Jazz In DC and Baltimore

by Michael J. West

Thursday, February 13

Every time Satoko Fujii’s name pops up—which is often, since she’s one of the most prolific recording artists in the world—she’s up to something different. That is no small accomplishment for someone who releases up to a half dozen albums each year, but Fujii, a pianist and composer, is so teeming with ideas that some call her “the Ellington of Free Jazz.” The sonics, the textures, the whole vibe of her artistry changes on a dime, including within her quartet project called Kaze. It’s a double-trumpet lineup (featuring Kappa Maki and Christian Bezos) and drummer Peter Menard, and like Fujii’s oeuvre, the sounds they make are epic and ever-changing. A single piece is as tempestuous, open, and unpredictable as a tornado, so if you’re losing interest in where it seems to be going, sit tight for, oh, thirty seconds or so. You won’t believe what’s coming up next. Satoko Fujii and Kaze perform at 8 p.m. at Allyworld, 7014 Westmoreland Avenue in Takoma Park. $20 advance, $25 door

Friday, February 14

We go through a kind of cycle in which Chicago yields a bumper crop of exciting, forward-thinking jazz musicians. We’re in a peak right now, with musicians such as Angel Bat Dawid, Makaya McCraven, Ben Lamar Gay, and Jaimie Branch all delivering wonderful music. Marquis Hill, who a few years ago won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Trumpet Competition, is another of these, a player with a beautiful soft-edged tone (almost like a flute at times) and lyrical improvisational style who defies genre at every turn. Electronic dance music, hip-hop, smooth R&B, jazz, even dub reggae make their presence known—especially in the beguiling Love Tape that Hill released last year. It’s a sultry, romantic, thoughtful expression that is well chosen for a Valentine’s Day celebration. That indeed is what it is: a V-Day special from the always-enterprising folks at CapitalBop. Hill will perform Love Tape in its entirety with a band that features the aforementioned McCraven as well as D.C.’s own beloved vocalist Christie Dashiell. It begins at 7:30 p.m. at The Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street NE in Washington, D.C. $10-$20

Saturday, February 15

There’s a bewitching combination in Cyrille Aimee’s singing of happy, girlish innocence and sultry, womanly street smarts. This feels like an overreliance on gender tropes, but it’s hard to describe Aimee’s performance without it. Make no mistake: Aimee has an appealing voice on its own, a precise-to-the-beat swing and a flawless contralto intonation that shows no trace of the northern French accent with which she speaks. (Although it magically returns when she sings in French. Fancy that.) She also has a magnificent scatting talent that she deploys with aplomb and at just the right spot to drive home the feeling of a song. On top of all that, she has impeccable taste, put to nice use on last year’s album Move On: A Sondheim Adventure. All the same, that tension between naivete and precociousness—with the precociousness having the edge—is, in the end, what makes Aimee stand out from the crowd of jazz vocalists. As you might guess, it’s best appreciated live. Cyrille Aimee performs at 7:30 and 10 p.m. at Keystone Korner, 1350 Lancaster Street in Baltimore. $25-$35

Sunday, February 16

This writer has an annual religious experience. It happens each February, when Kahil El’Zabar’s Ethnic Heritage Ensemble (in which El’Zabar is joined by trumpeter Corey Wilkes and baritone saxophonist Alex Harding) performs its annual DC concert for Black History Month. The reason it’s a religious experience is because it’s performed with religious fervor. El’Zabar is a percussionist; he plays the traps, but also any variety of bells and African hand drums—and a kalimba. He plays all of these (sometimes several at once) and also sings—and the singing includes what I can only call the moans and groans of a spiritual paroxysm. It’s an intimate, completely unguarded kind of performance, and all the more powerful for it. It also helps that much of the music is so incantatory: the concert usually begins with El’Zabar’s composition “Pharoah Sanders” (a title that contains most of the lyrics), and if by the end it hasn’t cast a spell on you, you might be lost to the proceedings. Kahil El’Zabar’s Ethnic Heritage Ensemble performs at 7 p.m. at Rhizome, 6950 Maple Street NW in Washington D.C. $20 advance, $25 door

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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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