Jazz Setlist, January 16-22: Anthony Pirog, Westminster’s Jazz Night, RH Factor, and Kenny Rittenhouse
Thursday, Jan. 16
The more you hear Anthony Pirog, the more interesting he gets. Perhaps it's because jazz is only one of many intersecting avenues in the music he plays on guitar. In fact, Pirog to a great degree gets called "jazz" only because it's the closest his improvisational, experimental work gets to a genre of any kind. But anyone who uses that characterization to dismiss Pirog as a jazz player? They don't know what they're talking about. Pirog's grip of the language, the virtuosity, the improvisational technique is solid as a rock. He just uses it (along with rock and contemporary classical and the avant-garde and a bazillion other things) as a jumping-off point to follow his own multihued, incredibly unique path. Make of that what you will, but never doubt he's got chops—and jazz chops. Anthony Pirog performs with his trio at 8 p.m. at Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. $28.50.
Friday, Jan. 17
It's been 15 years now that D.C.'s best jazz audience has been holding it down in Southwest D.C. Westminster Presbyterian Church, a pretty but unassuming house of worship on I Street SW, undergoes a transformation of sorts on Friday evenings. Its basement becomes a neighborhood fish fry; the sanctuary becomes a packed jazz club, with the city's tremendous local talents swinging from the lectern. It was an attempt at community outreach when Reverend Brian Hamilton and producer Dick Smith began the program in 1999. In 2014, it's an indissoluble institution, a keystone of the city's ever-expanding jazz scene. And it's celebrating. The party includes musicians (most of them longtime favorites at Westminster) the likes of Nasar Abadey, Wade Beach, Herman Burney, Ernie Douglas, James King, Percy Smith, and Arnold Sterling. It's a must. Jazz Night takes place at 6 p.m. at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 4th and I streets SW. $5.
Saturday, Jan. 18
He's appeared in D.C. (and in Setlist) many times at the head of his stellar acoustic quintet, but trumpeter Roy Hargrove is seen less frequently here as the leader of RH Factor. So you could be forgiven if you thought of Hargrove as a bop purist, one whose fealty to swing and the blues was absolute. Indeed, Hargrove surprised many people when he put together a large fusion ensemble, whose repertoire included songs by Funkadelic and D'Angelo as well as Hargrove's hard-edged, funky originals. This stuff is danceable, much of it riff-based but always moving. Honestly it resembles a plugged-in jam session as much as anything. That's a plus: Local jazz fans will know that Hargrove loves to attend jam sessions in town, and the immeasurable power he brings with him when he does. Roy Hargrove's RH Factor at 8 and 10 p.m. at the Kennedy Center's Crossroads Club, 2700 F St. NW. $30.
The trumpet ranks of D.C. jazz are a thing of splendor, enough so that just one wouldn't suffice for last year's Jazzies. But within those ranks, none of them sound like Kenny Rittenhouse. Synonymous with the trumpet in 1990s D.C. jazz circles, Rittenhouse has a certain soft core to his sound that makes for an achingly gorgeous ballad. Surprisingly, it also makes his upbeat playing that much more powerful: Rittenhouse builds a thick, hard shell around his tone when it comes to the swingers, but that softness at the center makes the lines (often long and ornate) roll out as smooth as glass and with a hell of an emotional impact. He's an ambitious composer, too: Rittenhouse has released two albums, both of them featuring multipart suites (The Francis Suite and The New York Suites). Still, he's only an occasional concert-giver at this point in his career, making any opportunity to check him out a worthy endeavor. The Kenny Rittenhouse Quintet performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW. $20.