Arts Desk

Jazz Setlist, July 25-31: Potpourri

Thursday, July 25
About five months ago, I had this to say about the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Orchestra:

Culled from members of D.C.'s various military bands, the ensemble is spit-and-polish, its soloists...top notch. [Entertainment director Larry] Brown and [bandleader Paul] BarenBregge have the makings of a juggernaut on their hands.

Well, things have changed a little bit. BarenBregge is no longer leading the BB&J Orchestra; that responsibility now falls to another area saxophonist, James Bazen, a known commodity and busy jazz musician and leader. Oh, and composer: He's got a book full of original compositions to go along with the standards and jazz classics that the 16-piece band presents. These are promising developments—but how much promise? You decide. Bethesda Blues & Jazz Orchestra performs at 7:30 p.m. at Bethesda Blues & Jazz, 7719 Wisconsin Ave. NW in Bethesda. $10.

Friday, July 26
Manuel ValeraThere's something intrinsically hip in Manuel Valera's approach to Afro-Cuban jazz. Granted, that's a style that's intrinsically hip all by itself, but it doesn't always have the American funk-tipped grooves that Valera brings to the table with is band, The New Cuban Express. It helps when you have a guitarist as hot on the strings as Tom Guarna, who throws in with Valera's Fender Rhodes and John Benitez's punchy bass to give the band a thumping, electrical core. Throw in the astonishing saxophone of Yosvany Terry, the mindbending rhythm of Eric Doob (drums) and Mauricio Herrera (percussion), and the melodic heft of Valera's compositions, and you have what can best be described as deep Latin fusion. (This is no surprise, since Valera acknowledges Chick Corea as a huge influence.) It's a hell of a sound. Manuel Valera and the New Cuban Express perform at 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. at Bohemian Caverns, 2001 11th St. NW. $18.

Saturday, July 27
Michael ThomasI maintain that 2013 is, in D.C. jazz, The Year of the Trumpet. Wonderful music is coming from all corners of the scene, but especially from its trumpeters; that makes it a good time to go catch one of the stalwarts. Enter Michael Thomas, one of the longtimers around these parts. He's been in D.C. for 20 years now, and held a quintet together for 15 of those years (tenor saxophonist Zach Graddy, pianist Darius Scott, bassist Kent Miller, and drummer Frank T. Williams IV). They play down-and-dirty hard bop with rhythmic precision, as deeply and firmly in-the-pocket as it gets, and stunning instrumental craft. If swing and blues is what you need your fix of in jazz, the Michael Thomas Quintet is the place to go, kids. 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. at Twins Jazz, 1344 U St. NW. $15.

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