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2013 DC Jazz Festival: Washington, DC, June 5-15, 2013

Franz A. Matzner By

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Next on the menu was a blistering performance by innovative guitarist Lionel Loueke at Bohemian Caverns. Completing a multi-day stint at the famous club, the trio visited music from Loueke's latest Blue Note release, Heritage (2013), but in an extraordinary display of technical prowess and improvisatory freedom, this material acted only as a launching pad for a more experimental vision. Over the course of the set, Loueke poured forth a veritable treatise on modern guitar modes, incorporating into his African-tinged jazz compositions everything from Seefeel-type ambient texture and funk grooves to Jimi Hendrix distortion and jazz deconstruction.

The ultra-slow tempo, whale-song calls, and gentle vocals of "Hope" evoked a far-off place of memories, while the groove-based "Tribal Dance" built to a crescendo of distorted squalls, and the grand finale, "Freedom Dance," put Loueke's guitar mastery front and center. On this last piece, Loueke let out all the stops, deploying seemingly every guitar technique available to craft an extended sonic journey centered at the crossroads of African traditions and modern jazz. Opening with a vocal line, Loueke used electronic triggers to create a multilayered hypnotic line that he eventually picked up and interwove with equally sophisticated guitar phrases, single-handedly establishing an undulating rhythmic and melodic foundation for the rest of the piece. From there, with the full complicity of his trio mates, Loueke fret tapped, picked, slapped, and strummed his way to peak after peak, driving the audience to its feet to dance and shout in true West African tradition, the music raining down as if happiness were cracked open to descend like confetti.

If Loueke's performance approached the edge of modern jazz, the night's next offering shattered the very concept of such an edge. Ensconced on a tiny stage at the far end of a narrow, tunnel-like art gallery, Gerald Cleaver's Black Host assaulted the consciousness—and eardrums—of the small, dedicated crowd gathered before it on rows of folding chairs. Not since John Zorn's partnership with Napalm Death drummer and dark wave innovator Mick Harris has there been such a challenge to the outer boundaries of jazz. In a single tune, Black Host vaulted from free-jazz explosions and anthem rock, '90s alternative and heavy metal, to straight ahead jazz and third stream and back again—mating these elements into a wholly realized cacophony of syncretism.

Presiding over this orgiastic sonic coupling sat Cleaver, perched on his drum stool like Pan, coolly pounding out hard rock grooves, thrash metal grinds, punk eruptions, pulsing swing and Tony Williams-esque rhythms. Diving in and out of this bedlam each of the other band members matched Cleaver stride for stride. Brandon Seabrook seemed to rip the notes from his guitar strings with violent downward strokes, his whole body contorting as he jumped from rock riff to torturous jazz figures to punk blasts. Cooper-Moore's fingers moved in a blur over his piano keys, injecting a constant stream of notes while Darius Jones cut across the whole with waves of frantic saxophone ejaculations. And throughout, Pascal Niggenkemper maintained thunderous bass lines with his heavily amplified upright, while periodically employing various objects to manipulate its strings like a slide guitarist—the result, a series of unprecedented throbbing, keening atmospherics. Maintaining the grueling pace of this wildly shifting landscape would have been impressive enough, but Black Host's true achievement only became evident over time: the frenzy was controlled, the apparent mayhem the product of precision and design. The interlocking structures, the constant deconstruction and reconstruction heralded not merely genre demolition but instead the birth of the new.

This sampling of just one of the festival's 12 days provides a window into the musical span on tap. Yet several other shows deserve particular mention and illustrate the overall diversity on display.

Marc Cary

Hosted by Bohemian Caverns, pianist Marc Cary returned to DC to celebrate the release of his solo piano album For the Love of Abbey (Motéma, 2013). Cary explained that the album's music is dedicated to his mentor, Abbey Lincoln, and part of an ongoing project to explore"the poetry, thoughts, and untapped musical vistas [of her work]."


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