This Weekend’s Jazz in The District
by Michael J. West
Thursday, August 8
Let no one argue but that Elijah Jamal Balbed has earned his place at the top of the musical heap in D.C.’s jazz (and jazz-adjacent) scene. Now 29 years old, Balbed has been working the scene since he was just out of high school, a shy tenor saxophone student hoping that musicians with more established gigs would let him sit in. When they did, he would wow them, and anyone else who might be in the house. Well, Balbed has only gotten better, more confident, and more fully realized in his own musical vision in the time since then. And now we can see that his ambition has taken him to the heart of official Washington. At least, to the geographical heart. That is, of course, the long-running Jazz on Jackson Place program, one of the staples of summertime in D.C.; Balbed has worked that gig before, and if they bring him back it’s because, just like with everything else he’s doing now, he’s earned it. Elijah Jamal Balbed performs at 6:30 p.m. at Decatur House, 748 Jackson Place NW. $35
Friday, August 9
Listen, you just don’t want to miss Tarus Mateen. It’s just about as simple as that. The native of Bakersfield, California has nothing to do with the rock-ified country music sound that was ascendant in his hometown when he was born. He does, though, have more than a bit of the experimental funkiness that comes out of Atlanta, where he also spent time. Mateen has worked with everyone from Art Blakey and Betty Carter to Greg Osby and Jason Moran (he’s the regular working bassist for the latter’s renowned Bandwagon trio), and he’s got a vast palette of stylistics in his music that obviously includes jazz, but also some slippery funk, avant-garde, sleek soul, hip-hop, and not a little bit of African music. All of that will undoubtedly make its way into the sound you hear when he performs at 9:30 p.m. at Jojo Restaurant and Bar, 1518 U Street NW. $10.
Saturday, August 10
Reginald Cyntje is a great DC musician. Though he’s a native of Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, the trombonist has been in D.C. for over two decades now, playing with everyone and at every venue, not to mention doing everything. The past decade has seen him ascendant as a composer-bandleader. He released an album of new material, Rise of the Protester, earlier this year, a panorama that captured the present moment and politically charged mood in Washington and everywhere else. But the ever-restless Cyntje is already back with another package of new music. He calls this one “MAGNETISM”—a name that could mean anything, but have no fear: He will undoubtedly explain it. He will also provide context by way of a murderer’s row of local players: Lenny Robinson on drums, Herman Burney on bass, Elijah Easton on tenor sax, and Dave Manley on guitar. The lineup alone is magnetism personified. The Reginald Cyntje Group performs at 9 and 11 p.m. at Twins Jazz, 1344 U Street NW. $15.
Sunday, August 11
Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but every time I’ve seen Cheney Thomas play in the last, oh, five years or so, he is playing on a battered, weather-beaten upright bass with the finish worn off around its edges and in a large patch on its front. I could just be imagining this, or it could be that that’s the house bass at AJACS, where Thomas tends to gig regularly. It’s also possible, however, that Thomas has simply found an instrument that he meshes with, that helps to provide the incredibly robust wood sound that remains the hallmark of his stalwart swing and resonant playing style. It would explain a lot, not least Thomas’s incredible consistency in his music—the kind of straightahead, knock-‘em-dead jazz that probably immediately springs to your mind when you hear the name of the music itself. Thomas has been playing it for a long time now…and maybe that’s the thing that explains the frayed condition of his axe. That bass has seen some action. Cheney Thomas performs at 6 p.m. at Alice’s Jazz and Cultural Society, 2813 Franklin Street NE. $10.
Michael J. West
Michael J. West is a freelance writer, editor, and jazz journalist who has been covering the Washington, D.C. jazz scene since 2009. He spends most days either hunkered down in the clubs or in his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.
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