Todd Marcus Jazz Orchestra
Shows: Friday at Bohemian Caverns. Shows start at 8 and
10 p.m. 202-299-0800. www.bohemiancaverns.com.
$20 in advance, $25 at the door.
Not long ago, Baltimore-based bass clarinetist Todd Marcus began writing a piece of music inspired by the tumultuous post-Arab Spring protests in Cairo. It slowly evolved into a larger work, a richly textured, emotionally charged, four-part orchestral suite dubbed “Blues for Tahrir.” Now the title and focus of a new CD, “Blues for Tahrir” will be performed Friday at Bohemian Caverns by Marcus’s 10-piece Jazz Orchestra, featuring some of the area’s finest musicians.
The 39-year-old bandleader has strong ties to Egypt; his father was born there, and he still has relatives living in the country. But as a prominent community activist who lives in West Baltimore’s blighted Sandtown neighborhood, and as someone who has spent much of his life addressing poverty-related issues, Marcus knows first-hand the kind of social despair that can tear a city apart. Perhaps he’ll write a blues suite for Baltimore, he says, one that will evoke both the outrage and optimism he’s felt in the past few weeks. If it turns out to be anything like “Blues for Tahrir,” listeners won’t have any trouble recognizing Marcus’s compelling gifts for composing and arranging.
A bass clarinetist/bandleader is a rare bird in jazz — or anywhere else, for that matter. Yet what ultimately distinguishes a Jazz Orchestra performance is its harmonic richness. While Marcus draws inspiration from his bass clarinet heroes, his interests in classical music and Middle Eastern motifs, plus his admiration for pianist McCoy Tyner and other trailblazers in modern jazz harmony, help account for the Jazz Orchestra’s soulful resonance, beauty and power.