DC Jazz Festival: June 1-13, 2011
Allrich possess a stage presence and vocal range rivaling many of today's jazz divas, but it is her natural ease, contagious sense of joy, and blending of traditional jazz, modern influences, and African heritages that distinguishes her from even many of today's more established performers. Audiences lucky enough to have sampled Twins found Allrich catalyzed by a new band into delivering an unrestrained projection of her musical personality. Particularly startling was her rendition of "Afro-Blue," in which her personal connection to African culture and musical expression shone as she bent her voice in wordless atavistic calls, guttural cries, and thrashing moans over the undulant beats of the djembe. In the best tradition of jazz's female vocalists, Allrich combines the unabashedly sensual with a deeply powerful strength, clear artistic purpose, and organic individuality.
At the same time that DC's established clubs and restaurants were attracting capacity crowds, the festival's newest addition, the DC Jazz Loft series, was busy opening the ears of a younger audience to jazz's vanguard musicians. The brainchild of Giovanni Russonello, the loft series launched earlier this year and was immediately integrated into the festival, providing yet another avenue for audiences to sample the breadth of today's jazz experience.
Inspired by the '70s loft movement which, birthed by necessity, found many of that generation's most innovative artists performing their free jazz and other musical experiments in improvised spaces throughout New York, Russonello's series takes a similar tack, appropriating everything from gallery spaces, to basement apartments, to empty warehouses in order to present modern jazz in a totally impromptu, casual atmosphere.
While it may be arguable whether the loft endeavor was a product of necessity or nostalgic indulgence, the results were compelling. Over the two week period, the loft series presented concerts by Thomas Fujiwara, Darius Jones, and the JD Allen Trio. As well, each night the series coupled these established New York innovators with a local act, providing fertile territory for the direct transfer of ideas so critical to jazz, while cultivating a growing sense of shared community. Most importantly, the music threatened to blow the roof off, capturing the imagination of audiences as they sat, stood, and lounged in unadorned, often sweltering rooms, passing six packs of bring-your-own beer as they absorbed the volatile outpouring of notes and blistering rhythms of the bands.
JD Allen Trio
During a pause in the final night of the seriesheadlined by the JD Allen Trio whose explosive integration of melodic, spiritual explorations and raw power provided another standout moment of the entire festivalone young audience member illustrated the impact of the DC Loft series.
"I've listened to a lot of blues before, older rock that is influenced by the blues, but this is a new world. It's a new experience that I'm glad to embrace. It's awesome."
While the musical fare at the clubs and lofts provided the most experimental moments, the festival's larger acts also delivered memorable results. Two performances in particularBobby McFerrin's spiritually ennobling concert at the Warner Theater and the Kennedy Center-sponsored A Night in Tremestood out as signature achievements not only of the year, but of the festival's history to date.
Uniting his unique vision and vocal prowess with Howard University's award-winning vocal jazz ensemble Afro Blue Reunion Choir, McFerrin went far beyond a mere translation of his recent ground-breaking album Vocabularies (EmArcy, 2010) to a stage performance. Grounded in the album's experimental integration of multiple vocal traditions, McFerrin converted DC's Warner Theater into a cathedral of sound, inviting the audience to participate in a revelatory exposition on the power of the human voice.