At Blues Alley
It's a good thing that 76-year-old vibraphonist Teddy Charles has an excellent memory, because it's unlikely anyone else at Blues Alley on Wednesday night could recall the last time he had performed in Washington. Turns out it was an engagement at the long-defunct Olivia's Patio Lounge in 1956, with Charles Mingus.
The vibist now divides his time between Long Island and Key West -- he runs a charter boat service in addition to picking up jazz gigs here and there. He still plays well, though not nearly as much as he'd like, and is still remembered in older jazz circles for a series of innovative recordings he made in the '50s.
Wednesday's performance was an informal quartet session devoted to swing tunes ("After You've Gone"), bop anthems ("Confirmation") and classic jazz ballads ("Body and Soul"). The up-tempo tunes unfolded in the usual fashion, with each theme bracketing a series of improvisations and exchanges, but the parts often made the whole seem less routine.
Charles used two mallets to create bright melodic variations and sustain an engaging swing pulse. His improvisations were occasionally colored by tart harmonies and darting flourishes, but more often his lines flowed smoothly and directly from the melodies. Pianist Hod O'Brien, who's played extensively with the vibist, subtly accented Charles's solos before contributing his own colorful yet uncluttered improvisations. Rounding out the band were bassist James King, who was chiefly responsible for a hauntingly soulful version of "Body and Soul," and drummer Nasar Abadey, who balanced feathery brushwork with full-kit force.
-- Mike Joyce
At Grace Church
Georgetown's C&O Canal runs near Grace Church, set quietly back from Wisconsin Avenue a hairbreadth from the Potomac. The church offers one of Washington's supreme concert series, its annual Bach Festival. Organist Julie Vidrick Evans sat down Wednesday at the church's A. David Moore organ, daring to take on all six of Bach's trio sonatas -- a set of monumental treasures that Bach composed as "pedagogical" studies for his oldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach.
These trios ask performers to scale astounding heights. In sheer technique, Evans artfully juggled three separate keyboards (each with its own group of organ pipes) -- one for each hand and one for the feet, melodic lines going every which way. To give meaningful tonal and emotional character to each movement, Evans kept busy drawing myriad combinations of stops for each movement with the split-second timing of a three-ring circus. She imaginatively summoned such stops as the "chimney" and "spindle" flutes, which wheezed and puffed their way along jagged melodic courses sprinting off into zany, seemingly willy-nilly rhythms. The fetching melancholy of the reedy "cromhorne" had its say, too. She gave a sense of magnitude and individual subjectivity to all six sonatas, her articulation distinguishing not only Bach's constantly crisscrossing melodic motifs -- some more central than others -- but also his interweaving metrical currents underlying complex rhythmic patterns.
-- Cecelia Porter