by Michael J. West
Monday, December 16
The annual holiday traditions that make Washington’s season are usually taken to include things like the National Christmas Tree lighting, The Nutcracker at the Washington Ballet, the train exhibit at the Botanical Garden, blah blah blah. Well, it is just plain wrong that the annual Christmas concert by the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra, which has been going on for close to a decade, is not on that list. Now situated each December at the Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street, the concert by the 17-piece ensemble (co-led, as from its inception, by trumpeter Joe Herrera and baritone saxophonist Brad Linde) generally consists of two parts. The first includes novel choices from the modern jazz big-band repertoire (and in this writer’s experience, Thad Jones’s “A Child Is Born” always seems to be a part of it). The second features, with some variations, the BCJO’s performance of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s 1960 arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s aforementioned Nutcracker Suite, which is tremendously inventive and even more tremendously fun. The Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra performs at 8 p.m. at Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street NE. $30 advance, $35 door
Wednesday, December 18
Yes, she’s got the chops, but it’s impossible to overstate how much of Jane Monheit’s performance hangs on her charisma. She appeared two weeks ago at the Kennedy Center for the Herbie Hancock Competition and All-Star Gala, doing just one song (“Chega de Saudade”). It was an odd bit of programming in an evening of odd programming; none of the pieces really fit together. Still, Monheit carried the day with garrulous energy, making the incongruous performance work by her sheer force of will and palpable delight to be performing. It’s a trait not unlike that which defined Ella Fitzgerald—Monheit’s acknowledged hero, and the subject of her most recent album The Songbook Sessions: Ella Fitzgerald. Monheit doesn’t quite match Ella’s chops (who could?), but she gets as close as anyone—and adds a sultry air to the performance that the First Lady of American Song, for all her qualities, never quite mustered. Jane Monheit performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Avenue NW. $45
Saturday, December 21
Chelsey Green’s violin is truly a majestic sound. She often plays a kind of soul-jazz violin, which is not a common mix of instrument and style. But Green makes it work, not just because of the extraordinary articulation and flawless, vibrato-filled tone, but because she’s got a preternatural way with a groove. If hers isn’t a particularly percussive instrument, she nonetheless knows where to hit the accents, and just as importantly how to play around them, to accentuate the important facets and to underline the entire anatomy of the groove. It just so happens she’s a splendid improviser as well, and knows her way around not only her instrument, but the repertoire she plays on it. The latter, by the way, includes a killer version of “Sleigh Ride,” which there’s a highly significant chance you’re going to hear at this particular gig. Chelsey Green and the Green Project perform “A Very Green Christmas” at 8 p.m. at Creative Alliance, 3134 Eastern Avenue. $25-$50
Sunday, December 22
Just a glance at Mars Williams’ credentials is enough to make one’s mouth (ears?) water. The saxophonist was a founding member of the new-wave band The Waitresses; has twice been a member of The Psychedelic Furs; has also been a member of the Vandermark Five, Liquid Soul, and the Peter Brotzmann Tentet; and studied at Chicago’s AACM School with Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell. Surely if anyone has earned the right to hold a regular ensemble tribute to Albert Ayler, it’s Williams. He actually holds two such tributes: He runs a tribute band called Witches and Devils, and then each year he does his Ayler Xmas program. The concert includes Christmas music performed in Ayler’s style, sometimes in medleys with his own originals and performance staples. Usually it takes place in Chicago, but he’s also been known to take it out on tour to select cities. Guess which city is on that list this year? In D.C., Williams leads a quartet comprising some of the DMV’s finest free players: guitarist Mark Cisneros, bassist Jeron White, and drummer Ian McColm. An Ayler Xmas begins at 3:00 p.m. at Rhizome, 6950 Maple Street NW. $15
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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