"NO HEAVY lifting" -- a lot of jazz musicians would like to see that clause in every contract, but it's not always part of the bargain. For instance, prior to their engagement this weekend at One Step Down, the members of the U Street Project will be hauling in a Hammond B3 organ and a boxy Leslie speaker.
But the Washington-based band -- a leaderless cooperative featuring trumpeter Wallace Roney, tenor saxophonist Gary Thomas, keyboardist Doug Carn and drummer Steve Williams -- won't be serving up the usual after-hours blues. According to Williams, the band is more interested in venturesome jazz, much of it inspired by trumpeter Woody Shaw and organist Larry Young.
"We're not the sort of organ group that's going to grind out an hour and a half of blues," says Williams, best known for his work with singer Shirley Horn. "We're going to play some standards and original tunes and try to do something that hasn't been done in a long time."
With Thomas on tenor, the band debuted as a trio this summer. Only after Roney joined up, however, were all the pieces finally in place.
Roney was a logical choice. He first met Shaw when the late trumpeter appeared at Blues Alley 15 years ago. The two hit it off after Roney, who was attending the Duke Ellington School of the Arts at the time, sat in and showed Shaw that he was familiar with his style and music.
"He became one of my favorites," says Roney, who dedicated his most recent album, "The Standard Bearer," to Shaw. "I wouldn't call him a friend, really, because I look upon people like that as my idols -- Miles and Freddie Hubbard, they've all been good to me. But we were close. He was always an inspiration."
A Blakey band alumnus and currently a member of drummer Tony Williams's quintet, Roney is excited about working with the Project, particularly since he used to enjoy the kind of fiery collaborations that Young, Williams and guitarist John McLaughlin would engage in.
The Project's lineup also allows Roney to work with Thomas, his frequent recording partner.
"What I like about Gary is that he's not interested in playing licks," Roney says. "He's interested in pushing the music forward and that's what interests me."
THE U STREET PROJECT -- Appearing Friday and Saturday at One Step Down. Call 202/331-8863.