CapitalBop :: Live reviews

Live review | At the KC Jazz Club, young drummer Jamison Ross takes his audience on a Joy Ride

2012 Monk Competition winner Jamison Ross performed earlier this month at the KC Jazz Club. Courtesy

The 2012 Monk Competition winner Jamison Ross, shown in a separate performance, played recently at the KC Jazz Club. Courtesy

by Allen Jones
CapitalBop contributor

Jamison Ross and Joy Ride
The KC Jazz Club
Saturday, March 1

There are moments when you enter a space that doesn’t require the application of your logic, moments that defy all notions of ego. You’re in the thrall of something, and it’s not asking you for anything but investment. Jamison Ross knows how to create those moments: by telling stories.

Performing with his group Joy Ride at the Kennedy Center’s KC Jazz Club on March 1, the 26-year-old drummer told tales through his music, sometimes packing multiple narratives into one song. And even when he talked to the audience, there was always an engaging story. For his listeners it was a night of celebratory learning.

Although this was his debut as a bandleader at the Kennedy Center, he is no stranger to the institution. In 2009, he participated in the center’s Betty Carter Jazz Ahead program for rising musicians under the direction of the late Dr. Billy Taylor. Midway through his performance on Saturday, he told the audience about going to a FedEx/Kinkos during Jazz Ahead and printing business cards for the first time. Humble preparation is the mark of a dreamer, and a dream was fulfilled when the vocalist Carmen Lundy approached him the next night to offer him a job. He went on to tour the world with her. Continue reading

Live review | Sometimes mournful, sometimes meditative, Todd Marcus builds a spacious sound

Todd Marcus, third from left, led his nine-piece Jazz Orchestra at Bohemian Caverns on Sunday. Dawn Whitmore/CapitalBop

by Jeremy Mohler
CapitalBop contributor

Todd Marcus Jazz Orchestra
Bohemian Caverns
Sunday, January 19

You could read the mild Middle Eastern flourishes in the bass clarinetist Todd Marcus’s compositions as a simple siphoning of his Egyptian-American heritage into modern, straight-ahead jazz. Though, that would be far too simple. An even cruder reading sees that dimension of his music as a mere reflection of his uncommon (for American jazz) background. But the title of his most recent release, 2012’s Inheritance, suggests something more: an active stance toward history.

For certain, titles like “Blues for Tahrir” and “Protest” point beyond aesthetics, directly at Egypt’s ongoing revolution. While that sound is clean and thoughtfully arranged, one can hear Marcus working out the messiness that inheritance and protest share: We inherit both personal and collective history, but we must make ourselves.

Todd Marcus

Todd Marcus. Dawn Whitmore/CapitalBop

On Sunday night at Bohemian Caverns, it was deep into Marcus’s first set with his nine-piece Jazz Orchestra, halfway through “Tears on the Square,” that I first woke up to the nuance in the Baltimorean’s sonic exploration of history. Marcus had just introduced the players in his ensemble, and casually revealed his Egyptian heritage. After an extended, hushed solo from the bassist Jeff Reed, sounds from the orchestra trickled in from different heights and angles, accented by the drummer Eric Kennedy‘s pulsating rolls around the kit that evaded any detectable beat. The reeds and brass drifted in and out of focus as floating planes, always in relation to the tacit lead of the rhythm section. There was a curtain of ominous sound, but with little glints of hope shining through one instrument at a time. “Tears” is not the sound of protest, more of the tragedy that often comes with it. You can imagine Marcus writing it alongside images and stories of the far too many Egyptians killed or injured thus far in the struggle.

Marcus’s songs sound written from the low end up, often organized in alignment with fragments from the rhythm section (Kennedy, Reed and the pianist Xavier Davis): sometimes repeated technical riffs and sometimes open spaces of isolated randomness. The guest singer Irene Jalenti, herself a resident of Baltimore, lent a thick voice in thoughtful doses, never upstaging the orchestra’s collective effort.

When he isn’t playing with his large orchestra, Marcus’ go-to format is a quartet. On Sunday, somehow, there was more space in the band’s sound than there is in that of his smaller group. The nonet reminded me of the absurd paradox that sometimes more instruments allows for more room; it’s as if the group’s combined sound is haunted by what each of the musicians isn’t playing. This is the mark of quality arrangement, but more so of seasoned players who value tone and dynamics.

