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Live Review: 14th Annual DC Jazz Festival

Pharoah Sanders, Tia Fuller, and R+R=NOW were among the standouts at this capital affair

Pharaoh Sanders
Pharaoh Sanders acknowledges the audience during his DC Jazz Festival set, June 9, 2018

The DC Jazz Festival encompasses every quadrant of the nation’s capital. Between June 8 and 17 of this year, it presented more than 125 performances in over 40 venues throughout the district. There were also “Meet the Artist” interviews and all-star tribute concerts to honor recently deceased Washingtonians Geri Allen and Keter Betts, as well as a daily series of widely accessible shows called Jazz in the ’Hoods, many of which were free or of nominal cost. Here were just a few of the highlights seen at a mere three of the festival venues.

City Winery
Venerable jazz shaman Pharoah Sanders gracefully showered his soothingly familiar musical spirituality upon the assembled congregation at City Winery, a functional distillery with an intimate performance space located in northeast DC. Sanders was once responsible for some of the most ear-splitting cacophony ever discharged from a wind instrument; he has long since mellowed. Appropriately, the band’s overture to his warmly awaited arrival onstage was his long-ago employer John Coltrane’s “Welcome.” At age 77, Sanders doesn’t actually play much these days. He left most of the soloing to his longtime pianist William Henderson and soprano saxophonist James “Plunky” Branch, an old friend and founder of the band Oneness of Juju. But the heft, purity, and urgency of his tenor tone remained, most evident in his obligatory yet passionate reading of Coltrane’s “Naima.”

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