Arts Desk

DEJF: Winard Harper at the Atlas Performing Arts Center

Winard Harper is the kind of drummer who can hold an audience rapt for five minutes with a two-stick high-hat solo. As you start applauding, or screaming, or whatever, you realize that this was just the intro, that the band is poised for a big entrance. Once the band is in, your jaw drops as you watch Harper hold a stick in his mouth while weaving byzantine rhythms with his foot and a single hand; the other hand is busy fixing the high-hat, out of which he's spent several minutes kicking the shit. Finally, you lean back in your seat and exhale, reflecting that if you gave this guy a stick, a rock, and a horn section, he could lead most bands and still have one hand to spare.

The sad part: this was another woefully underattended concert. The Atlas is a good venue, comparatively intimate for an auditorium setting, but Saturday night went beyond intimate. "Small crowd, huh?" Harper laughed. "Let's hope y'all know how to clap loud and fast."

Still, the sub-50-percent capacity did little to dampen the spirits of the group. Harper is luminous in a trio—his accompaniment hard and tight, his brushwork impressionistic and masterful—but thoroughly unleashed once the full sextet is onstage. With fireworks on the tom-toms, he punctuates his players' solos in all the right places, challenging them to match him flourish for flourish, and in his hands, a standard like Bobby Timmons' "Moanin'" becomes something else entirely—as he barrels through the four-beat swing, his hands blurring before your eyes, you can't help but feel that the song will never be the same.

On tenor sax, Dayna Stevens has the hoarse smokiness of a low-range Paul Desmond, and his interchange with Bruce Harris (trumpet) is funky, sensitive, and graceful. The other players—Jon Notar on piano, D.C. native Ameen Saleem on bass, and Jean-Marie Collatin on assorted percussion—form a tight unit with a slick, easy response to the histrionic virtuosity of their leader. Also nice: the full dynamic range, even when down-tempo (cf. "I've Never Been in Love Before").

They wound down the set with "All Praise Is to God" (a Harper original), "Tamisha" (a Saleem original), a piano-led "Amazing Grace," Ruben Brown's "Float Like a Butterfly" (not a bad tagline for this combo, come to think of it), and a few others that escape the memory.  There wasn't a doubter in the house. But the house, after all, was small.

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  • Poorly Attended

    How much was this show?

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/citydesk/author/tscheinman/ Ted Scheinman

    P.A.,

    A fair point. I believe tix were $25 a pop, which is no small sum. Money like that could get you half a tank of gas...or one of the small baggies from your guy across the street.

    It's true: reviewers in the plushy comp seats sometimes lose sight of the money question. Still, between LiveNation (even in four-packs the tickets still come to $25+ with "service charges") and the average cost of a non-Ticketmaster/Livenation big-venue show, $25 to see a fella like Winard seems not unreasonable.

    Bottom line: see him if & when you can.

  • Jazz isn’t dead, it just smells bad

    $25+ for a big-venue show. Usually a fairly "big-name" plays those LiveNation shows. Winard Harper, while having a strong command of his instrument (talent is usually not in the equation when making this kind of comparison), would be comparable to what $25+ LiveNation act?

    My point being, I'll try to put $30+ together to see Kenny Garrett in this recent creative phase of his, but Winard Harper? I wouldn't pay $25 to see Billy Harper. Now, taste accounts for so much, but the bigger picture is that Jazz is killing itself with these high covers (no pun intended), not to mention drink minimums in the clubs. Who can afford to support the music this way?

    Between the financial demands of the clubs and artists (the masters I have no beef with on this), and figures trying to "raise" the music's status to that of European classical music (museum music), it's no wonder "Jazz" has been sucked into a box so small that not even Yogi Kudu could attend.

    We need to start all over again.
    We need to bring the music back to the people, and $25 for a half-filled room is not doing it.

  • curm

    The location probably did not help either. Older jazz fans will go to Kennedy Center or Blues Alley and pay high prices, but they mostly won't go to H St. NE.

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