Irene Jalenti

Irene Jalenti. Dawn Whitmore/CapitalBop

Contemporary jazz, like most art forms in the wake of modernism, bears resemblance to the American presidency: The way we usually talk about them both makes it seem as if very little territory remains to be covered. It’s hard not to see a contemporary player as a reference back to someone else, whether it be John Coltrane, Miles Davis, or whoever — as though the position is waiting to be filled every few years and legacies are instantly mulled over. As a leader who specializes in the unorthodox bass clarinet, Marcus’s glaring lodestar is Eric Dolphy. On Sunday night, Marcus’s playing tore up and down through the instrument’s range with a remarkably even precision and force, though he never quite approached Dolphy’s detached intensity. But if set opener “Runoff,” Marcus’s newest composition, offers any trace of where his writing is headed (that is, toward clever obfuscation of rhythm and tonality), we can expect his arrangements to continue moving beyond what a straight-ahead orientation allows.

Marcus doesn’t permit himself to be caught in the shadow of Dolphy; a close listen uncovers an artist working out contemporary concerns along collective lines, both within and exterior to jazz. His recent stuff offers not resolution but respect for the contradiction inherent in history: That we appreciate those that came before us while, in certain times, having to tear down what they constructed to build anew.

Photos | New Vintage Fest brings flavorful sounds of D.C. jazz to a huge crowd at the Fairgrounds

Christie Dashiell performs with a quartet featuring her two brothers, the bassist Christian Dashiell and the drummer Carroll Dashiell III. Alfredo Flores/CapitalBop

by Giovanni Russonello
Editorial board

It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful day than this past Saturday. It’s even tougher to remember a day more jam-packed with energizing and diverse D.C. jazz performers. Add more than a dozen wines and a horde of quality food trucks, and you’re really talking.

All the elements came together at Saturday’s New Vintage Jazz & Wine Fest, at the Half Street Fairgrounds. More than anything, the festival was simply a great gathering, a testament to jazz’s powers of unification. This music is the sound of social interplay — communication and negotiation and joy. Its ability to rally all different people around a shared energetic current, an experience of delight and surprise, is its own kind of Dionysian force.

Approximately 2,000 people came out to the inaugural New Vintage Fest, presented by CapitalBop as well as the Chris4Life Colon Cancer Foundation, Petworth Jazz Project and Art Whino. With seven world-class bands performing, folks lounged in lawn chairs, lay out on blankets watching the artists live painting on either side of the stage, strolled the festival grounds in search of food truck feasts, sipped vino and chatted at picnic tables, and got up to twist along to the music — especially during the Funk Ark’s soaring set of dance-demanding Afrobeat.

The music started out with the bassist Tarus Mateen leading a band featuring his two brothers (reunited for their first performance together in 17 years), cutting open hypnotic troughs of groove and letting his bass swell to fill them out. From there, the bassist Kris Funn performed with his sharp and funky trio, Corner Store; the bass clarinetist Todd Marcus presented his singular brand of innovative straight-ahead; Christie Dashiell sang beautifully, drawing in everything from a Lil’ Wayne tune to original compositions; Donvonte McCoy led his go-go-inspired quintet through a genre-busting set; and Funk Ark held out an offer to the audience, one of participation and zest and momentary freedom.

Finally, as evening fell the bare lightbulbs strung above the audience glowed golden and warm against the sky’s muted azure; Rafiq Bhatia’s quartet took the stage to cast its own ember of immersive, experimental sounds across the Fairgrounds. The group blends the certainty of lush, pre-recorded textures with the potent bite of anticipation that comes with expert improvisation. The sounds were stirring, and powerfully rewarding.

Below is a gallery of photos taken by the photographers Dakota Fine, Alfredo Flores, John Sanders and Ronald Weinstock. Click on a shot to see it in large size.

Live review | The Harold Summey Quintet brings fresh life to Weather Report’s multifaceted legacy

The Harold Summey Quintet performed at the American Art Museum on July 18. Courtesy Keisuke Yoshimura/Facebook

by John Cook
CapitalBop contributor

Last Thursday brought another brilliant installment in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Take Five! series of free concerts, with the Harold Summey Quintet interpreting Wayne Shorter’s compositions for his 1970s fusion band, Weather Report. The show played to the strengths of two local curatorial triumphs, both organized by the presenter Bertrand Uberall: D.C.’s yearlong celebration of Shorter’s 80th birthday, and the composers series at Take Five!

