Jazz Setlist, April 11-17: The Blackbyrds and Lots of CD Release Shows
Friday, April 12
The passing of trumpeter Donald Byrd, as we've noted before, bore particular significance for the District. But even with lofty achievements like the legitimizing of jazz within academia, and at Howard University in particular, Byrd's musical legacy was most obviously distilled in The Blackbyrds. To form the ensemble, Byrd rounded up some of his best students, including drummer Keith Killgo, guitarist Barney Perry, keyboardist Kevin Toney, bassist Joe Hall, and saxophonist Allan C. Barnes and made a heady mixture of jazz, funk, and R&B, and found success with the group in the mid 1970s. "Walking in Rhythm" (1974) was their biggest, catchiest hit, but the following year's "Rock Creek Park" is almost certainly the more enduring, particularly as it lived on in hip-hop repertoire. The Blackbyrds, which Killgo reunited last year, now have a fallen mentor to whom to pay tribute. The Blackbyrds perform at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. at THEARC, 1901 Mississippi Avenue SE. $20-$35.
Saturday, April 13
Trumpeter J.S. Williams has just about the clearest, cleanest trumpet sound imaginable. It seems fair, on the surface, to call it "unadorned." But that just sounds like he doesn't do anything interesting with it, when in fact Williams also knows as much about harmony as anyone around, making unexpected but achingly pretty movements across the chords. He also has a very personal conception of time, so the vocabulary of rhythm within his solos catches hold of the ear and brings you for a hop-skip along with it. Most importantly, though, is the most intangible part of Williams' playing: warmth. Even absent the sight of his face, the phrases from his trumpet all seem to come with a natural, knowing smile. That's certainly the takeaway of his bop-styled new CD, The Late BLUEmer, whose release Williams celebrates this weekend. Williams performs at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. at Twins, 1344 U Street NW. $16.
Sunday, April 14
There are some who will tell you that 52 is too young to be called a "curmudgeon." Matthew Shipp, though, has been something of a curmudgeon since he was much younger. Actually, that's not fair either. Shipp just likes to stir the pot, an avant-garde pianist with as much confidence in his own gifts as he has gifts themselves. He plays with great originality, and with great verve, and inside his tangled clusters can be found a virtual almanac of jazz piano. And while he doesn't always choose the best targets (like Wayne Shorter, the target of many attacks lately) to vent against, he does have a point when he says that the hosannas given to the big fish come at the expense of great players like himself. His trio, with bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Whit Dickey, merits great acclaim, and can be slow to receive it. That'd make anyone curmudgeonly. The Matthew Shipp Trio performs at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. at Bohemian Caverns, 2001 11th Street NW. $15-$20.
Monday, April 15
The first D.C. saxophonist I became aware of, lo these many years ago, was John "The Smoker" Kocur. The alto man was a breakout member of the old Thad Wilson Jazz Orchestra, one of the band's most reliable (and relied upon) soloists week in and week out. It was a pleasure to see Kocur stand up and take the reins—and a pleasure for him, too, judging by the smile in his eyes as he blew. Kocur has more recently been working as a full-time faculty member at NoVA, so a D.C. gig is a rare thing... but he hasn't stopped the music. In fact he's been working on a new CD of his own, Fortitude, with his quintet (pianist Amy K. Bormet, guitarist Cristian Perez, bassist Karine Chapdelaine, and drummer C.V. Dashiell III), and yup, he's celebrating its release. The John Kocur Quintet performs at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Avenue NW. $18.