Buika performs at the Howard Theatre during the DC Jazz Festival. Courtesy Bernardo Doral
by Giovanni Russonello
The DC Jazz Festival, which launches today and runs through June 16, is gliding into town on a wave of temperate weather, ready to draw us onto the streets and into one of its dozens of venues. The festival is really a seasonal celebration of a greater, perennial jazz ecosystem. But the stars visiting town for it this year are many – from Roy Hargrove and Cyrus Chestnut (two familiar faces at this festival) to Roy Haynes, Terri Lyne Carrington and John McLaughlin.
The festival’s predilection for bubbling Afro-Cuban jazz is on full display again this year. The prerogative is largely from its producer, Charlie Fishman, who for years was the manager of Dizzy Gillespie — one of the first North American jazz musicians to embrace Latin dance music. With sets from Arturo O’Farrill, Paquito D’Rivera and Poncho Sanchez, there’s lots of varieties of danceability to choose from.
For this year’s festival, CapitalBop will run nonstop coverage, which you can keep up with at capitalbop.com/dcjf. We’ll post articles every day, ranging from artist interviews and show previews to live reviews and photo essays. Our photographer, Carlyle V. Smith, will also be posting live updates after each night of the festival, which you can find on Flickr. For a complete schedule and more information, visit the DC Jazz Festival’s website.
Wednesday, June 5 – Nicholas Payton in conversation with E. Ethelbert Miller, Busboys and Poets, 6 p.m.
Jazz is about intellectual provocation, kind of, so maybe a talk between two important thinkers about jazz and resistance is a smart way to dive into this festival. In November 2011, the esteemed trumpeter Nicholas Payton fired off a graceful but hard-charging post called “On Why Jazz Isn’t Cool Anymore;” ever since, his blog has been known for an unflagging dedication to pointing out some of the more frustrating elements of jazz’s business operation and myth-making machinery, and for coining the term #BAM (for Black American Music). Here he sits down for a conversation with the D.C.-based poet, memoirist and arts advocate E. Ethelbert Miller — himself an incisive voice who takes aggressive empathy seriously — and the D.C. drumming institution Nasar Abadey. (Payton performs the following night at the Hamilton.) Free.
Friday, June 7 – Stefon Harris & Blackout, The Hamilton, 8:30 p.m.
Stefon Harris hails from upstate New York, but with two District natives in his band, and given his commitment to exploring rugged funk with a shiver of 21st-century energy, there’s no way that D.C. go-go wouldn’t seep into the mix. Harris plays the vibraphone with a masterful flair, recalling Milt Jackson, but his polished bluesiness never sits still. In Blackout he’s joined by a stellar cast: Casey Benjamin on alto saxophone and vocoder, Marc Cary on piano and keyboard, Ben Williams on bass and Terreon Gully on drums. Tickets $25-35.
Sunday, June 9 – Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra (feat. Anat Cohen & Steven Bernstein), Sixth & I Synagogue, 7 p.m.
Arturo O’Farrill leads one of the tightest and iron-hottest bands in New York City: the 18-piece Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra. In weekly shows at Birdland, it has the same ability to trip up your mind and speed up your heart that belonged to a few mid-century jazz big bands. In this program, klutzily titled “From Bagels to Bongos,” the Cuban music-centric band is joined by the clarinetist Anat Cohen and the trumpeter Steven Bernstein, the former representing Israel, the other Brooklyn, presumably. Tickets $25 in advance, $30 at the door.
Wednesday, June 12 – Buika, Howard Theatre, 8 p.m.
The strain, the contorted catharsis of flamenco singing, comes through with a proud bounce on the lips of Concha Buika, a singer of Equatorial Guinean parentage and Spanish gitano upbringing. She’s some sort of jazz singer, I guess, and has worked with Afro-Cuban jazz giant Chucho Valdés, but really she’s an earthy hit of transcendence. On her latest album, La Noche Más Larga, ranges from a classic Cuban tune by Ernesto Lecuona originals to to jazz standards by Abbey Lincoln and Billie Holiday. Tickets $35, $40 day of show.
Thursday, June 13 – Fred Foss Quartet, Dorothy I. Height/Benning Neighborhood Library, 6 p.m.
The tenor saxophonist Fred Foss has been an important performer and educator in the D.C. region for decades. His straight-ahead bop playing – searing, laden with conviction and bearing the indelible influence of John Coltrane’s innovations – tends to invigorate and surprise. Here he performs as part of the East River JazzFest, a subset of the DC Jazz Festival that presents first-rate jazz in Anacostia and other points east of the river, often free of charge. Free.
Friday, June 14 – Sunday, June 16 :: Pharoah Sanders, Bohemian Caverns, 8:30 & 10:30 p.m.
The 72-year-old saxophonist Pharoah Sanders will always be best known for his 1969 LP, Karma, and specifically its half-hour-long first track: “The Creator Has a Master Plan.” Built around two simple chords, the song sojourns in a screeching and pleading free-jazz territory parallel to that of Albert Ayler and Charles Gayle – only with a sturdy, grooving backup band. More than 40 years since he recorded “Master Plan,” he continues to dazzle with his flights of free-meets-form – and on a ballad he can evoke Coltrane, his former employer, better than anyone. $35 cover online, $40 at the door, no minimum.
Editor’s note: CapitalBop is putting on our own series at the festival, but for this preview we stuck to other shows. You can find out about our D.C. Jazz Loft Series here.