Jazz In Baltimore

by Michael J. West

Tuesday, September 10
Drummer Mike Kuhl has one of the killingest trios out there. It’s as simple as that. “Killingest” isn’t even a word, but there’s no better way to describe them. Kuhl himself is a skilled and cunning technician, one who subtly pushes ahead of the beat when he’s playing inside and thumps playfully around it when he’s outside. This is not to say that he goes whooshing outside during every set—Bertha’s isn’t that sort of a venue, per se—but it does happen, even at Bertha’s. And when Kuhl is leading his trio, which features the relentlessly adventurous trumpeter Dave Ballou and game-for-anything bassist Jeff Reed, a fanciful trip out of the lines is that much more likely to happen. Actually, anything and everything is bound to happen with this fierce enmeshing of players, venue, and spectacular moment. The Mike Kuhl Trio performs at 9 p.m. at Bertha’s, 734 South Broadway. Free (but order something!)

Wednesday, September 11
One of the most delicious Italian restaurants in Baltimore (Disclaimer: I haven’t eaten at an incredible number of Italian restaurants in Baltimore) just happens to have one of the most delicious jazz duets in Baltimore in the house on Wednesdays! For a few Wednesdays, anyway. Nico Sarbanes (yes, he’s the Congressman’s son) is a Baltimore native and a trumpeter—AND a vocalist—who studied at the prestigious McGill University in Montreal before returning to his hometown to put in some time on the local scene. Sarbanes is now in New York (they all end up in New York, don’t they?) Of course, Chet Baker is the white singer/trumpeter that immediately comes to mind when trying to draw comparisons; Sarbanes bears a slight resemblance to Baker in that he has a tenor singing voice (though his phrasing is far more Frank than Chet), but he has a hell of a lot more oomph. As for the trumpet, he sounds nothing like Baker at all. He’s simply a fluid, fluent player who’s got more swing than this paragraph has parentheticals. Sarbanes performs in a duet with bassist Blake Meister at 6 p.m. at Sotto Sopra, 405 North Charles Street. Free (but order something!)

Friday, September 13
“Carl Allen is a thinking man’s drummer,” wrote the Harmony Central website a few years ago. “He’s articulate, well-informed, and certainly in-tune with every aspect of the Jazz drumming institution.” He can also play damn near anything. Allen trained with the masters of bebop, old school (he spent nearly a decade with trumpet legend Freddie Hubbard) and new school (he also worked with the Terence Blanchard/Carl Allen Quartet in the same decade). He is more immersed than most in the younger generation that is determined to transcend bebop: He spent many years as the director of jazz studies at Juilliard. That said, given his druthers, Allen tends toward a hard bop-infected, straight ahead jazz thing. Which is why he would form a quartet that features the brilliant Sharel Cassity on alto saxophone, Richard Johnson on piano, and Herman Burney on bass. Swing? Check. Groove? Double check. Soul? Infinity check. The Carl Allen Quartet performs at 8 p.m. at An Die Musik, 409 North Charles Street. $10-$25.

Sunday, September 15
Speaking of hard-swinging, rhythm-section virtuosi who cut their teeth with Freddie Hubbard! It’s certainly hard to put a finger on a greater, more prominent jazz bassist than Christian McBride. It’s safe to call him powerful: He’s powerfully built, powerfully aggressive, powerfully imaginative. He’s also extremely eclectic, with an amazing range of styles that come one after the other. Electric-bass-powered funk that showcases McBride’s love of James Brown will give way to his big band, which will give way to his Inside Straight Septet, which will give way to his piano-bass-drums trio. (That covers his last decade, and that’s not counting his solo recording, 2011’s Conversations with Christian.) His latest self-iteration is a chordless quartet featuring the great young saxophonist Marcus Strickland and great young trumpeter Josh Evans, as well as the not-quite-so-young, but still great, drummer Nasheet Waits. It’s a band called Christian McBride’s New Jawn (Philadelphians will know that word instantly), and it dances along the cutting edge in all the best ways. They perform at 5 and 7 p.m. at Keystone Korner, 1350 Lancaster Street. $25-$45.

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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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