Jazz in the District This Week

by Michael J. West

Tuesday, August 13
Jazz has been blurring genres and experimenting with other traditions since at least Jelly Roll Morton, and it’s been a hallmark of the avant-garde since at least Cecil Taylor. So when a bill concert featuring a bunch of musicians who freely hover on the borders of experimental jazz, rock, folk, and none-of-the-above appears, none of us really should be batting an eyelash. At least, not at the broad range of music on the bill. We might want to bat several eyelashes, however, toward the promising quality of the lineup. D.C.’s own none-of-the-above guitarist extraordinaire, Anthony Pirog, opens the evening in a duo with saxophonist/multi-instrumentalist Jarrett Gilgore; following them are the spacious, alternately shredding and whispering soundscape trio Memory Dregs; and closing the show is another wonderful duo of sonic spelunkers, guitarist-banjoist-vocalist Wendy Eisenberg and guitarist (and erstwhile Ahleuchatista) Shane Parish, who together perform (or at least record) as Nervous Systems. It ain’t gonna be an evening of easy listening; it ain’t gonna be an evening of easy anything, really. But it’s going to be fascinating. The show begins at 8 p.m. at Rhizome, 6950 Maple Street NW. $10.

Wednesday, August 14
The name of Sara Gazarek’s CD is Thirsty Ghost; the cover features a black-and-white photo of Gazarek—a young, casually dressed white woman—with computer-generated, pink-and-purple rays shooting out of her chest. Between title and cover, the album seems on the surface a lot closer to indie rock in its aesthetic. The music, well, somewhat bears that out. Gazarek is clearly closer to jazz than anything else, with her robust but supple voice and instantly jazzy articulation. Not for a moment, though, does she approach her songs as though they were conventional jazz tunes. Some of them are; standards like “Never Will I Marry” and “I Get Along Without You Very Well” appear on the album, although both of them get a terrifically contemporary treatment (the former more than the latter). But then there are renditions of Bjork, Dolly Parton, and Nick Drake that let you know that she’s quite willing and ready to break the mold. Beautifully so, too: There’s no one quite like Sara Gazarek. She performs at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Avenue NW. $25.

Friday, August 16
Do not mess with Jordon Dixon. The well of soul from which that man drinks is not just deep, it’s full, and it gives some serious nourishment to his tenor saxophone sound. That sound itself is also deep, and gruff to boot—not in a menacing sense, but the one of setting you down exactly where the visceral action is. Louisianan by birth, Dixon was schooled in jazz at the University of the District of Columbia—putting him in the hands of D.C.’s own maestro Allyn Johnson. How could he emerge anything but a beast? He certainly did so, and it’s apparent on his latest release On!, in which he plays the straightforward hard bop that is a signature of this town, but also tweaks it in subtle, subversive ways that make it unquestionably a product of his own imagination. It’s exactly what you need to get you grooving on a Friday night in the nation’s capital. Jordon Dixon performs at 9:30 p.m. at Jojo Restaurant and Bar, 1518 U Street NW. $10.

Saturday, August 17
When Kenny Rittenhouse isn’t performing his splendid trumpet with the U.S. Army Blues, of which he’s a longtime member, or in the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, of which he’s also a longtime member, he is often heading up the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Youth Orchestra, where he has settled in as a replacement for the late Fred Foss. He keeps busy, in other words. But Rittenhouse—whose bright trumpet sound carries with it gymnastic figures and blues anchoring, as well as a startling cleanness of tone—also makes sure to appear regularly at Twins Jazz, bringing in an ensemble of various sizes and personnel several weekends a year. Each one is, or should be, an event. Rittenhouse is easily one of the greatest trumpeters ever to make a home in the Washington D.C. area, a brass man extraordinaire. If you haven’t seen him perform, you’re doing it wrong. Kenny Rittenhouse performs at 9 and 11 p.m. at Twins Jazz, 1344 U Street NW. $15.

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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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