February's Best Jazz Concerts

By Mike Joyce
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 31, 2007 4:44 PM

The cancellation of the East Coast Jazz Festival this month is big disappointment to many folks -- jazz fans and musicians alike -- but there are plenty of promising club dates and concerts around town in coming weeks.

Feb. 4, Earl Klugh at the Rams Head Tavern. The smoothest of acoustic smooth jazz guitarists often plays much larger venues, so this cozy club date may hold some surprises in addition to the usual assortment of romantic themes.

Feb. 8, Atomic at Twins Jazz. If you associate contemporary European jazz with ambient soundscapes, this Scandinavian quintet hopes to open your ears with something more brash and bracing. All five musicians -- trumpeter Magnus Broo, saxophonist Fredrik Ljungkvist, pianist Havard Wiik, bassist Ingebrigt Haker and drummer Paal Nilssen -- are seasoned players with a reputation for shaking things up.

Feb. 9, Scott Hamilton/Harry Allen/Joe Cohn at the Natural History Museum's Smithsonain Jazz Café. Each of these musicians is a highly regarded recording artist in his own right. Hamilton and Allen, who play tenor saxes, and guitarist Cohn (son of the late sax great Al Cohn), are also frequent collaborators who swing with uncommon grace and authority.

Feb. 9, Dave Holland at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater. Whether leading a big band or a small group, bassist Holland always leaves ample space for his gifted bandmates to shine. Here he'll be collaborating with yet another stellar group, a sextet featuring pianist Mulgrew Miller, saxophonist Antonio Hart, trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, trombonist Robin Eubanks and drummer Eric Harland.

Feb. 8-11, Larry Coryell, Lenny White and Victor Bailey at Blues Alley. Jazz fusion redux? Not exactly -- Coryell and company aren't preoccupied with the past on their latest release "Traffic," and as anyone who's seen the trio in concert lately knows, there's nothing tediously retro about their performances, either.

Feb. 11, Rova Quartet at Twins Jazz. A rare treat, this performance by the renowned and prolific saxophone quartet is apt to cover a lot of ground even if it only alludes to the group's three decades of groundbreaking recordings. Don't be surprised to hear an imaginatively arranged tune by the late Steve Lacy or to find reedmen Larry Ochs, Jon Raskin, Bruce Ackley and Steve Adams expanding on original tunes from "Totally Spinning," the quartet's latest release.

Feb. 11, Ron Kearns and Friends at Sabang Restaurant. Saxophonist Kearns, who is now booking the jazz talent at Sabang, is particularly excited about this afternoon gig at the Wheaton restaurant. "We're doing a Pre-Valentine's Day Brunch that will feature a buffet and music by me, trombonist John Jensen, pianist Larry Brown, bassist Kent Miller, drummer Jerry Jones, drums and singer Kim Mills." The show runs from 1 to 4 p.m. The Kearns/Ron Elliston Sextet performs on the 17th, followed by trumpet virtuoso Vaughn Nark, who performs at the club on the 24th.

Feb. 16, Buck Hill at the Natural History Museum's Smithsonian Jazz Café. You bring the hats, Hill will bring the horns to this 80th birthday bash concert, featuring Washington's "Wailin' Mailman." As "Relax," his latest CD attests, he's still a pleasure to hear.

Feb. 16-17, David "Fathead" Newman at Twins Jazz. The veteran saxophonist and flutist, best known for his memorable tenure with Ray Charles, invariably spends some time onstage these days saluting his late friend with soulfully evocative performances.

Feb. 18, Dame Cleo Laine and Sir John Dankworth at the Kennedy Center's Concert Hall. Still pliable, powerful and octave-leaping, Laine's voice remains unmistakable after all these years. What's more, she continues to charm audiences with her playful spirit and wit. Laine and multi-instrumentalist Dankworth, her husband, arranger and comic foil, are expected to perform some newly commissioned music during this Shakespeare-inspired program.

Feb. 20, Oregon at Rams Head Tavern. Oregon has never received its due recognition for trailblazing a sound that elegantly bridges jazz, classical music and ethnic rhythms. "Live at Yoshi's," a recent album by the quartet, is a wonderful example of how fluidly these influences complement each other in a club setting. If you can't make it out to Annapolis, the band performs at Blues Alley on the 21st.

Feb. 24, Jason Moran and the Bandwagon at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater. With its commissioned pieces, "Artist In Residence," Moran's latest release, is a further evidence of his swift ascendancy and newfound status. But the pianist's trio music is nothing if not inclusive, embracing jazz, blues, hip-hop, gospel and beyond in ways that might even disarm a genre purist.

Feb. 26, Pete Zimmer Band at Blues Alley. Since the release of "Common Man" three years ago, drummer Zimmer's hard-swinging band has been garnering a lot of airplay and glowing reviews. "I try to write music that tells a story and has a strong melodic and harmonic structure," he recently told us. "I want the music to be fun, exciting, and interesting for the cats in the group to solo over and be able to freely express themselves, while at the same time, it is pleasing to the ear of the listener. Some of my tunes are tricky, some are rather simple. I would like to think that my music can be enjoyed by not only jazz aficionados but also the 'common person' who simply enjoys music." Besides the Brooklyn-based drummer, the band includes tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm, pianist Toru Dodo and bassist David Wong. Expect to hear more than a few appealing tunes from "Judgment," the group¿s latest release.

Next month: Marian McPartland, Nancy Wilson, Ahmad Jamal, Hank Jones -- it's an embarrassment of jazz riches courtesy of the Kennedy Center's "Living Jazz Legend Award" series of concerts and ceremonies.

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