by Giovanni Russonello
With fall just two days away, jazz fans in D.C. have a lot to look forward to. Wednesday’s fall equinox means more than just the end of arduous treks to the Metro in 95-degree humidity: It ushers in a season of stellar avant-garde jazz concerts in the Washington area.
In case you haven’t copped one yet, the current edition of the Washington City Paper has a nice digest of experimental and free jazz shows coming to town in the next couple months. You can check that out, or just read on …
The main event will be the arrival of 81-year-old piano legend Cecil Taylor at the French Embassy in Georgetown. Since the 1950s, Taylor has brought his dizzying, disconcerting and inspiring approach to the piano — based on a fierce love for dissonance that blurs the line between harmony and melody. Taylor’s 1957 performances at the Five Spot Cafe in Manhattan are considered some of the founding moments of free jazz. Taylor will play a solo show at the French Embassy on Nov. 10. Tickets will run you $45 apiece, but it’s almost certainly worth it if you’re willing to pay. (Pick up your tickets here.)
There are much more reasonably priced free jazz options, too (how’s free sound?). The Library of Congress’ Anniversary Concert Series includes a performance by Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith on Nov. 20, tucked in amongst the series’ more traditional jazz offerings on other dates. A member of the experimental and Black Arts-inspired Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, Smith will perform with his Golden Quartet. The group includes pianist Vijay Iyer, a lavishly praised musician himself who just released a solo piano record; bassist John Lindberg; and drummer Pheeroan akLaff. The performance will take place at the Coolidge Auditorium in the Library of Congress’ Thomas Jefferson Building; free tickets are available starting Oct. 6.
Video of Wadada Leo Smith’s Golden Quartet performing:
Then just outside the city, Transparent Productions’ fall music series kicks off this Saturday with drummer and electronic musician Ravish Momin’s Trio Tarana. The Transparent Productions series offers a full helping of experimental improvisational music, and runs through the end of November. All the shows, which cost $15, take place at Joe’s Movement Emporium, a performing arts space in Mt. Ranier, Md. This year’s highlights will include Trio X on Oct. 2; solo pianist Dave Burrell, a former collaborator with Pharoah Sanders and Archie Shepp, on Oct. 15; and Matthew Shipp, also playing solo piano, on Oct. 24. For a full Transparent Productions schedule, click here.
All in all, this autumn promises a mind-expanding collection of music for a city whose jazz — like its politics — often eschews the radical. For listeners who value challenging aural textures and unmitigated experimentation as much as discernible melodies and harmonies, this is sure to be a promising season. Each jazz performance mentioned above and more will be listed with full details and description on the CapitalBop calendar.