Jazz Setlist, March 22-28: Ladies First
Friday, March 23
The Washington Women in Jazz Festival continues to be the big jazz event this week. And its Friday night performance sums up the purpose of the festival: demonstrating how much female jazz talent the area can boast. Enough, indeed, to form a powerful big band. Shannon Gunn and the Bullettes is 15 pieces strong, led by Virginia-based trombonist Gunn through a strong repertory of jazz standards and other favorites. Gunn describes the band as “laid-back but hard-swinging”; that's a good nutshell for them (and credit to sterling drummer Lydia Lewis, who’s the nerve center of their sound), but unfortunately, it leaves out the remarkable level of finesse that the performers bring to the bandstand, and Gunn’s admirable skill in coaxing it out of them. The Bullettes are a joyful addition to the large-ensemble side of D.C. jazz; if that’s not immediately clear, watch the smile play across Gunn’s lips as she catches the contagious swing from her players. Shannon Gunn and the Bullettes perform at 6 p.m. at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 4th and I streets SW. $5.
Saturday, March 24
Although Warren Wolf plays a percussion instrument—vibraphone—and is also an adroit drummer, rhythm is not his first musical priority. Melody is. Wolf (who also plays piano) has a flowing, magnificently resonant style, virtuosic and deliciously tuneful, that he performs in a straightahead milieu with a hell of a lot of soul. It serves him well in his work for Inside Straight, the soulful acoustic outlet for bassist Christian McBride—who also produced Wolf’s self-titled first album in 2010. Wolf is a melodist at heart, but he still has a sense of rhythm; indeed, having soul in his music makes groove inevitable. The flow of his melody runs as though on a motor, rolling out with an unstoppable trajectory that can look like he’s operating a highly specialized machine. Wolf is a Baltimorean, which makes him no stranger to area jazz venues or musicians (he’s recorded, for example, with vocalist Integriti Reeves)—the better to see him work with them. Wolf performs at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. at Bohemian Caverns, 2001 11th St. NW.
Sunday, March 25
Setlist loves Jessica Boykin-Settles, the vocalist half of the Settleses, D.C. jazz’s power couple. Boykin-Settles loves Abbey Lincoln, the great smoky-voiced jazz singer whom the world lost just a year and a half ago. She was a remarkable artist, one for whom Boykin-Settles has the utmost respect. The D.C. singer is something of a scholar of the great vocalists in jazz, past and present, an appropriate course of study for a vocal artist and educator (she’s an instructor at Howard University). We don’t hear her very often, as a matter of fact, so busy is she with students and her own personal studies. But she exhibits the latter as well as her own formidable skills in yet another component of the WWJF. This afternoon appearance is part lecture—a musing on the biography, career, and art of Abbey Lincoln—and part performance of many of Lincoln’s iconic and most alluring songs that will surely be a wondrous overview of the great singer, by a great singer. Jessica Boykin-Settles appears at 2 p.m. at the Anacostia Community Museum, 1901 East Fort Place SE. Free.
Tuesday, March 27
Jazz guitarists tend to focus their sets on upbeat stuff, which lets them show their facility on the tricky instrument and work out their swing chops. Davy Mooney is no exception. He plays with a glowing tone with lots of oaky resonance around the edges, and a singular harmonic signature with an unusual but effective predilection for dissonant passing chords. He is a serious craftsman at high tempos, too, working at such blending speed and agility that it can sound like he’s playing slide guitar when navigating the changes. Where Mooney really shines, though, is when he plays ballads. His subtle melodic progressions and delicate chordings evoke the feeling of a delicate piece of sculpted glass, full of intricate detail but requiring very careful handling by a sensitive observer. Go for the ballads, therefore—but stay for the swingers. Mooney performs with his trio at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW. $20.