Words can’t describe the sound of the trio known as Harriet Tubman. But just calling it “freedom music” gets close: This band stands for freedom from categorization; freedom from dogma and limitations; freedom from the blindness of white supremacy, artistic commodification and every other structure that our country tries to force Black music to fit into.
A lot like its namesake, Harriet Tubman’s music tells the status quo to go to hell, thanks very much, we’re forging ahead to liberation. What that ultimately sounds like is a blend of sensitivity and pure power. And since 1998, the trio of drummer JT Lewis, bassist Melvin Gibbs and guitarist Brandon Ross has been one of the most critically acclaimed groups in music.
By the way, freedom music is a D.C. thing, too. It’s an energy that can be felt in our city’s jazz, punk, go-go, hip-hop and more. Bad Brains, Andrew White, Fugazi, Chuck Brown: They were all freedom fighters.
Thinking about that common thread, CapitalBop has been laying plans since before the pandemic to bring Harriet Tubman to D.C., for a co-bill with like-minded local artists. And we could not be more excited to announce that it’s finally happening: On Friday, June 17, Harriet Tubman will appear at the iconic St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church, alongside the Messthetics and ¡FIASCO!, in a three-part jazz-punk summit for the ages.
Doors open at 7 p.m. and music begins at 7:30. Admission is by donation only; we strongly suggest $15. (Give more if you can, and less if you need to.) At CapitalBop, we’ve been infusing jazz with a healthy dose of punk energy from the very earliest days, when we started presenting loft shows in Chinatown at the DIY hotspot Red Door. But St. Stephen Church, on 16th Street, represents an especially historic meeting place for the city’s punk scene. We’re thrilled to finally be presenting a show there.
Harriet Tubman is a trio of titans in the world of improvised Black music. Ross and Lewis created the concept for the band while working together in the great Henry Threadgill’s band, and quickly connected with Gibbs, who was at the time playing with the Rollins Band, a legendary post-punk unit led by D.C. native Henry Rollins.
The Messthetics are the product of collisions between the worlds of jazz and D.C. punk, too. The group includes two veterans of the immortal post-punk band Fugazi — bassist Joe Lally and drummer Brendan Canty — plus improvising guitar powerhouse (and longtime CapitalBop collaborator) Anthony Pirog.
¡FIASCO! are the youngest faces on the bill, but their members are no newcomers to the D.C. scene. Guitarist Nelson Dougherty and saxophonist Andrew Frankhouse co-lead the band, anchored by bassist Steve Arnold and drummer Keith Butler. Their brand of “not-jazz” is unlike anything else D.C. has to offer, and simply has to be heard to be understood. (Both their freshman and sophomore releases, Arson and Post-Truth, topped CapitalBop’s best-albums lists in 2020 and 2021.)
We’re proud to be co-presenting this show with Positive Force DC, an all-volunteer organization created to direct the anti-establishment energy of the punk scene toward supporting community organizations. Positive Force became known in the ’90s for presenting benefit shows at St Stephen and other churches around the city, and we’re thrilled to be collaborating with them.