Jazz Setlist, Nov. 17-23: The Composers
Thursday, Nov. 17
No serious jazz fan (especially in his or her native Washington) will dispute that Duke Ellington was the greatest and richest composer in the music's history. But this serious jazz fan will argue that Charles Mingus was a close second. The iconic bassist was a disciple of Ellington, one who supercharged his mentor's legacy with the gospel and gutbucket flavors of his Watts upbringing, the folk-art quirks of jazz's New Orleans upbringing, and his own roiling personality (the press called him "Jazz's angry man"). He's one of a very few jazz composers who, since his death in 1979, has seen a steady stream of acts concentrate solely on his repertory. The first of these, and as such the longest-lived, is Mingus Dynasty. The quintet that was organized by Mingus' widow Sue has changed rosters many times in its 32 years, but it's always maintained an extraordinarily high caliber of musicianship—which extends to its current lineup (trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, saxophonist Alex Foster, pianist David Kikoski, bassist Dezron Douglas, and drummer Donald Edwards). Which, of course, is how Mingus' music must be played. Mingus Dynasty performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW. $25.
Friday, November 18
The name Bennie Maupin is mostly known from the long list of personnel on Miles Davis' early fusion albums, and from the distinctive sound of his bass clarinet on those same records. Bitches Brew and On the Corner were thick, spicy stews of plugged-in voodoo funk whose ingredients are hard to isolate, but that bass clarinet stands out to any ear. It stayed so (along with his other reeds, like flute and soprano sax) in the dark and abrasive fusion universe long after he and Miles had parted ways—Maupin worked on Herbie Hancock's groundbreaking Head Hunters, and on sessions of his own like 1974's The Jewel in the Lotus. Then he disappeared, re-emerging at the dawn of the 21st century as a new musician: acoustic, soft, introspective, and lyrical. But there's been no lapse in quality. Indeed, his 2008 recording Early Reflections, made with a band of Polish musicians, was head and shoulders the best release of that year. "Acoustic post-bop jazz of rich lyricism, both subtle and audaciously gorgeous," a brilliant critic wrote at the time in The Village Voice. This is a man that D.C. needs to see perform—and where else but in a club that, like Maupin, has a storied history and a recent, creatively fruitful rebirth? The Bennie Maupin Ensemble performs at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. at Bohemian Caverns, 2001 11th St. NW. $25.
Saturday, November 19
Saturday is Kenny Werner's 60th birthday. In all those years, nearly 35 of which have found him playing jazz, he's lost nothing of his ability to surprise. Werner began his career as a concert pianist, then moved to pay tribute to the earliest of great jazz composers. Before long he was a composer himself, and one who could seemingly turn on a dime from one fully realized, musically deep project to another in a completely different style, aesthetic, rhythm and texture. Consider his last few: 2007's Lawn Chair Society is an avant-inclined record that touches on fusion and makes breathtaking use of contemporary electronics. The following year, he was rendering delicate ballad versions of the jazz songbook with Danish saxophonist Jens Søndergaard (Play Ballads) and his own trio (With A Song in My Heart). In 2010 came No Beginning No End, an extraordinary large-scale work for large ensemble, in tribute to his daughter who was killed three years before. And this year came two major recorded statements: Balloons, a quintet date of his own melodic but challenging tunes, and Institute of Higher Learning, a collection of commissioned works recorded with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra. You don't know what you'll get at this D.C. birthday party, but you know it'll be wondrous. Kenny Werner performs at 9 and 11 p.m. at Twins Jazz, 1344 U St. NW. $20.
Sunday, November 20
If you know pianist Ethan Iverson, chances are you know The Bad Plus. The midwest-rooted piano trio is celebrated—and, for jazz, highly successful—for its pop-jazz takes on the canon of the rock era, from Blondie to Bowie to Aphex Twin, and for its highly original (if off-kilter) original compositions. But apart from its acoustic, piano-bass-drums textures, The Bad Plus's music doesn't have the traditional sound and feel of jazz; there aren't many jazz harmonies to speak of, and the rhythms are far more rock-n-roll-thud than swing. But the thing about Iverson, in particular, is that he loves the jazz tradition. He is a surprisingly astute scholar of it, maintaining one of the most probing of all jazz blogs, Do The Math. It's in that spirit that Iverson is undertaking a short mini-tour that he jokingly (and unofficially) calls "Do The Math Live." Another trio, this one featuring D.C. natives Corcoran Holt on bass and Steve Williams on drums, comes to our fair city armed with standards and jazz staples. While it will be an examination of the genre's underpinnings, Iverson promises that it will also be something different and unexpected (in an interview that you can read on Arts Desk tomorrow). Iverson, Holt, and Williams perform at 8 p.m. at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. $20.
Monday, November 21
Steve Lacy is not the first jazz stylist on the soprano saxophone (that would be Sidney Bechet), but he was probably the first major figure to make it his primary instrument. That's primarily what Lacy, who died in 2004, was known for, working in a huge swath of jazz with such illustrious and diverse figures as Mal Waldron, Red Allen, and Cecil Taylor and adding his immediately distinctive soprano to their already unique sounds. Ideal Bread, however, would rather you know him as a composer. So much so that they've formed their own quartet to display his compositions — crowded, challenging, atonal, and yet somehow intensely melodic all the same — and have done it without even including a soprano sax! Instead, it includes baritone saxophonist Josh Sinton, trumpeter Kirk Knuffke, bassist
(and DC native) Reuben Radding Sean Conly, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara. Their chemistry together is nearly as impressive as their individual timbres, which both fuse and separate as needed in presenting Lacy's deeply progressive music. Ideal Bread performs (with D.C. trombonist Reginald Cyntje opening) at 8 p.m. at the Red Door, 443 I St. NW (sponsored by CapitalBop and Cuneiform Records). $10 suggested donation.
(Photo: Brian Murray.)