Jazz Setlist, Sept. 27-Oct. 3: Finding Joy in Smooth Jazz
Thursday, Sept. 27
Since two years ago, when Washington City Paper named Elijah Balbed D.C.'s Best New Jazz Musician, he's only gotten better. The tenor saxophonist—who has a sleek, lyrical sound both brawny and understated—remains one of the hardest-working artists in the District, gigging heavily as both leader and sideman (including as the final saxophonist for Chuck Brown) and found frequently in the audiences at jazz clubs, supporting a friend or listening carefully. On top of all this work, he squeezed in some recording-studio time last year with two separate sextets; the result, Checking In, is a wondrous tapestry of straightahead 21st century jazz. Balbed celebrates its release with one of the album's two sextets tonight. 8 p.m. at Bohemian Caverns, 2001 11th St. NW. $15.
Friday, Sept. 28
Oh, Joe Sample, all is forgiven. Sample, a pianist, comes from the unsung jazz mecca of Houston, Texas, where he co-founded the Jazz Crusaders—a hard-bop sextet that migrated (with much of the jazz world) into the fusion sound in the '70s. From there, they edged gradually into lighter pop, and when Sample began his solo career he moved further in that direction. Much of his music is focused on crossover sounds, with lite R&B and even smooth jazz mixed into it. This stuff is often anathema to jazz fans, and you don't have to be a purist to think so. But upon hearing Sample's sound at the piano, lush, soft-touched, almost unbearably tender...again, all is forgiven. It matters little how watered-down the band or the material is, as long as Sample keeps pressing those ivories. That said, he has taken a hard turn back into soul-jazz and hard bop lately, and at 73 his pianistics sound as beautiful as ever. Joe Sample performs at 7:30 p.m. at Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave. in Alexandria. $55.
Sunday, Sept. 30
Blues Alley has taken this week to celebrate the legacy of Stephane Grappelli, the patron saint and still most revered practitioner of the jazz-violin tradition. Granted, it's a small tradition, but it's a justly praised one, taking perhaps the most emblematic of instruments from the European classical tradition and teaching it the blues. The French Grappelli, though, kept the violin grounded in Europe, playing folk and art song as well as pioneering the "gypsy jazz" that became a celebrated staple. Grappelli's influence is inescapable in the violin tradition—but no more so than in probably his last protege, Mark O'Connor. O'Connor may be the most versatile living violinist. His teaching came in the old-time fiddle realm, winning the Grand Masters Fiddle Championship at 13 years old; after that, he toured with Grappelli, but went back to Nashville until he (in the words of Blues Alley owner Harry Schnipper) "got religion" in jazz. He's also played pop, and performed as well as composed classical string compositions. In this case, however, he pays tribute to Grappelli with the sound of jazz, gypsy and otherwise. Mark O'Connor performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Ave. $45.