Jazz Collective launched their new season featuring the music of Chick Corea and originals from each bandmember. This season’s edition of the band includes saxophonists David Sanchez and Miguel Zenon, trumpeter Avashai Cohen, trombonist Robin Eubanks, vibist Stefon Harris, Edward Simon on piano, Matt Penman on bass, and drummer Jeff Ballard. David, who replaced Mark Turner in SFJC, delivered several degrees more fire and passion than the more chill Turner. David’s close partnership with Zenon, which dates back to David’s intro of Miguel in the Sanchez’ band, also serves the band well. Stefon Harris’ vibraphones lend distinctive textural gifts to the band’s harmonies, which were evident from the jump on Edward Simon’s sparkling arrangement of Corea’s classic “Spain.” Though this is an acoustic ensemble, Eubanks dared to very successfully arrange one of Corea’s Return to Forever classics, “Space Circus”, for the program.” The international flavor of SFJC also gives the band an air of distinction, with Sanchez and Zenon from Puerto Rico, Penman from New Zealand, Simon from Venezuela, and the stealthy prowess of the Israeli Avishai Cohen. The latter’s complex original encouraged some wicked modernist polyphony from the horns. The resulting CD document of this SFJC season is eagerly anticipated.

Medeski Martin & Wood, October 13 @ the Kennedy Center

This was the acoustic version of MMW, played not in the typical Kennedy Center concert hall, nor the KC Jazz Club. Per artistic adviser Jason Moran’s plan, the KC opened its new Supersized Jazz Club. Ever been to the KC on the Terrace Theatre level? If so, then perhaps you’ve had occasion to stroll the space in between the Terrace and the KC’s two restaurants for pre-or post-concert cocktails or a meal. Spotting that big open space, Moran envisioned carving out another kind of KC performance space (we’ll have a conversation with him on that endeavor and the reasoning behind it in our next IE posting); thus was born the Supersized Jazz Club, a stand-up space designed to bring a younger audience to the KC. And that it did: this gig was sold-out well in advance. When I walked in and saw a long line of 20-somethings at the bar I knew the KC was on to something. And despite the fact that MMW’s set at times bordered on the avant – with pianist John Medeski wielding a couple of peculiar electronic wind instruments along the way and drummer Billy Martin channeling Gnawa rhythms during one particularly vivid piece, the packed house was jumping around loving the music and the scene.

…And the next weekend, more goodies… Meanwhile the KC Jazz Club was hosting separate nights with the Anat Cohen Quartet and the Heath Brothers, while NEA Jazz Master Lou Donaldson played two nights at the Bohemian Caverns.) Oh well, your correspondent can’t be everywhere!

Yard Byard, October 19 @ Twins Jazz

Yard Byard is a cooperative ensemble wonderfully based on a quirky body of work which in their capable hands proves extremely viable, the compositions of the late master musician and teacher Jaki Byard. What an inspiration, why didn’t someone think of this before? The band consists of musicians who either studied under Byard at New England Conservatory, or served in his raucous, edgy Apollo Stompers band: flutist Jamie Baum, clarinetist-saxophonist Adam Kolker, drummer George Schuller, bassist Ugonna Okegwo, and giving the band a real mark of distinction, that flexible flier Jerome Harris on guitar. With Baum alternating between the G-alto flute and concert flute, Kolker frequently expounding on clarinet and bass clarinet (a pleasant surprise since I only previously knew his work on tenor), and Harris’ dark rum guitar sound, this band achieves a unique harmonic pallet as they explore Byard’s trickster pieces. Add to that Schuller’s interactive posture at the traps and Okegwo’s foundation work and you’ve certainly got an ensemble to listen out for. Accordingly I’m happy to report that Kolker, who acted as the group’s spokesman most of the evening – save for a funny shout-out from the seemingly shy Jamie Baum – informed the good house of a forthcoming Yard Byard (named after one of Jaki’s pieces, of course – get it, yard-by-yard) CD release. This has to go down as one of my favorite new band sightings of the year. Those not familiar with Twins Jazz – which we’ve reported on previously in IE – its located at 1344 U Street, just east of the U Street/14th street crossroads of one of DC’s most happening nightlife corridors, and happily a joint where jazz lives upstairs, as opposed to the usual basement habitue; owned and operated by the Tesfaye twins, part of the DC-area’s large and quite entrepreneurial Ethiopian community (and yes, succulent doro watt and yebeg alitcha are indeed on the Twins menu).

Ben Williams Band, October 20 @ BlackRock Center

The following evening I had the pleasure of doing a post-concert meet-the-artist interview, but not before another briskly rewarding set by young bassist Ben Williams’ band. The venue, in what is referred to in Montgomery County, MD as “up county”, was the acoustically-inviting BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown, MD. Thoroughly warmed up, tuned in, and fresh off several months touring with Pat Metheny (Ben reported they played 90 gigs over the summer!!), Ben, who is fast becoming one of the most in-demand young bassists, delivered in spades. His band, which he’s been honing for a couple of years now, comprising saxophonist Marcus Strickland (at 33 the vet of the band), drummer John Davis, guitarist Matt Stevens, and pianist Gerald Clayton, is full of youthful vigor, and an obvious hip hop connection despite its acoustic jazz setting. It was particularly good to hear Gerald Clayton playing with his peers, neatly balancing this experience with the great work he brings to his dad John and uncle Jeff’s Clayton Brothers Band (new record “The Gathering” on ArtistShare), and his own trio (Gerald recently signed with Concord). Williams played a finely balanced program from his Concord Records debut; as he informed an audience member at our post-concert interview, ‘we’ve only done one record thus far, so that’s the total of our repertoire’. In the communication department, to open his program, before hitting the stage Ben screened a short biographical film, produced 21st century music video jump cut style, that touched on his DC upbringing, from his Duke Ellington School matriculation through copping the Monk Institute bass competition prize and the Metheny set, including veteran accolades (including Christian McBride‘s warm blessings; seems like just yesterday when Christian was the youth bassist du jour!). Throughout the performance I noticed a young brother shooting video from all angles; seems Ben is taking good care to video chronicle his exploits. At the post-concert interview guitarist Matt Stevens recounted how he, Ben, Christian Scott, Gerald Clayton and some other young Concord signees had just completed a recording session compiling their jazz-oriented arrangements of modern pop songs; prompting Ben to crack wise about the moment when each revealed his choice of pop hit turnarounds – “You listen to that!” But clearly these young players had fun with that concept, so besides Ben Williams sophomore release, and Gerald Clayton and Matt Stevens’ label debuts, be on the lookout for that young guns of Concord compilation.

Don’t sleep on DC: This weekend its Ralph Peterson. at Twins Jazz, Jason Moran & the Bandwagon with Bill Frisell & Alicia Hall Moran at the KC Jazz Club, Kurt Elling at the KC Terrace Theatre; next weekend Nicholas Payton w/Lenny White at Bohemian Caverns…


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