The trio Air, coming to d.c. space next Saturday under the sponsorship of the nonprofit District Curators, originally came together when its saxophonist/flutist Henry Threadgill was commissioned to adapt the music of Scott Joplin for a musical play. Although pianoless, the group also has included in its program works by Duke Ellington and stride pianist James P. Johnson. Their 10th album, the blues-drenched "80 Below," includes pioneer jazz pianist Jelly Roll Morton's "Chicago Breakdown." An improvising group, all three members also contribute compositions, and the members of the rhythm section -- bassist Fred Hopkins and drummer Steve McCall -- often perform lead roles.

None of these seeming contradictions bothers Threadgill, the trio's principal writer, who dismisses "avant garde" as a proper description for their approach. "I don't have anything against it, understand," he said from their New York studio. "But I reject most of these labels because they create isolation and they categorically put you in some situation where some people don't listen simply because of a tag."

Air's visit to Washington will launch a limited U.S. tour. The group also kicks off a month-long celebration of d.c. space's fifth anniversary.