Jazz Setlist, June 21-27: Nordica!
Thursday, June 21
There's a pianist in town who hasn't gotten nearly enough attention in this column, and his name is Gene D'Andrea. He's a thoughtful, unassuming fellow who's nonetheless a monster on the keyboard: incredible speed and imagination, a unique way of shaping a melody in an improvisation—one that always keeps one ear to the groove—plus an endless supply of complex and beautiful harmonies. In addition, D'Andrea has a deep knowledge of the music, which gives him a facility for finding fresh ways to cast and re-cast the standards, and a fascinating way with original compositions. At the same time, he has no problem pulling back to a more subtle, even minimal, approach. That's a rare combination, but an important one. It makes D'Andrea one of the most valuable assets to jazz in the District of Columbia, and indeed worth more attention. Much more. Gene D'Andrea and his trio perform at 9 p.m. at 1905 Restaurant, 1905 9th Street NW. Free—but buy something.
Friday, June 22
Early June brings the DC Jazz Festival; late June brings us the Nordic Jazz Festival, when the Embassies of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland sponsor performances by the finest touring musicians of their own nations. Among the first of these is the Danish pianist Søren Møller, whom you'd know to be a classically trained pianist even if I hadn't just told you. He has a rather regal touch at the keyboard, and his sophisticated technique is so flawlessly precise that he couldn't possibly have gained it anywhere but in the conservatory. And that's even before discussing his artistic vision, in which classical and jazz willfully intersect. It's found him doing jazz trio versions of Debussy, for example, and bringing his Beethovenian composition and musicianship to his original jazz compositions. On recordings, he's deceptively careful in his use of rhythm, which he disguises with a certain stateliness. But on the stage, he rocks his body hard into the keys, which adds more flavor than you might think. The Søren Møller Trio performs at 9 and 11 p.m. at Twins, 1344 U Street NW. $15.
Sunday, June 24
We here at Setlist don't much hold with saying what is or isn't jazz; the truth is, while many people (including many around these parts) want to work within a specific definition of what music must or must not have in order to be called "jazz," it always boils down to that famous Potter Stewart-ism: I know it when I hear it. Nonetheless, we'll go out on a limb and say that Janel and Anthony are not jazz. Nor do they wish to be. They are sonic experimenters, often improvisational and almost always hauntingly, eerily beautiful. Janel Lippin's cello and otherworldly vocals combine with Anthony Pirog's acoustic and electric guitars and a veritable zoo of effects to create astonishing soundscapes—sometimes spectral, sometimes earthy, sometimes neither of the above—in which you'll hear elements of jazz, folk, classical, ambient, and perhaps even film music. It fits into no real category. That said, Pirog, in other guises (he has many), is one of the most vital and boldest guitarists in D.C. jazz. If Janel and Anthony doesn't easily fall under that rubric, it nonetheless provides insight into its creative possibilities and the scope of imagination that comes along with it. Oh—and some thoroughly spellbinding music. Janel and Anthony perform with another duo, violinist Jean Cook and pianist/percussionist David Brown (joining together at the end to perform work by composer Pauline Oliveiros, at 7 p.m. at Bohemian Caverns, 2001 11th St. NW. $20.
Wednesday, June 27
Now back to the Nordic Festival. If you've heard much of the jazz from Scandinavia—and if you've paid any attention to, say, ECM Records over the last 30 years then you probably have, you know that it has a particular kind of atmosphere to it: glacial, stately, austere. It's a sound that pianist Iiro Rantala of Finland can smash with a hammer when he's working with his trio, reducing it in an instant to glorious shards of noise with ideas poking out of every sharp corner. So it's oddly unsettling to see him so at home with those same restrained atmospheres in his solo work. He can still explode the whole thing, but tends when alone toward plainspoken, muted beauty. And then there's Sunna Gunlaugsdottir — another pianist, this one from Iceland. She's an interesting paradox in comparison to Rantala. She maintains the very same sense of ambiance, particularly in the icy harmonies she employs. But she works in a standard bass-drums trio, meaning that ambiance is dressed up a bit, using the shifting rhythmic shapes of swing, rock, and sometimes light funk to give them a bounce. It takes close listening to recognize the austere beauty of her musical forms — and that close listening is a more than worthy exercise. Iiro Ratala and the Sunna Gunlaugsdottir Trio perform at the Embassy of Finland, 3301 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Free (with limited seating).