Jazz in the District This Week

by Michael J. West

Wednesday, June 26
Bill Heid is a legend. There are places around this country (and perhaps even outside of it) where his concerts sell out immediately, and where his name is spoken in startled, reverent tones when he’s not in town. It’s not easy for us to remember here in D.C., where we have a lot of pianists and a pretty hefty amount of Bill Heid (who also plays organ). But it’s not something to take lightly: This man and his talent have engendered extraordinary respect and admiration in the realm of the jazz fan. His music is exactly the reason why: Full of soul, warm, happy to mix up lyricism and the blues in rich, expressive, just-plain-happy ways. When he talks in between songs, perhaps switching from Yamaha baby grand to Hammond B-3, it’s as though you were just speaking to the guy in the next stool at your local bar. Which—except that it doesn’t sell alcohol—is just the kind of ambiance that thrives at Alice’s Jazz and Cultural Society. Bill Heid performs at 6 p.m. at AJACS, 2813 Franklin Street NE. $10.

Friday, June 28
You may remember that Lionel Lyles, whom I called “a swaggering, straightahead tenor saxophonist, deep in the pocket and steeped in the blues” and “quite harmonically daring,” was in these pages last week as the Friday night headliner at Mr. Henry’s. This column tries very hard not to be repetitive with its picks; Washington has multitudes of great jazz musicians, and you need not go hunting the same people down every week to stay plugged in. Sometimes, though, you get something special. In this case, it’s a tribute to Lee Morgan, the majestic Philadelphia trumpeter who next month would have turned 81 years old. Morgan’s music, as both an improviser and a composer, only seems more vital as time goes on. It’s fitting to have a straightahead (if yes, harmonically daring) group like the Lyles quintet paying tribute to him. That said, there is a special guest on hand for this celebration: tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, a legendary figure who was in Morgan’s last band (and witnessed his murder). They haven’t played a note and already this concert is pregnant with meaning. The Lionel Lyles Quintet with Billy Harper performs at 6 p.m. at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 400 I Street SW. $5.

Saturday, June 29
You know, it might just be best to let Hope Udobi himself describe the sound he’s working with on his new album, In the Wild. “It’s jazz fusion,” he explained to me, “with elements of classical, soul, hip hop. Think ‘70s Herbie, Flying Lotus, Hiatus Kaiyote, Return To Forever, with a handful of synths and odd time meters a sprinkle of Hans Zimmer.” I’ve listened to In the Wild and there’s not much better description handy than that. Ten musicians strong, it’s heavy on atmosphere and is a textural playground of sorts, rich and kaleidoscopic in its emotional effect. If there’s anything of greater import than that, it’s the beautiful, sure, virtuosic touch of Hope Udobi, who’s a brilliant DC musician from whom we’ve long waited for a full-length recording that introduces him to the world at large. Well, it’s here at last—and it’s as wonderful as we D.C. jazz observers had all hoped. Hope Udobi plays with a quintet (trumpeter Theljon Allen, tenor saxophonist Elijah Easton, bassist Mikel Combs, drummer Charles Wilson) in a CD release party at 7:30 p.m. at Sotto, 1610 Fourteenth Street NW (downstairs). $25.

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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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