I've rehearsed this group probably six times for these two nights," says trumpet and flugelhorn player Allen Houser of his sextet's engagement at the One Step Down on Friday and Saturday. "To get that many people together six times is not easy." Not at all easy when the tenor saxophonist, Chris Bacas, lives in York, Pa., the pianist, Bob Butta, in Baltimore and drummer Bob Jones in Frederick. The others, bassist Steve Burnstein, valve trombonist Bob Balthis and Houser are Washington-based.

Houser hastens to point out that the variables of jazz performance are myriad. "It depends on how you feel that night. And if a bass player plays a note you don't like, that can throw you off. The reverse can happen where you hear the piano player play a particular voicing and it'll inspire you to play on the spot an idea you had no intention of playing 30 seconds ago. After 30 years, one of the things I've learned is that you might have a team -- and it is a team -- that plays very well and wins the pennant. Then you watch the all-star game and it's very dull baseball. The same is true of music."