by Luke Stewart
As the H Street Corridor in Northeast Washington continues to develop, so do the cultural offerings.
Tonight the Atlas Performing Arts Center opens an exciting spring season of Jazz at the Atlas with the New York based Chris Byars Octet. The band will perform his eight-piece arrangements of pianist Freddie Redd’s compositions. Redd will fill the piano chair, performing Chris’ octet arrangements for the first time. This strong opening is portentous of the exciting and unique performances the Atlas will present in 2012.
In large part, this leg of the Jazz at the Atlas series is a continuation of Brad Linde’s original curatorial vision, which he already fleshed out this fall (albeit to sometimes sparse crowds). It involves “having nationally recognized artists and legends come to D.C. to collaborate in new ways with D.C. musicians – making a commitment to those local talents who are doing interesting things,” he said. With this series the D.C. jazz community of musicians certainly shines, even among the formidable list of out-of-town performers.
Aside from the Chris Byars Octet with semi-local Freddie Redd, other collaborations between local and nonnative talents provide some of the highlights of the series. A special performance of Andrew Cyrille’s 21st Century Big Band Unlimited, in addition to being a fascinating project in its own right, features some D.C. musicians. The performance dubbed “Out of the Cool: Gil Evans at 100” will include mostly local jazz musicians. In presenting these large bands, it was indeed Linde’s aim to pull from a pool of first-call D.C. instrumentalists to help foster “a local residency with these great artists.”Others include an interesting jazz piano trio spin on Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, the classic art-rock album from the Flaming Lips, arranged and performed by Dan Roberts. Also, the exciting Washington Women in Jazz Festival, presented by pianist and H Street area native Amy Bormet, opens at the Atlas in March with a show featuring some of the finest instrumentalists from the previous year’s fest.
“I was so excited when the Atlas opened on H Street, since the blighted corridor near my family home was in desperate need of new life,” Bormet said via email. “Almost 10 years later, I am thrilled to present the opening night of the Second Annual Washington Women in Jazz Festival this March 21st at the Atlas.” The festival will feature rising jazz drummer and D.C. native Allison Miller, along with a sextet of D.C.’s finest female instrumentalists.
If the Atlas series consisted of only locals and their collaborations (a Linde specialty), it would be a great one. But it’s complete with plenty of shows from nationally renowned and rising jazz groups. Major acts will include saxophonist Steve Lehman’s trio, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire’s quintet and Darcy James Argue’s Grammy-nominated “steam punk” big band, Secret Society, back in the D.C. area again after a celebrated performance last year at the DIY space Subterranean A.
For many jazz musicians, D.C. is not a regular destination. But given the opportunity to cultivate a new audience and play in a beautiful venue, the non-local musicians are excited to perform at the Atlas. As bassist Ben Allison remarks via email, “I’m really looking forward to playing at the Atlas. It’s been a very long time since I played in D.C. The last time was at the One Step Down with Gary Bartz, Larry Willis and Billy Hart. Man, that was a fun gig. I was probably 20 years old and hanging on for dear life. It’s especially exciting to hear about a new venue for this music we love. The key is to connect with your community and develop your audience. Brad Linde has been bringing a youthful energy to the D.C. scene and it’s paying off.”
Even with the attendance at some of last season’s performances lacking, this season the Atlas promises to continue presenting some of the finest jazz music in the entire Mid-Atlantic region. As Executive Director Sam Sweet recognizes, “The Atlas has the opportunity to present great music in the heritage of jazz. This season has a little more breadth, and is stronger due to the variety. It’s a great collection of young talent as well as legends. We’re figuring out how to reach out to the jazz audience and the budding jazz audience. The audience has to build over time. The quality of the artists will hopefully attract more people.”
Tonight, the first show in Jazz at the Atlas’s spring season features the Chris Byars Octet featuring Freddie Redd. More information is available here. Tickets range from $15 to $25 and can be purchased here.