Jazz Setlist, March 31-April 6: Canada Day Comes Early
Friday, April 1
Night of the Cookers. The Modern Jazz Giants. The Bebop All-Stars. One of those big hyperbolic album titles should by rights be hung around the necks of the cast of characters D.C. jazz patriarch Paul Carr has assembled for the weekend. In truth, Carr, born and bred in the "Texas Tenor" tradition of his native Houston, can make any musician standing near him sound good, so it's to his credit that he assembled such talents for this set: pianist Allyn Johnson, bassist Eric Wheeler, and drummer Quincy Phillips. In strictly Washingtonian terms, you won't find a harder-swinging combination, or one with a deeper reservoir of soul. As a matter of fact, I hereby dub this concert Night of the Soul Swingers. It's at 9 p.m. at Twins Jazz, 1344 U St. NW. $15.
Saturday, April 2
It's a strange thing, but in jazz the harmonica has a tendency to become thin and shrill, the soul leached out of the world's most soulful instrument by some pitch-perfect "conservatory" ideal. In that sense it's fortunate that there are precious few jazz harmonicists. It's even more fortunate that one of those few is Toots Thielemans, the granddaddy of them all. Thielemans has that thing in his playing that so many of his colleagues lack: body. In his hands the harmonica is hearty, bluesy, and lyrical—and yes, soulful. Oh, by the way, Thielemans grew up in Belgium in the 1920s and '30s, but if you grew up in America in the 1970s or '80s you can't help but know his playing—in fact he's probably your archetype of harmonica playing. Remember the harmonica on the closing theme of Sesame Street? That's him. Thieleman performs with pianist Kenny Werner at 7:30 p.m. at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater, 2700 F St. NW. $45.
(Photo: Ron van der Kolk)
Sunday, April 3
Experiencing Nnenna Freelon sing is unique, and difficult to describe. Frankly, beautiful as she is, she can look a little crazy with her hair slightly tousled, her smile and gaze intense. Nonetheless, she has a presense for which the word "regal" is inadequate; no royalty ever had such hypnotic command. Freelon is more like a high priestess. Her voice, simultaneously clear and sandy, casts a spell, offering pathos and impeccably tasteful scatting. In other words, she'll have you in the palm of her hand the minute she steps onstage. So impressive is her gift that we can literally say that her voice has healing powers: Freelon directs hospital workshops titled "Her Babysongs," teaching new mothers the power of the human voice to promote health and neurological developments in infants. How better for Howard University to kick off its Jazz Week than with her? Freelon performs at 3:00 p.m. at Howard's Rankin Memorial Chapel, 6th Street and Howard Place NW. $15.
Wednesday, April 6
Drummer Harris Eisenstadt has many faces. He's an avant-gardist who plays free and not-so-free; he's an explorer of folk and traditional rhythms from all over the world; he's a lover of chamber classical music that he reshapes into jazz. Startlingly, in all of these guises—even when he plays free—Eisenstadt has an unending capacity to make his music sound immediately pleasing and accessible. It's a next-to-impossible accomplishment in the avant-garde. Case in point, Eisenstadt's "Canada Day" ensemble, one of his edgiest. Eisenstadt is from Canada, as is his bassist Garth Stevenson; the name of the band (which also includes saxophonist Matt Bauder, trumpeter Nate Wooley, and vibraphonist Chris Dingman) suggests a sort of patriotism, even though they formed in Brooklyn. But you don't have to have ever even seen the Great White North to appreciate the broad soundscapes with elements of rock and experimental music. Harris Eisenstadt's Canada Day performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Twins. $10.