Arts Desk

Jazz Setlist, Feb. 17-23: Nonfestive

The big deal this weekend is the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival at the Hilton Rockville. There's already been plenty of ink devoted to it, and there's a lot more going on in the city scene that's well worth your time and attention.

Friday, February 18
Bobby WatsonSometimes a person's very name sounds like that of a great musician. When you hear the name Bobby Watson, for example, doesn't it just scream "jazz saxophonist"? Actually, a lot of things about Watson scream jazz saxophonist. He was born and raised in Kansas City, one of the great jazz towns; he served a four-year apprenticeship in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, the great jazz university; and in the mid- and late '80s he led Horizon, one of the most in-demand combos of the era. Schooled in the bebop tradition, Watson, like most of the Kansas City musicians, is a bluesman at heart, an alto player whose sound is somehow wide-open and creamy, yet simultaneously rigid and tough—both Johnny Hodges and Charlie Parker. He heads a quartet that includes bassist Curtis Lundy (formerly of Horizon, and perhaps Watson's musical soulmate), the great Philadelphia pianist Orrin Evans, and drummer Eric Kennedy at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. at Bohemian Caverns, 2001 11th St. NW. $30.

Saturday, Feb. 19
William HookerWilliam Hooker is a percussionist and a poet, an avant-gardist who got his start in the 1960s drumming for The Isley Brothers Band. (Not exactly an avant-garde gig, but consider that Jimi Hendrix started there too.) By the '70s he had moved on to New York free jazz, working with David Murray, William Parker, and David S. Ware, among many others; in the '80s and '90s he added collaborations with DJ Spooky and members of Sonic Youth to his resume. Hooker's got a broad palette of sonic ideas, in other words, which stands him in good stead in a sharp triple bill of experimental music. Opening for Hooker is Matta Gawa, the thrashingly loud avant-metal duo of guitarist Ed Ricart and drummer Sam Lohman, and Meta, a new ensemble led by Brandon Moses of the slightly goofy jazz-punk band Laughing Man. They perform at 7 p.m. at the Cherch, 1616 New Jersey Ave. NW. $5 and BYOB.

Sunday, Feb. 20
Mychael PollardHmmm. If we called Mychael Pollard's music "fusion," that would be true, but it wouldn't begin to give an accurate impression of the keyboardist's stuff. The foundation is the jazz-rock hybrid style made popular by Return to Forever and Mahavishnu Orchestra: not the straight-up voodoo of electric Miles, but the blending of jazz improvisation and harmony into the Yes/King Crimson prog-rock matrix. Building on that, however, Pollard uses complex but gritty hip-hop rhythms, neo-soul textures, and electronica such as the MIDI keyboard he makes his primary melodic device. Not to mention that Pollard also plays the didgeridoo, adding an exotic dimension to the music but also a stark and unusual bass rumble. Most impressive, though, is that Pollard can do all of this, a singularly tremendous sound, in what's essentially a one-man band formation. And yet he doesn't: He works with a band that features Michelle Webb on guitar, Steve Quam on bass, and Nick Costa on drums. It's essentially a four-person electric orchestra. Pollard performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Twins Jazz, 1344 U St. NW. $10.

Wednesday, Feb. 23
Kahil El'ZabarTransparent Productions, D.C.'s most enduring improvised-music promoter, has an annual tradition of hosting Kahil El'Zabar's Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, and I can say that I await the concert with bated breath every year. The Chicagoan El'Zabar is a drummer and percussionist (the number of instruments he plays is uncountable) with deep connections to spiritualism and to his and his music's African roots — a dignified, very serious man whose passion as a performer is an enchanting thing. At his best, El'Zabar is not behind the kit, but sitting up front with his kalimba; he plays haunting riffs on the instrument, and as he plays his head swings back and forth as though connected to the kalimba by a pendulum. The EHE trio is probably the most effective vehicle for his work, featuring fellow AACM-ers Khabeer Ernest Dawkins on tenor and alto saxophones (he plays them both at the same time!) and the fiery Corey Wilkes on trumpet. Their chemistry is astonishing. Kahil El'Zabar and the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble perform at 8 p.m. at The Takoma Park Community Center, 7500 Maple Takoma Park. Entrance is subject to a donation (no suggested amount) at the door.

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