Jazz Setlist, May 8-14: Mother’s Day Jazz
Thursday, May 8
The interesting thing about Nnenna Freelon is that her charisma doesn't really hit you until after the fact. She's an intense performer, one who addresses her audience both in song and in her banter with a certain tossed-off vibe that's as casual as the light tousle in her hair. Once the set is over and you're on the way home, though, you'll think back for a second and realize how much of the evening you remember, how you hung on Freelon's every moody, mellow syllable (note how even the swinging numbers seem smooth and easy in her hands) and couldn't tear your eyes from her—and how you kind of hoped, in the back of your mind, for her eyes to lock however briefly onto yours. Is there a higher endorsement than that? Nnenna Freelon performs at 8 p.m. at Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street NE. $28.50-$33.50.
Friday, May 9
The Kennedy Center, if you haven't noticed (and how could you not?), is celebrating the 75th anniversary of Blue Note Records, the world's oldest jazz record label and one of the most important and influential of all time. There are nine days of programming at KenCen, mostly featuring Blue Note legends past and present. Friday night, though, the finest jazz musicians of Washington D.C. take the stage to pay tribute to the legacy of the label. Compositions first premiered on various Blue Note albums will be performed by saxophonists Elijah Balbed (who is also the evening's musical director) and Lyle Link, trumpeter Kenny Rittenhouse, trombonist Raynel Frazier, pianist Tim Whalen, bassist Eliot Seppa, and drummer Dave McDonald. Included in the program is a nod to D.C.'s own recently departed Blue Note contingent, its onetime house bassist Butch Warren. The concert is called "DC Celebrates Blue Note Records," and it takes place at 6 p.m. at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage, 2700 F Street NW. Free.
Saturday, May 10
Azar Lawrence plays Blues Alley every year around this time (sometimes again in the fall), and in a fair and perfect world, it would be a packed-house, standing-room-only performance every time. It never is—but the good news is that, accordingly, you can almost certainly get a ticket. Lawrence, whose big break came in 1967 when legendary pianist McCoy Tyner hired him, plays both tenor and soprano in the modal jazz school that Tyner pioneered with onetime employer John Coltrane. (Most saxophonists since that time are Coltrane disciples, of course, but Lawrence is among the most devout.) He's re-shaped the modal-jazz landscape in his own image, grabbing jewels of Latin folk traditions and African rhythm and counterpoint to work into his own stew. He is, in short, one of the finest and most underrated practitioners of his instrument in the jazz world, and he brings in similarly underrated musicians (trumpeter Eddie Henderson, bassist Essiet Okon Essiet) along with rising star and former D.C. pianist Benito Gonzalez. Azar Lawrence performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW. $35.
Sunday, May 11
Hey, Happy Mother's Day! Eh, what's that you say? You'd like to take your mom to see some jazz, but the Kennedy Center's Blue Note at 75 gala concert is sold out? Well, let's hope your mom is a serious night owl, because this month Mother's Day also coincides with the CapitalBop monthly jazz loft series. The performers this month are all very small-scale, intimate affairs with big ideas. The evening starts with Charles Rahmat Woods, an area saxophonist and flutist with a deep woody sound that I've criminally neglected over the years. He will be performing in a duo with a TBA drummer. Following is Allyn Johnson, the pianist who I've done anything but neglect, performing in a rare solo format. Ending the evening is a venture by D.C.'s very own Prez-and-Lady-Day musical partnership, singer Akua Allrich and bassist Kris Funn, joined by drummer Corey Fonville. Don't sleep. The Jazz Loft begins at 7 p.m. at Union Arts, 411 New York Avenue NE. $10 suggested donation.