Looking back on three enchanted nights at the warehouse: Thundercat, AACM at 50 and a Trio of Trios

Photography by Katherine Thompson/CapitalBop.

For the fifth annual DC Jazz Loft Series at the DC Jazz Festival earlier this month, we decided to go all in. The result was three of the most radical nights of music and art that the District’s jazz scene has seen in a long time.

From Thursday, June 11 to Saturday, June 13, we took up residence in an empty warehouse on New York Avenue NE, in the hinterlands of Ivy City. We built a club-sized theater out of pipes and drapes, and asked our friends Timoteo Murphy and Tariq Tucker, two breathtaking visual artists, to make the theater into a gallery too. All three concerts had to do with jazz, but each drew dramatically different audiences, and left listeners elevated in a different way. Overall we reached about 1,000 fans—even more than usual, our audience was a real cross-section of the city, with no average audience member.

Night one—which NPR Music taped for a national “Jazz Night in America” broadcast this coming fall—featured three of Baltimore’s best straight-ahead musicians: Bassist Kris Funn led his kinetic, slashing band Corner Store. Vibraphone star Warren Wolf played an impressive set of Thelonious Monk’s compositions, showing off his smoldering tone in a stripped-down trio. Then as midnight approached, the under-celebrated saxophone master Gary Thomas lit into a set that held the crowd rapt—his tone was direct and clean, like a fiber that’s fine and durable.

Warren Wolf

Warren Wolf

On night two, we pulled out the chairs and turned the joint into a dance hall, just in time for the arrival of Thundercat. Over the past few years, the bassist, singer, composer and producer has changed the sound of jazz, electronic music and hip-hop, through his collaborations with Flying Lotus, Erykah Badu, Kamasi Washington and Kendrick Lamar, plus his own solo work. After a startlingly good opening set by Sam Prather’s Groove Orchestra, Thundercat took the stage, and showed that all he needs to make magic is a couple compatriots and an oversized, six-string electric bass. But a packed house of adherents and a perfect sound system help. The synergy between Thundercat and drummer Justin Brown was sparks-inducing, and within just a couple songs, the room was ablaze. The Washington Post noted that “an impressive number of people” came out for Thundercat’s “blissfully weird” performance. And check out what DCist thought of the show:

“[Thundercat’s] trio went all in, hopscotching between the energy and technique of early fusion, the purest soul of R&B, and P-Funk-esque grooves…. The space CapitalBop chose played as large a role as the music in terms of the overall experience. Using simple artwork and lighting, a drab warehouse was transformed into a room that could give 9:30 Club a run for its money, and it was perfect for Thundercat’s performance. Not only was this concert the most memorable of this year’s festival, it is one of the best of any DC Jazz Festival, perhaps second only to Bobby McFerrin’s show at the Warner Theater in 2011.”  —Sriram Gopal, DCist

Thundercat

Thundercat

Then on Saturday, we paid tribute to the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, the AACM, a musician-led organization that has been performing, teaching classes and otherwise serving as a centripetal force for its community in Chicago since its founding 50 years ago. In the afternoon, at Union Arts, we hosted a master class and then a panel discussion featuring the star AACM musicians who would perform that night. In the evening, a packed house of stalwart experimental jazzheads and curious newcomers listened to three moving sets. Multi-instrumentalist and saxophonist Jamal Moore performed rumbling and fluid music with his Organix Trio, earning a standing ovation at the set’s end. Flautist Nicole Mitchell, cellist Tomeka Reid and drummer Mike Reed passed an hour in sometimes swinging, sometimes fracturing interplay. They found a profound balance between spiked and graceful. And finally, Ernest Khabeer Dawkins performed “Memory in the Center: An Afro-Jazz Opera,” a tribute to Nelson Mandela, with his 15-piece Live the Spirit Big Band. Dawkins is a former chairman of the AACM, and he now spends half his time at his second home in Durban, South Africa. The piece, which lasted nearly two hours, married the AACM’s mercurial experimental style with South Africa’s vocal-driven dance music tradition. It was a fitting homegoing ceremony for a series that had wandered all over the map, and made a new place feel like home for a huge range of people.

