Jazz Setlist, May 22-28: Arrival Day
Thursday, May 22
Herman Sonny Blount, whom posterity does and always will know as Sun Ra, was born 100 years ago this day in Birmingham, Ala. Of course, if you know anything about Sun Ra, you know that even that story is not so simply told. Ra claimed to be a native not of Alabama, but of Saturn, the ringed planet; May 22, he said, was the celebration of his arrival on Earth. The big band he led, known as the Arkestra, put a variety of astronomy- and science-fiction-themed adjectives in front of that name, and their music—incidentally, perhaps the largest discography in the history of recorded music—likewise relayed cosmic and mystical messages for mankind of such beauty and originality (and let's just say it, weirdness) that one found oneself ready to believe he was indeed of another world. So how better to celebrate the Centennial Arrival Day than with some more beautiful, otherworldly music? MOM² and Trio OOO will for Sun Ra's 100th at 6 p.m. at Liv Nightclub, 2001 Eleventh Street NW. Free.
Friday, May 23
It might be more fair to call Karla Chisholm a neo-soul singer than a jazz one—her unrestrained voice is certainly dripping with soul, her cadences have a folk element to them, and her phrasing owes more than a little to rhythm-and-blues. And yet, she sings the jazz repertoire, she swings like hell, and she fronts a sublime and often quite subtle 10-piece band with which she meshes with a jazzy synergy. The local vocalist has a new disc out, the playful Songs on a Sunday; by playful, I mean that in addition to a lovely lineup of standards, there are two songs from The Wizard of Oz, a clever and effective reworking of the totemic R&B "Route 66," and an even more effective ballad rendering of Katrina and the Waves' "Walking on Sunshine." Better git hit in yo soul, folks. Karla Chisholm performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Avenue NW. $22.
Saturday, May 24
Instead of nodding her head or tapping her feet, Sharel Cassity stands still onstage and lets the music coming out of her horn do the dancing. Cassity, an alto saxophonist, doesn’t dress up her stuff in heavy concepts or abstract rhythms, either. She’s a straight-ahead, bop-based jazz player with a sound that both echoes the hard-edged virtuosity and sometimes violent swing of Charlie Parker and Sonny Stitt, yet hints at the thick, foamy tones of older grandmasters like Johnny Hodges. In short, Cassity is a fantastic player who’s firmly anchored in the tradition, making her an ideal choice to perform at the Kennedy Center’s Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival, which spotlights women from all walks of jazz. But if she’s remarkably stolid while playing there, don’t be deterred: She doesn’t need to move to move you. Sharel Cassity performs at 6 p.m. at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, 2700 F St. NW. Free.
Sunday, May 25
Here's how you know a great bassist. Ron Carter is coming back to town, as he does every year around this time; every year Setlist duly writes him up, meaning that I should have long ago run out of new things to say about him. But there are always new wonders to be found. They're in the way he can play his bass with the sensitivity of a classical guitarist, yet never let go the role of beatkeeper; in the way he garnishes his supporting lines with such smart, lyrical hooks that you could strip every other instrument away from his recordings (over 2500 of them!) and his bass would provide a satisfying performance all on its own; in the way he balances that sensitivity and lyricism with a take-no-shit, take-no-prisoners seriousness about his work; in the way he wears his influences (Ray Brown, Paul Chambers) on his sleeve but remains unquestionably, imperturbably Ron Carter. He's a true great. Ron Carter performs at 7 and 9 p.m. at Bohemian Caverns, 2001 Eleventh Street NW. $45.
Photo: Mars Breslow