Not all festivals improve with age, but the Ballard Jazz Festival is an exception. After starting small and growing slowly, the Ballard Jazz Festival has become a distinct and essential event.
Along with the obligatory headlining concerts—the Hadley Caliman Quartet and Lee Konitz—the festival includes the popular Brotherhood of the Drum shows, and the intimate, down-home Ballard Jazz Walk.
The Ballard Jazz Walk (Fri April 25, 8:30 pm) disperses over a dozen groups across a dozen venues within a five-block radius. The small clubs enable you to see and hear the musicians up close. A few highlights: Gail Pettis sings standards and slyly chosen R&B favorites at Bad Albert's; the hard-blowing avant Ziggurat Quartet plays a late-night set at Egan's Ballard Jam House; and saxophonist and Seattle Women's Jazz Orchestra stalwart Cynthia Mullis duets with guitarist Chris Spencer at Portalis. If you're unable to catch the Sam Yahel Trio opening for Lee Konitz (Sat April 26), you can check out Yahel, a phenomenal NYC-based organist, on a double bill with Matt Jorgensen +451 at the Sunset Tavern.
Brotherhood of the Drum (Wed April 23 and Thurs April 24, 8 pm) showcases a singular species in music, the drummer-led band: Michael Shrieve, Byron Vannoy, D'Vonne Lewis, and Ben Smith, as well as festival honchos Matt Jorgensen and John Bishop present their various ensembles.
The festival also continues the Seattle tradition of the jazz brunch with a quartet of saxophonist Brent Jensen, Bill Anschell on piano, bassist Doug Miller, and drummer (as well as mastermind of the ongoing Jazz and Sushi series) Greg Williamson (Sun April 27, 11 am).
Two stellar saxophonists headline the festival, the Hadley Caliman Quartet (Fri April 25) and Lee Konitz (Sat April 26). Once nicknamed "little Dex," Caliman remains robust and lyrical at the age of 77. Last November at the Ballard Jazz Walk, Caliman smoldered his way through Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage." With his new disc, Gratitude (Origin), Caliman has put himself back on the map.
The indisputable coup of the festival is an appearance by Lee Konitz. The legendary saxophonist has been a school unto himself since his association in the 1940s with another jazz maverick, Lennie Tristano. Konitz was a crucial presence on several legendary recordings, including the Miles Davis/Gerry Mulligan "Birth of the Cool" sessions and the first preserved documents of freely improvised music, Tristano's "Intuition" and "Digression."
A recent live show making the rounds on the 'net shows Konitz in fine form. Duetting with pianist Jason Moran on "A Foggy Day," the saxophonist keeps cool, adding a note here and there to the song's opening line. Yet before Moran starts drilling block chords into the piano, you hear what makes Konitz special: the gentle almost fuzzy breath that follows a note along with a dry, at times plaintive, assured attack that enables him to snake between familiar melodies and make them new.
The Ballard Jazz Festival runs Wed April 23 through Sun April 27 at various venues, ballardjazzfestival.com, 219-3649, 7:30 pm unless indicated otherwise, $10–$30.
JACOB FRED JAZZ ODYSSEY
This jazz-rock group veers from spacey atmospheres leavened with dubbed-out echoes to mutated beats borrowed from hiphop and drum 'n' bass. JFJO's penchant for unpredictable tunes continues on their latest disc, the winning Lil' Tae Rides Again (Hyena). High Dive, 513 N 36th St, 632-0212, 9 pm, $12.
If you own only one John Cage CD, it might be Drury's 1995 disc In a Landscape, released on the enterprising and regrettably short-lived BMG Catalyst label. Here, the pianist mounts one of the summits of late-20th-century piano music, Frederic Rzewski's The People United Will Never Be Defeated! Elegantly integrating improvisation, extended techniques (at one point the pianist whistles), and open-eared approaches to tonality, The People United foreshadowed the cross-genre tendencies of the latest generation of composers. Fourth-floor Chapel Performance Space, Good Shepherd Center, 4649 Sunnyside Ave N, 8 pm, $5—$15 sliding-scale donation.
STARS OF THE LID
I like this duo's sound world of slow, chill-out tempos. Foggy piano notes toll in the distance while waves of string synths and other slowed-down, glacial textures crest and fall. With additional sets from Christopher Willits and Lusine. The Triple Door, 216 Union St, 838-4333, 8 pm, $15 adv/$18 DOS.
JIM KNODLE TRIO
Trumpeter Knodle, bassist PK, and drummer Don Berman play compositions by Billy Strayhorn, Monk, and Ornette Coleman. Gallery 1412, 1412 18th Ave, 322-1533, 8 pm, free, but donations accepted.
SEATTLE CHORAL COMPANY
The composer Gabriel Fauré (1845—1924) once suggested that death might be a "happy deliverance, a reaching for eternal happiness, rather than a mournful passing," which explains why his Requiem lacks doom and gloom. Along with the Requiem, conductor Fred Coleman and the SCC perform Duruflé's Messe "cum Jubilo" and the "Five Hebrew Love Songs" by Eric Whitacre, one of the few choral composers who is popular and not dead. Benaroya Hall, 200 University St, 363-1100, 2 pm, $15—$40.
To celebrate their 15th anniversary, this a cappella ensemble sings 15 choral works including Bern Herbolsheimer's "Love Letters," John Muehleisen's "Perplexed Music," the Meditations of Li Po by Stephen Paulus, Jaakko Mäntyjärvi's Psalm 150, and more. Also Sun April 20 at Holy Rosary Church in West Seattle at 3 pm. St. Joseph Church, 732 18th Ave E, 935-7779, 8 pm, $15—$20.
UNUSED LEXICAL VARIABLE
With two acoustic guitars and double bass, this unusually configured trio erupts with frenetic strumming, slashing chords, and, best of all, tiny constellations of quiet plucked sounds. Gallery 1412, 1412 18th Ave, 322-1533, 8 pm, free, but donations accepted.
JACK GOLD-MOLINA GROUP
Fiery free-jazz combat and mutual combustion from drummer Gold-Molina, composer/guitarist Chris Pugh, Sunship saxophonist Michael Monhart, and PK. Egan's Ballard Jam House, 1707 NW Market St, 789-1621, 11 pm—12:30 am, $6.
The superb UW faculty pianist Craig Sheppard presents Book II of J. S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. Meany Hall, UW Campus, 543-4880, 7:30 pm, $10/$15.