Arts Desk

Jazz Setlist, May 5-11: In Sight of the White House

Decatur House

Thursday, May 5
Huh? Why would a column about D.C. jazz carry a photo of one of the city's historical sites, Decatur House on Lafayette Square near the White House? Why, I'm delighted that you asked. It's because Decatur House is the site of one of D.C.'s least appreciated summer jazz traditions, Jazz on Jackson Place. On the first Thursday night in each month from May to September, the house museum (built in 1818 for a hero of the War of 1812) holds a jazz concert in its courtyard with wine and snacks—music under the stars—in a series that's now in its sixth successful year. It opens once again this week, with a session led by the great D.C.-by-way-of-Russia violinist Matvei Sigalov: a classically trained but jazz-inclined and fusion-experimenting player. He's joined by pianist Burnett Thompson, and a quartet drawn from Thompson's New Columbia Swing Orchestra, at 6:30 p.m. at Decatur House, 748 Jackson Place NW. $25. Whoops! This show is May 12. Still worth your time, though!

Friday, May 6
Marcus StricklandThe current gold standard of jazz tenor saxophone (since about the late '90s) is Mark Turner. His successor as Most Influential Player, I'll predict right here and now, is Marcus Strickland. The 32-year-old Miamian, who's swept the industry's up-and-coming-saxophonists awards, bears some of Turner's most distinctive designs, as well as elements of John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter; Strickland's sense of rhythm is something else, though. For one thing, his hometown is one of the world's great hip-hop meccas, and he soaked those sounds up thoroughly. For another, his evolution as a musician has found him surrounded by drummers: His father was a jazz and R&B drummer; his twin brother, E.J., is a drummer; and two of Strickland's most important and formative gigs were with Roy Haynes, jazz's greatest living drummer, and Jeff "Tain" Watts, the greatest of his generation. On his own, Strickland navigates the postbop pathways opened up by Trane and Shorter, but he fuses it with the funky, tricky, hip-hoppy beats he learned in his upbringing and apprenticeships. He's the future of the sax, you wait and see. On second thought, don't wait and see. Go see him. Strickland performs at 7:30 p.m. at the Kennedy Center's KC Jazz Club, 2700 F St. NW. $16.

Photo: Mamoru Kobayakaw

Saturday, May 7
Azar LawrenceSpeaking of '60s-inspired postbop sax, did you go out to hear Azar Lawrence last fall when he hit Blues Alley? Probably not; you missed out. Lawrence, whose big break came in 1967 when legendary pianist McCoy Tyner hired him, plays both tenor and soprano in the modal jazz school that Tyner pioneered with onetime employer John Coltrane. But big break or no, Lawrence remains one of the most tragically underrated players in jazz. He's re-shaped the modal-jazz landscape in his own image, grabbing jewels of Latin folk traditions and African rhythm and counterpoint to work into his own stew. You've got to hear it. Azar Lawrence performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW. $35.

Tuesday, May 10
Māris BriežkalnsWhen people like me insist that jazz is everywhere, a truly international phenomenon, you're unlikely to include in your notion of that a tiny former-Soviet country in Eastern Europe with a population of less than half D.C.'s metro area. As it turns out, though, Latvia has its own jazz scene—and Māris Briežkalns is one of its leading lights. Briežkalns, a drummer, leads a quintet from the capital city of Riga, whose mission is to translate the traditional and pop music of their country into the language of jazz—and to imbue the jazz-standard repertoire with the shadings of Latvia. It's made them a mainstay of jazz festivals all over Europe, and a surprising success in Canada. The band includes a vocalist, Intars Busulis, who (as you may have guessed) sings in Latvian; the words you may not understand, but the feeling, as in the rest of the band's music, is unmistakable. The Māris Briežkalns Quintet performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Twins Jazz, 1344 U St. $15.

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