4 Jazz Shows to See This Week: December 22-27

Your Jazz Setlist for Christmas fun includes Kris Funn!
Kris Funn. Photograph by Alec Perkins, via Wikimedia Commons.

Programming note: On Christmas Day, the Kennedy Center hosts a jam session with some longtime local greats, hosted by vibraphonist Chuck Redd, as it has every Christmas since 1999. I didn’t include it below, however, because you very likely have other plans. So it only seems fair to give you a full slate of other recommendations, as follows.

Friday, December 22

The “round robin” open improvisation is, all on its own, a cool concept. One musician starts improvising, solo, on stage. After so-many minutes, a second musician comes up to join. They improvise together for a few minutes, then the first musician sits down and the second musician continues, without stopping, from where they left off together. Repeat as necessary. This music lover’s mouth is already watering. But the restless artists, such as DC’s Luke Stewart undeniably is, don’t just take it as is; they want to shake things up a little. Therefore, bassist Stewart—currently resident at Rhizome in Takoma DC—has devised what he calls “a series of improv games and situations” that he will undertake with some invited creative friends (and anyone who shows up with an instrument and the ability to jam on it). The caveats, however, are that he’s not telling who the invitees are, or what games they might play. You’ll have to show up to find out. The round robin begins at 8 PM at Rhizome, 6950 Maple Street, Northwest. $10 suggested donation.

Saturday, December 23

CornerStore, the eponymous debut album from the band led by bassist Kris Funn, is the best recording to come out of DC jazz this year, and high on the list for best to come out of jazz, period. Its opening track is both a verbal overture and a manifesto. “The Corner Store: at the corner of bebop and hip-hop, hard rock and hard knocks; where the blues is the visceral response to everything, and a boombox is the soundtrack to a city block,” Paige Hernandez (aka Mrs. Funn) says. It is, indeed, all of those things. At its heart, however, CornerStore runs on the chemistry between Funn and guitarist John Lee, which burns like diesel. The two string players lock into each other’s frequency, which mostly comprises groove and attitude, and turn the result into an exclamation-point-riddled dialogue. Kriss Funn and CornerStore perform at 7 PM at Marvin, 2007 14th Street, Northwest. Free.

Sunday, December 24

Guitarist Rodney Richardson and trumpeter Joe Herrera are longtime friends and collaborators, working together in the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra and for a while even co-leading a quintet. The former moved to Chicago several years ago, which is why you haven’t seen a whole lot of him out on the scene. But he’s from DC, and every year when he comes back for Christmas, it’s a tradition for him and Herrera to hold court together at Blues Alley. Those two are the constants in this annual gig, which is enough in itself: We don’t think about them very much as a pair, but actually the trumpet and the guitar sound pretty great together. But they sound even better with a killer rhythm section like bassist Eric Wheeler and drummer Quincy Phillips, two of the crushing-est beat keepers known to man, in Washington or anywhere else. Add in Danielle Wertz, the beautifully voiced young up-and-comer, and you’ve got a sublime way to spend Christmas Eve before Santa comes to your house. Joe Herrera and Rodney Richardson perform at 7 PM at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Avenue, Northwest. $20.

Wednesday, December 27

To find one’s own way to swing is the ideal accomplishment of any jazz artist of any stripe—and it’s one of the hardest things in the world to do. All the more credit belongs to Hope Udobi, then, for accomplishing it. It’s not to say he’s reinvented the wheel, mind you. Much as a writer does, Udobi takes the jazz musicians’ common language and finds a way to make it uniquely his own. It’s just that in his case, the unique approach he develops has more than usual to do with navigating rhythmic terrain. He makes what should be stately chords and makes them dance in spite of themselves. (Honestly: Sometimes it seems that the chords are actively resisting Udobi’s momentum.) He does some resisting of his own, playing lines that fall behind the beat and pull on the reins. And he plays tried-and-true bebop and blues licks, but puts them in untried, and thus possibly untrue places. Udobi regularly works with drummer Terence Arnett, and on his last stop at this venue had Eliott Seppa on bass. Chances are good that they’ll support him again, but Udobi sounds great no matter who has his back. His trio performs at 6 PM at Alice’s Jazz and Cultural Society, 2813 12th Street, Northeast. $10.

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Michael J. West is a jazz journalist and critic who lives in DC. 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.