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District Jazz This Week

by Michael J. West

Wednesday, May 22
The two tentpole jazz jam sessions in this town are (a) Sunday nights at the Brixton on U Street, and (b) Wednesday nights at Mr. Henry’s on Capitol Hill. They’re both remarkable—and they’re remarkably different. The latter is one of the primary programs of the Capitol Hill Jazz Foundation, and it’s tightly organized—with the singing and crowd-working talents of Aaron Myers II as its backbone. Myers is a master of ceremonies with an emphasis on the word “master,” a man who gets the (usually packed) house in Mr. Henry’s upstairs room eating out of the palm of his hand. But then, of course, there’s the music. It’s a jam session, which generally suggests players of all levels come in for a (competitive) workout. This one, though, gets an awful lot of serious comers. This writer has discovered at least three formidable musicians that have since made deep inroads into the scene: saxophonists Lionel Lyles and Jordon Dixon, and French hornist (you read that right) Abram Wolfe Mamet. There’s a good chance that you can see the next big name there, too. The Capitol Hill Jazz Jam begins at 8 p.m. at Mr. Henry’s, 601 Pennsylvania Avenue SE. Free. (But order something!)

Thursday, May 23
Even if it’s only there once a month, the Twins Jazz Orchestra fulfills that need we all feel for a resident big band. As it happens, they also happen to be a deceptively adventurous one. You’ll show up to the upstairs club on U Street and it will seem at first a little shambolic and disorganized. And perhaps it is, but that’s what they make art out of. It places them instantly on an edge, playing entirely in the moment and thereby taking real risks with everything they do. More than that, though, the band experiments. I have seen trumpeter/leader Thad Wilson lead them in standards, in free improvisations, in the avant-garde “conduction” style of the late Butch Morris, and in original tunes and arrangements that members of the band bring in. He also has a soft spot for the microphone, meaning that Wilson will (seemingly) almost always sing at least a tune or two. Ultimately, though, we have no idea what will happen at any given performance. The Twins Jazz Orchestra performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Twins, 1344 U Street NW. $10.

Saturday, May 25
Disclosure: I wrote the liner notes for Full Circle, the forthcoming fifth CD by Washington jazz vocalist Lori Williams. This does not alter the fact that Williams is an extraordinary artist and a brilliant vocal technician whom you should go see as many times as possible. That goes double for this performance. Not only is it promoting the release of the new album, but it is a farewell for Williams, who is moving in the summer to Georgia. There are new worlds for the singer to conquer, even if the new album finds her making a return to the traditional jazz that was her first musical infatuation. She is high in the running for the single best singer that the District of Columbia has to offer—please don’t wait until it’s gone to treasure her art as it deserves to be treasured. Lori Williams performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Avenue NW. $30.

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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