Jazz in DC and Baltimore

by Michael J. West

Wednesday, January 22

Mateusz Smoczynski grooves so hard he absolutely howls. That’s not an easy thing to accomplish on any instrument—but the violin? Believe it. Smoczynski’s rhythmic virtuosity is astonishing to behold, even more astonishing than his melodic and harmonic virtuosity. He absolutely has the trifecta, make no mistake about it. It’s the grooves, however, from gutbucket blues to careening swing to mathy postbop time, that make him a remarkable jazz musician. He hails from Poland, where he graduated from the Frederic Chopin Academy of Music, studied with Andrzej Gebski, and won the Zbigniew Seifert Jazz Competition…and he is well on his way to becoming a name as big as those three. Currently, he’s leading a killer quartet that, for the purposes of this gig anyway, also features the magnificent pianist Max Holm. You’re curious, aren’t you? Of course you are. Satisfy your curiosity, readers! The Mateusz Smoczynski Quartet performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Avenue NW in Washington, D.C. $25

Thursday, January 23

If you don’t know about Elijah Jamal Balbed, you don’t know about jazz in the District of Columbia because dude is everywhere. He gigs like it’s going out of style; creates jam sessions all over town like some kind of Johnny (Jammy?) Appleseed, and works in multiple styles—sometimes all at once. Even having as much on his plate as he does, though, Balbed is very enthusiastic about The Karma Suite, a project he’s been working on since at least 2016. It’s clearly an ambitious one, too, featuring poetry, tap dance, and a four-piece vocal ensemble along with his quintet of himself on tenor saxophone, Flavio Silva on guitar, Mark G. Meadows on piano, Eliot Seppa on bass, and Kelton Norris on drums. “This is the most meaningful music I’ve ever written,” he says—and it seems that the good folk over at the Kennedy Center (who know a thing or two about meaningful music, and ambitious music as well) agree. Elijah Jamal Balbed presents The Karma Suite at 7:30 p.m. at Kennedy Center’s Studio K at the REACH, 2700 F Street NW in Washington, D.C. $15-$30

Friday, January 24

There are never enough things to say about Ron Carter; never enough reasons to recommend him. The legendary bassist and most recorded musician in jazz history remains the living standard of his instrument. He knows where the beat is, a pedestrian-sounding observation that is actually the highest conceivable praise for a bass player. (Just in case you weren’t sure why, exactly, he is the most recorded musician in jazz history.) Chances are that you know his work from (at the very least) the 1960s edition of the Miles Davis Quintet, the same one in which he worked with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. Carter’s done an awful lot since then, however, including the leadership of his Golden Striker Trio. That same trio was the act that opened Baltimore’s iteration of the iconic Keystone Korner jazz club last summer; it’s now returning to deliver more wondrous music to Charm City. Ron Carter, with pianist Donald Vega and guitarist Russell Malone, performs at 7:30 and 10 p.m. at Keystone Korner, 1350 Lancaster Street in Baltimore. $30-$40

Saturday, January 25

There are times when Mark G. Meadows seems bent on becoming a jazz singer-songwriter, someone in the mold of a Joni Mitchell or Rene Marie who tells stories set to the rhythms and beautiful chord changes that set our hearts to dancing. Then there are the times when he is more interested in using the jazz context to highlight other singer-songwriters. Like, say, his acknowledged hero, Stevie Wonder. Wonder, who is hard to dispute at this point as America’s greatest living musical genius (no, that’s not an invitation to dispute it), is no stranger to jazz, as anyone who has heard “Sir Duke” (or “Contusion”) knows well. His soul, and his understanding of the African American musical tradition, make all of his varying compositions adaptable to jazz. That adaptability does not, however, diminish Meadows’ extraordinary creativity in shaping them into his own brand of keyboard- and vocal-based jazz. Mark G. Meadows performs the music of Stevie Wonder at 6 p.m. at Caton Castle, 20 South Caton Avenue in Baltimore. $30

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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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