On Thursday, a band featuring some of D.C.’s finest was undaunted in the face of a fairly monumental musical challenge. Shorter’s compositions are tough to realize, especially in light of the caliber of musicianship in the original bands. That Weather Report was, in many ways, several bands, with very different players and sonic signatures over nearly 15 years of activity, poses another challenge to a single set of players. They have to navigate the vast expanses between the original group’s more acoustic, open plains to a denser, heavily electrified forest.

Summey – a remarkable if unsung drummer, who won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition in 1992 but never pursued a higher level of fame – did masterful work arranging Weather Report material from a variety of sources. Shorter’s compositional approach lends itself to exploration, as his remarkable melodic statements are typically wrapped in shifting dreamscapes propelled by a strong sense of movement. Summey made connections within the material, with two medleys that brought together a variety of compositions from different eras. The copyright lead sheet for “Surucucu” provided the opportunity to present a very different and previously unheard version of that classic, while other essential material for which no notation exists at all was transcribed and fully arranged by Summey himself. Continue reading

Live review | Lee Konitz with Brad Linde’s 18-piece ensemble: A fabled master, still taking chances

Lee Konitz (left) and Brad Linde, shown in a separate performance, played at the Atlas Performing Arts Center during the DC Jazz Festival. Courtesy

by John Cook
CapitalBop contributor

The local saxophonist Brad Linde and his 18-piece expanded ensemble joined the fabled alto saxophonist Lee Konitz at the Atlas Performing Arts Center on June 14, performing the American premiere of a challenging set of Konitz-related arrangements. Linde, 33, is a Konitz student, the Atlas’s jazz advisor, a co-director of the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra, and an all-around switchboard operator for the D.C. jazz scene. With this performance, one of the last at this year’s DC Jazz Festival, Linde once again raised the profile of big bands in the city in a triumph of organization, artistry and balance.

The foundation of the evening’s success was laid by Linde’s careful selection of a very effective group of players reflecting local, national and international origins and reputations. The sundry, swinging unit came together tightly despite having only one rehearsal, and it included a cross-section of D.C. talent, including a handful from the Bohemian Caverns big band’s ranks; some of the best musicians from Baltimore and New York; the Austrian pianist Florian Weber, and the 85-year-old master at the fore. The engine of any big band is the rhythm section, and it was truly a joy to hear the drummer Matt Wilson and the bassist Michael Formanek propel the music, particularly since it is rare to hear them in this sort of context. Continue reading

Photos | The D.C. Jazz Loft Series at the DC Jazz Festival: Three nights of powerful improv and art

Jamire Williams prepares for ERIMAJ’s performance at the D.C. Jazz Loft Blowout Show on June 15. Elliot Blumberg/CapitalBop

by Giovanni Russonello
Editorial board

The DC Jazz Festival spent the past two weeks drawing some tremendous jazz out of the District’s woodwork, and what a festival it was. From our biased standpoint, the highlight was CapitalBop’s very own, third annual D.C. Jazz Loft Series. It culminated on Saturday night in a jam-packed Blowout Show on H Street, where the great Karriem Riggins and ERIMAJ headlined at a pop-up dance hall and art gallery featuring Jati Lindsay’s inimitable jazz photographs.

The Washington Post has a kind review zeroing in on the statement that our Blowout Show made — by presenting these unbelievable artists, we aimed to show D.C. something about the unbreakable ties between present-day jazz and the parallel innovators in hip-hop, R&B and other popular genres. But hey, from the crowd’s resounding response and the awesome vibe in the place, it seems like you folks didn’t need to be told.

Earlier in the series, we set up a double-exhibition at Union Arts and Manufacturing (Four Days in May and DECON/RECON), in conjunction with a concert by the legendary Peter Brötzmann and Joe McPhee, stalwart improvisers who draw sounds from their saxophones that you’ve never imagined. They shared the bill with D.C.’s own Anthony Pirog. And the day after that, Gerald Cleaver’s Black Host — a band that’s supporting a fabulous and broadly acclaimed debut album, which sounds like a kitchen sink’s worth of alternative music, from death metal to soulful free jazz to punk rock — played amidst a remarkable exhibition at the Fridge, along with Brian Settles & Central Union.