Ernest Dawkins' Live the Spirit Big Band

Ernest Dawkins’ Live the Spirit Big Band

Huge thanks go out to the many individual donors who helped us make this series a reality, and the businesses that sponsored this attempt at bringing jazz to the masses. cb logo

Kris Funn & Corner Store

Kris Funn & Corner Store

Kris Funn & Corner Store

Kris Funn & Corner Store

The bar on the series' first night.

The bar on the series’ first night.

Warren Wolf

Warren Wolf

Gary Thomas

Gary Thomas

The warehouse doubled as both a theater and a gallery.

The warehouse doubled as both a theater and a gallery.

Artist Timoteo Murphy tempted gravity as he mounts one of his many canvases at the warehouse.

Artist Timoteo Murphy tempted gravity as he mounts one of his many canvases at the warehouse.

Thundercat

Thundercat

Thundercat

Thundercat

Thundercat

Thundercat

Justin Brown, drummer with Thundercat

Justin Brown, drummer with Thundercat

Thundercat

Thundercat

Thundercat

Thundercat

Thundercat

Thundercat

Thundercat

Thundercat

Thundercat

Thundercat

Justin Brown

Justin Brown

Sam Prather's Groove Orchestra

Sam Prather’s Groove Orchestra

The crowd at the Groove Orchestra's performance on Friday night.

The crowd at the Groove Orchestra’s performance on Friday night.

Sam Prather's Groove Orchestra

Sam Prather’s Groove Orchestra

A listener gives the orchestra her ears.

A listener gives the orchestra her ears.

Sam Prather's Groove Orchestra

Sam Prather’s Groove Orchestra

The crowd at Saturday's AACM at 50 concert

Master of ceremonies Bobby Hill addresses the audience at Saturday’s AACM at 50 concert

Marquis Hill in Ernest Dawkins' Live the Spirit Big Band

Marquis Hill in Ernest Dawkins’ Live the Spirit Big Band

Ernest Dawkins' Live the Spirit Big Band

Ernest Dawkins’ Live the Spirit Big Band

Ernest Dawkins' Nelson Mandela-patterned attire

Ernest Dawkins’ Nelson Mandela-patterned attire

Ernest Dawkins' Live the Spirit Big Band

Ernest Dawkins’ Live the Spirit Big Band

Ernest Dawkins' Live the Spirit Big Band

Ernest Dawkins’ Live the Spirit Big Band

Mike Reed

Mike Reed

Nicole Mitchell and Tomeka Reid

Nicole Mitchell and Tomeka Reid

Nicole Mitchell and Tomeka Reid

Nicole Mitchell and Tomeka Reid

The crowd applauds Nicole Mitchell, Tomeka Reid and Mike Reed

The crowd applauds Nicole Mitchell, Tomeka Reid and Mike Reed

Warren "Trae" Crudup III of the Organix Trio

Warren “Trae” Crudup III of the Organix Trio

Organix Trio

Organix Trio

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Giovanni Russonello

About Giovanni Russonello

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Giovanni is the founder of CapitalBop, and a music critic for the New York Times. He previously served as a contributor to the Washington Post, the FADER, JazzTimes, NPR Music and others, and hosted “On the Margin,” a books show on WPFW-FM. As head of CapitalBop, he has covered the D.C. jazz scene since 2010. (He is no longer directly involved in the presenting of CapitalBop's concerts.) He graduated from Tufts University with a bachelor’s degree in history, with a focus on African-American history. Reach Giovanni at editor@capitalbop.com. Read him at giovannirussonello.com or nytimes.com/by/giovanni-russonello. Follow him on Twitter at @giorussonello.

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