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Jazz in the District: DIVA, Brotherton, Berhanu

by Michael J. West

Tuesday, July 23
There is no question that the jazz world remains, at bottom, a boys’ club. That’s what motivated drummer Sherrie Maricle to spearhead a girls’ club. DIVA is the name of her many all-female ensembles, especially the big band that she usually leads. In its standard form, the DIVA Orchestra includes three of the District’s finest musicians, including bassist Amy Shook, a longtime favorite on the scene with a solid, steady swing on her upright. So solid and steady is it, in fact, that Shook is also a staple of the smallest variation on Maricle’s unit: 3Divas, a piano-bass-drums trio that also features the Cleveland-based pianist Jackie Warren. The formula isn’t complicated: Pick a song and swing the hell out of it. Which they do. Warren has a latticed style, with blues and boogie-woogie decoration that reminds this writer of Erroll Garner, but is really its own beast. Shook holds the dead center of the beat (occasionally slipping to the front), with Maricle dancing around it and often acting more as underpinning for Warren’s elaborations than for Shook’s pulse. It’s powerful stuff. $22

Wednesday, July 24
​I stopped in last week to hear Joe Brotherton play trumpet at a jam session—having known and heard his playing around town and beyond for over a decade. As it happens, he’s even better than I remembered (though it’s also been a while since I heard him play, and any good trumpeter is constantly working to improve). He’s got an enormous bright tone and chops out to here, and his phrasing is as beautiful as it is imaginative. When I say he’s constantly working to get better, I refer specifically to his weekly residency at JoJo’s on U Street, where he leads an edgy, hungry quintet. Membership varies a little bit, though its core staff tends to find Brotherton on trumpet, Elijah Easton on tenor saxophone, Hope Udobi on piano and keys, Blake Meister on bass, and Dana Hawkins on drums. It’s a young ensemble, and accordingly, it is a deadly hip one—in the best possible sense. They begin at 8 p.m. at JoJo’s Restaurant and Bar, 1518 U Street NW. Free (but order something!).

Friday, July 26
Drummer Abinnet Berhanu has been making a splash around these parts for a few years now with his resounding ride cymbal and loose, open swing feel. An Ethiopian American, his sound isn’t particularly in thrall to (though there are echoes of) the trappings of Ethio-jazz. He takes a more holistic view. Berhanu leads a band that he calls Hebret Musica (Community Music), whose goal is to bridge multiple musical backgrounds and traditions into one solid mass of music. The band features saxophonist Mike Cemprola, vibraphonist Chris Barrick, pianist Joshua Espinoza, and bassist Cameron Kayne, and they are a seriously tight ensemble with a splendid rhythmic matrix (as you might expect from a band led by a drummer). As their self-titled album prepares to drop, Berhanu and Hebret Musica back it up with a two-night presentation as part of CapitalBop’s monthly Spotlight Residency program. They begin at 7:30 p.m. at Local 16, 1602 U Street NW. $5.

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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