Some beautiful photos from all those shows are below, taken by the photographers Paul Bothwell and Elliot Blumberg. To keep up with future D.C. Jazz Loft shows like these, subscribe to our email list, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Continue reading

Live review | A dancing photographer, in total command of the mic: Buika dazzles at the Howard

Buika performed as part of the DC Jazz Festival’s programming at the Howard Theatre. Courtesy Javi Rojo

by Ken Avis
CapitalBop contributor

If the definition of jazz includes passion, virtuosity, and expression, then Guinean-Spanish vocalist Buika’s impressive tour kickoff at the DC Jazz Festival more than met expectations. At the end of last night’s show, the foyer of the Howard Theatre buzzed with the thrill of an audience transported. Buika’s exhilarating blend of flamenco vocal stylings with Afro-Cuban influences had taken them around the world. (It’s little wonder that she earned inclusion in NPR’s 50 Great Voices list, and collaborated with artists such as Chucho Valdez, Chick Corea, Anoushka Shankar, Seal, Nelly Furtado and Pat Metheny

Backed only by the elegant and rhythmical accompaniment of Iván “Melón” Lewis on piano and Ramón Porrina on percussion, Buika’s emotional intensity and dynamic range captivated the capacity audience. The simple musical setting provided a perfect foil for that voice. But had she been backed by a full orchestra, frankly, the voice would still have been the unimpeachable focus – soaring and delicate, sweet yet gritty. Continue reading

Reflections on the DC Jazz Festival at Millennium Stage: The universal language of jazz

The Millenium Stage tends to draw packed crowds for exploratory concerts, as it did last week for Lenny White’s performance. John Cook/CapitalBop

by John Cook
CapitalBop contributor

I chose to spend the first two nights of my condensed voyage through the 2013 DC Jazz Festival at the District’s most cost-effective venue, if you’re looking to expand your musical horizons: The Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, which usually features jazz several times a month, part of its wide and eclectic range of nightly programming. It is the city’s only 365-day-a-year free performance series.

One of the Millennium Stage’s major strengths is that it provides a very large platform to a variety of lesser-known artists who, however much they may merit them would rarely have opportunities of that scale.  The size of the usual crowd there is not without some disadvantages; many of the attendees on any given night have probably ended up there somewhat randomly, and aren’t always fully attentive to the particular performance (though that tends to be most problematic for unamplified classical programs). The cavernous and bustling open space of the center’s Grand Foyer can present challenges, too (sonic as well as ambient), but this remains the only place in town that will – or has the financial support to – book many of the artists that play there. The generally strict limitation to a one-hour performance can be a bit irksome, but this seems the nature of the environment. That said, it is an economical way to dramatically widen one’s musical horizons – and some of the performances there are magic.


Beka Gochiashvili, Daryl Johns and Lenny White. John Cook/CapitalBop

The Millennium Stage’s opening-night contribution to the DC Jazz Festival on Wednesday presented Lenny White’s New Voices: a straight-ahead acoustic trio featuring some very young talents, in the 17-year-old pianist Beka Gochiashvili, from the Republic of Georgia, and 16-year old bassist Daryl Johns. White’s spry proteges were both very skilled and seemingly well-traveled (Gochiashvili has done already done several concerts with White, including a local appearance at the Howard Theatre last year). The group quickly got comfortable and as the show progressed they opened up and took off. The results demonstrated that ultimately there is no substitute for learning on the bandstand, nor for the communication with the masters of the tradition that becomes available there. With roughly half the compositions his, Gochiashvili proved his ability to write convincing new material that reflected the traditions they explored yet also left room to be given more life through the improvisational exchanges between band members that propelled the performance to a higher level. White was obviously very pleased with being able to play with this band and the joy mutually radiating from the stage touched the audience as well. While most in attendance had come to hear White, they seemed uniformly impressed by his compatriots. Continue reading

Live review | Bloodsucker jazz: A quiet legend, a percussion master and a vampire movie

Tatsuya Nakatani, shown in a separate performance, recently accompanied a silent movie with the multi-instrumentalist Edward Wilkerson, Jr. Courtesy

by Luke Stewart
Editorial board

Edward Wilkerson, Jr. and Tatsuya Nakatani
Freer Gallery
Wednesday, April 3

Adding film or other visuals to improvised music can sometimes be a clever way of drafting a focus point for sounds that might be too meandering and esoteric to stand up on their own. For Edward Wilkerson, Jr. and Tatsuya Nakatani, it works the opposite way. In a performance at the Freer Gallery last week, they offered improvised accompaniment to a plodding, slightly overwrought film, and it made the experience not just bearable, but enthralling.

