3 Jazz Shows You Should See This Week: December 7-13

Your Jazz Setlist for the weekend and beyond includes a big-band take on the "Nutcracker."
Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra. Screenshot via YouTube.

Thursday, December 7

It will probably be on Donny McCaslin’s tombstone that his quartet was David Bowie’s backing band on Bowie’s final album, 2016’s Black Star. Let’s face it, there are a lot worse things to have on one’s tombstone. But Black Star was one small piece of McCaslin’s musical legacy, and perfectly in keeping with it as well. The tenor saxophonist has long sought a point of intersection between rock, jazz, and electronic music in the music of his quartet, which comprises himself, keyboardist Jason Lindner, bassist Tim Lefebvre, and drummer Mark Giuliana. You’d call it “jazz future” if it weren’t so alarmingly present. (And perhaps a soupcon of the past—sometimes the music can sound a little bit like the soundtrack to a 1980s sci-fi film.) And it’s splendid, fascinating, surprisingly groove-heavy stuff. The Donny McCaslin Quartet performs at 7 and 9 p.m. at MilkBoy Arthouse, 7416 Baltimore Avenue in College Park. $25.

Sunday, December 10

Yes, it’s time—the holiday concert season is upon us. That does indeed include the local jazz folk, who’ll be decking the halls with boughs of blue notes. And if you’re ever read this column before you already have a pretty good idea of where this is going. Yes, yes, the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra is doing their thing. It’s a two-set show that includes the seventeen-piece ensemble’s (led by trumpeter Joe Herrera and saxophonist Brad Linde) usual panoply of big band arrangements, classic and original. Then, for the second set, a full-length take on Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s epic reimagining of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. Their holiday concert is so popular that the BCJO is performing it this year in a few different venues, but if the backdrop is influencing your decision of where to see them, well, it’s hard to top the Mansion at Strathmore for pure elegance. They perform there at 3 and 7 PM at the Mansion at Strathmore, 10701 Rockville Pike in North Bethesda. $30.

Wednesday, December 13

When I round up the best of DC jazz at the end of each year, the pianist I choose is almost always Allyn Johnson, and if you’ve seen Johnson play you know that it’s for good reason. But once, and only once, he was displaced for the area’s best pianist. The displacer? Noble Jolley, half of the set of twins that includes drummer Nate as well. (Nate now lives and works in Los Angeles, working on the business and production side of the business.) Noble is the quieter and subtler of the two—that’s in person and in music. It’s that contradictory kind of subtlety that stands out: You can recognize it in one chord. The sensitivity is what’s so recognizable, though. He has a very special touch that works like watercolor, adding not so much color but color’s effect to the song he adds it to. That even manages to be true when he plays a solo. The Noble Jolley Trio performs at 7 PM at Sotto, 1610 Fourteenth Street, Northwest (downstairs). Free.

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Michael J. West is a jazz journalist and critic who lives in D.C. He began contributing to Washingtonian in 2017. He is also a contributor to the Washington Post, Washington City Paper, JazzTimes, and Downbeat. His work has appeared in Slate, the Village Voice, Bandcamp, and NPR.org.