Jazz Setlist, July 18-24: Double Shot o’ Shorter
Thursday, July 18
I've talked before about the unique approach of this season's Take 5! series at the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Kogod Courtyard. To wit, local young musicians are tackling the writing of elder statesmen in dedicated programs. Since 2013 began, though, there's been a particular concentration on Wayne Shorter, the titanic saxophonist and composer who is turning 80 this year. Usually the Take 5! series would make a saxophonist the steward of Shorter's music; in this case, though, the leader is D.C. drumming wizard Harold Summey, one of the District's most valuable and least appreciated jazz commodities. He's taking another unusual twist on the formula: Shorter's underexplored book of compositions for the fusion trailblazers Weather Report, a catalogue that includes wonderful pieces like "Tears," "The Moors," "Mysterious Traveller," and "Port of Entry." It's fascinating on its face, and can only be more so in actual performance. The Harold Summey Quintet performs at 5 p.m. at the American Art Museum, 8th and F streets NW. Free.
Friday, July 19
Ah, but there's more to this Wayne Shorter celebration. District jazz musicians are determined, it seems, to examine every aspect of the great artists's career. If Weather Report is underexplored, more so is the section of Shorter's career that signaled his breakthrough: 1959-64, his time with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Blakey always hired guys who could write, but Shorter very quickly became his primary writer and then music director. His pieces for the Messengers weren't the wholesale innovations found in his work with Miles, Weather Report, or his own solo albums—they were pretty conventional hard bop in arrangement, form, and function. But they were, like his later tunes, bottomlessly melodic and swinging, the stuff of classic repertoire. "Lester Left Town," "Sincerely Diana," "Children of the Night," and "Free for All" are all classics of the era. Pianist Tim Whalen, one of the most accomplished and consistently interesting pianists in the area, knows this stuff well. He's going to explore it in grand fashion, with a dazzling septet: saxophonists Marty Nau and Lyle Link, trumpeter Joe Herrera, trombonist Victor Barranco, bassist Zack Pride, and drummer CV Dashiell. They hit at 8 and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Twins Jazz, 1344 U Street NW. $16.
Tuesday, July 23
Let there be no mistake about Robert Mwamba — about whom it'd be easy to make a mistake. At least on the surface. The guitarist, a native of Zambia, often uses smooth, crossover-y accompaniment in his music. Hearing it can at first make one a little uneasy about what they've gotten into. But Mwamba is a protege of Milt Hinton, a bassist who was one of the pillars of jazz through most of the 20th century. He knows what's what, and from the minute he gets going on those strings he lets you know, too. Besides, even when you listen to those gauzy music beds, they turn out to have dense and surprisingly luscious chords happening—though you'll spend more time on Mwamba's carefully plotted pyrotechnics and beautiful, sonorous tone. Robert Mwamba performs at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Avenue NW. $20.