On Wednesday, April 3, at the Freer’s Meyer Auditorium, the two expert practitioners of avant-garde music performed in support of Sanguivorous (2012), the first silent vampire movie by a Japanese filmmaker (by some accounts, the first Japanese vampire movie at all). Their music was so touching that the film all but morphed into a backdrop for these two gurus of improvised sound. SanguivorousKyuketsu, in Japanese – was written and directed by Naoki Yoshimoto, and clocks in at a deceptively long 56 minutes. The movie wasn’t initially intended to be accompanied by live music, but with the treatment from Nakatani and Wilkerson, it became difficult to imagine it without their playing.

The pair couldn’t have been more complementary of each other. Wilkerson is a saxophonist and a lesser-known legend in the making, who developed in Chicago under the nurturing umbrella of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), where he served as president and participated in several creative ensembles. He’s a master not just of his main instrument, or of the jazz tradition; he is a true multi-instrumentalist, and draws inspiration from many cultures and traditions. He brought his tenor saxophone, Bb and alto clarinet, didgeridoo, and a table full of assorted percussion instruments – complete with bells and whistles, literally. In the question-and-answer session after the performance, he exhibited his instrumental arsenal and explained: “In different cultures, musicians use different instruments to represent different parts of the body.” Continue reading

Live review | Janel Leppin’s Ensemble Volcanic Ash: ‘Ahhh-vant garde’ revelations

Janel Leppin, far right, leads Ensemble Volcanic Ash at Bohemian Caverns on Sunday. Courtesy Brad Linde

by Luke Stewart
Editorial board

Janel Leppin’s Ensemble Volcanic Ash
Bohemian Caverns
Sunday, March 24

Sunday evenings at Bohemian Caverns can often seem like a prayer meeting. Bobby Hill – director of Transparent Productions, the organization that has presented avant-garde music at the club on various Sundays since 2011 – graces the stage much like a deacon delivering church news, warming up the congregation for the sermon. The dark, subterranean air shimmers with anticipation. On Sunday, the tension was particularly heightened for Janel Leppin. This was the first time the Washington Women in Jazz Festival has collaborated with Transparent Productions. And it was the first time Leppin, an experimental cellist and one-half of the duo Janel & Anthony, has led a group at Bohemian Caverns. Transparent’s series there has brought some of the most cerebral and soulful artists, who simultaneously strive to push musical boundaries. Leppin fits directly within that framework of bold originality.

This performance marked only one more chapter in the unfolding body of work we have come to expect from Leppin, one of the hardest working creative musicians in D.C. Her compositional and technical prowess have been tested and proven through years of collaboration and study with masters. In addition to her critically acclaimed duo with Anthony Pirog, she has toured with Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio, collaborated extensively with Baltimore pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn, and studied Indian and Persian classical music with leading practitioners of those traditions. (Full disclosure: She has also performed on occasion with Laughing Man, a rock band of which I am a member.) She is also a member of Stylus, a record-player ensemble. All of her influences and experiences add up to make her one of the most unique young cellists in music today.

Her Ensemble Volcanic Ash, which debuted on Sunday, is a quintet featuring bassoonist Amy Fraser, saxophonist Sarah Hughes, harpist Jacqueline Pollauf, and vocalist/pianist Lisa Sokolov. Leppin led as a cellist and vocalist, and also brought an array of electronic pedals and a Califone portable record player. The group’s name came from an experience when she was on tour in Europe: When the Icelandic volcano erupted in 2010, infamously grounding more than 100,000 airline flights, Janel was one of those caught in the disruption. Rather than catastrophic explosions and molten lava, the major issue associated with the eruption was the ash. “I was fascinated that the world was forced to stand still for an indefinite amount of time,” she said in an interview. “This beautiful, ethereal substance, tiny shards of volcanic glass, was creating total chaos in our modern world, which seems to dominate and control nature in every way conceivable.” Continue reading