Every year I'm surprised by the abundance of jazz concerts in early April. This time, Earshot Jazz brackets this busy weekend with its ongoing spring series: Reedman Ken Vandermark joins the Ab Baars Trio (Fri April 3, Seattle Asian Art Museum, 8 pm, $13/$15) followed by Steve Coleman and Five Elements (Sun April 5, Triple Door, 7:30 pm, $18/$20).
"I'm interested in interacting with other musics," Vandermark told me last spring before his duo gig with Paal Nilssen-Love. With the Ab Baars Trio, Vandermark is a sympathetic seeker, embracing the Dutch trio's investigation of mannerist choral music, Stravinsky, and titan Albert Ayler, Vandermark's longtime hero. Recorded just after a European tour with Baars, Goofy June Bug (Stichting WIG) finds Vandermark deftly shaping his hard-hitting tenor sax tone into slinky tunes that range from recasting a fragment of Stravinsky's Agon to canonic Ayler-esque squeals in the aptly titled "Then He Whirled About." I'm taken with "Prince on Venosa," Baars's tribute to Don Carlo Gesualdo (1566–1613); together, Baars and Vandermark blend beautifully in high, sirenlike tones.
I'm enchanted by Steve Coleman and Five Elements: Coleman transforms Dixieland "hot jazz" polyphony into clear strands that simultaneously accommodate solos, pocket soliloquies, and elegantly composed long-limbed melodies. Central to this group's compelling sound is vocalist Jen Shyu, who has a militantly equal—not dominant—place in the sound.
To warm up for the weekend, I'm catching the unfortunately acronymed WACO (Thurs April 2, City Hall, noon, free). Short for Washington Composers Orchestra, this swaggering, 15-piece West Coast equivalent of the New York Composers Orchestra features Wayne Horvitz, Robin Holcomb, and drummer Byron Vannoy as well as bassist and recent Earshot Hall of Fame inductee Phil Sparks bolstering top-notch brass and reed sections.
Later that night, try the U-District Jazz Walk (Thurs April 2, various venues, 6 pm–midnight, free) where the Jason Parker Quartet, Motel 5, Melodius Thunk, the Owcharuk 5 (who serve up "punk-jazz" versions of Ukrainian folk tunes), and others perform at cafes and pubs along the Ave. In nearby Wallingford, the Suffering Fuckheads hold court (Thurs April 2, SeaMonster Lounge, 10 pm, free). Percolating chord-comping by Hammond organist Ron Weinstein anchors this brash, jazz-rock outfit that declare on their MySpace page that "they are not going to play your wedding, but they might do your divorce."
Also, two splendid vocalists, Carolyn Graye (Fri April 3, Hiroshi's, 7:30 pm, free) and Kendra Shank (Tues–Wed April 7–8, Jazz Alley, 7:30 pm, $22.50), tread where few singers go. Both burnish unusual tune selection with spot-on phrasing, scatting, and occasional avant vocal gymnastics. Shank, who left Seattle in the late 1980s, returns with a new disc, Mosaic (Challenge).
Finally, don't miss Garrett Fisher's opera The Passion of Saint Thomas More (Mon April 6, St. Mark's Cathedral, 7 pm, free). An abstract meditation on More's last days in 1535, Fisher's unusual instrumental combinations (English horn, guitar, dumbek, and harmonium) and icy vocal lines evoke a majestic desolation.