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The DC Jazz Festival is on Full Blast

by Michael J. West

The DC Jazz Festival is on full blast this week, including the weekend—which is not listed below. That’s because there’s really only one place you have to be: on The Wharf, where free music will be happening all weekend, all day Saturday and Sunday. The rest of the week you can be more selective, as follows.

Monday, June 10
Tenor saxophonist Jordon Dixon has a deep old-school sound—a reservoir of swing and swagger of a kind that by and large doesn’t exist anymore. It draws from a time when jazz musicians were either dabbling in or wholly transitioning into R&B and soul, your Stanley Turrentines and your David “Fathead” Newmans (both at one time regulars in D.C. jazz venues). His new CD On! exploits that very sound, giving his music a tried-and-true crowd-pleasing spin—but, on the sly, also throws in some smart, subversive concepts that drop a wink at those of us trolling for individuality. He also does something even smarter: He surrounds himself with the best players possible. Pianist Allyn Johnson, bassist Herman Burney, drummer C.V. Dashiell, and guest trumpeter J.S. Williams are all on hand for the recording. They’ll also all be on hand for the CD release show that the festival puts on offer. It begins at 7:00 p.m. at the UDC Recital Hall (Performing Arts Building, 46 West), 4200 Connecticut Avenue NW. Free.

Wednesday, June 12
SPAGA has a funny name. But fans of the electro jam-rock band The Disco Biscuits might know it as a song title, and they might also know it as the acoustic piano-trio side project of Disco Biscuit mastermind Aron Magner. When I say acoustic piano trio, I do mean the conventional jazz trio instrumentation of piano, bass, and drums. It will be no surprise, though, to hear that the acoustic jazz context offered by that trio also offers a little bit of the Disco Biscuits element. It just has some glitchy grooves and some light electronic coloring that serves it quite well. Still, any fan of straightahead piano-trio jazz will be more than satisfied with what Magner does therein: He knows the language and works it for all it’s worth, and molds it into his own form as well, just like any jazz pianist would. SPAGA performs at 8 p.m. at City Winery, 1350 Okie Street NE. $25.

Thursday, June 13
How to put a finger on what William Hooker does? You can’t, really. Seemingly every time he steps onto the bandstand, whether behind the drum kit, or into another percussion context, or to the microphone, or whatever else might come into his head, Hooker has something different in mind. Ever experimental, the drummer bandies about rhythmic, textural, color, and even dramatic possibilities on his axe. His work is generally free, though again it varies so widely it’s hard even to put that qualification onto it. Hooker’s current trio is another example of his expansiveness. To wit: it features (along with bassist Jair Parker Wells) Ben Goldberg on trombone. This writer has been listening to Ben Goldberg for years on clarinet and saxophones and other woodwinds; I never knew he played trombone. That’s the kind of unpredictable odyssey you get with Hooker. Still, he’s a legendary figure for very good reason—no matter what he does, it’s deep, unusual, and absolutely fascinating. The William Hooker Trio performs at 8 p.m. at Rhizome, 6950 Maple Street NW. $15.

Friday, June 14
There’s a strong argument to be made that Snarky Puppy has taken up the entire evolution of jazz fusion, from the late ‘60s and into the present, and filtered out most of its more unfortunate developments. (Read: smooth jazz.) They stock it to the brim with funk, groove, rock attitude and texture, and jazz experimentation and improvisation. Sure, it’s a little unruly, but what do you expect from a 19-piece collective? At least, that’s the number of musicians who appear on their 2019 album Immigrance. (It could have been a full 20, too: This is Snarky Puppy’s first album in almost a decade without pianist/organist Cory Henry, who has built a substantial career of his own in the gospel-jazz realm.) Snarky Puppy is a longtime staple of the DC Jazz Festival, but this is their first appearance in the new, cavernous environs of the Anthem, at The Wharf. Their enormous sound should prove a complement to the enormous venue. Snarky Puppy performs at 8:00 p.m. (with opener Jose James) at The Anthem, 901 Wharf Street SW.

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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