- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 31, 2002

If you are a jazz fan or want to be one, this is a weekend for you. Three of the most entertaining and illustrious practitioners of jazz music today are in town. With more than 100 years of innovative experience among them, each one offers his own personal insights into a different aspect of the jazz vernacular.
Trumpeter Malachi Thompson is the least known of the three but certainly not the least innovative or creative. He was twice voted a Talent Deserving Wider Recognition in Down Beat's International Critics Poll, and his music has been given labels including post-bop, free jazz and avant-garde.
He calls his work and his band Freebop, but also says this about it: "Expect the unexpected, expect a wide range and variety of music, because basically, I guess, I'm schizophrenic. I have multiple musical personalities, and they are expressed in my compositions."
Within his marvelous music are traditional New Orleans march rhythms, jazz funk passages, atonal flights of fancy and sections that just swing. All is held together by Mr. Thompson's well-crafted tunes, fine trumpet tone and deft arrangements. He applies the same techniques to other's compositions.
"In terms of what I do in music from other composers," Mr. Thompson says, "it's that same searching spirit, something about this tune that's going to bring something out in me."
Mr. Thompson has always made a point of bringing new music from the music of the past. "In terms of pushing the envelope, my philosophy is: First you've got to understand the history of the music before you can take it anyplace," he says.
Mr. Thompson's study of jazz history started in 1960s Chicago, where he played in big bands. At the same time, he also became a member of the avant-garde Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. There he learned from greats including Henry Threadgill and Lester Bowie. Later, in New York City, he continued with free-jazz and avant-garde players including Jackie McLean and Archie Shepp.
He has been leading and composing for his Freebop Band for more than 20 years and through many recordings. He also leads a big band called Africa Brass, which revisits significant historical jazz styles with Mr. Thompson's own twist. Lately, his Freebop Band has been dipping into the Miles Davis songbook.
"For me, it's really fun to play that music, and it's never boring," he says. "I guess that's one of the things about Miles, he never looked back or rested on his laurels at all. He always kind of took the music forward."
Mr. Thompson continues this tradition at Twins Jazz on U Street tomorrow and Saturday nights.

When Herbie Hancock plays the Kennedy Center tonight, he will bring his own version of pushing the music forward. For his current tour, he is in an acoustic quartet with outstanding young drummer Terri Lynn Carrington.
"I'll be reworking arrangements of music from some of my later albums," Mr. Hancock says, "rearranging the rearrangements, parts of arrangements melding into rearrangements of other tunes."
Always looking for new angles, Mr. Hancock has been in the forefront of jazz and popular music since the 1960s, and his efforts have garnered him an Emmy, an Oscar, eight Grammys and many more nominations. He was part of the '60s Miles Davis Quintet that included Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams and that made landmark albums including "Nefertiti" and "Bitches Brew."
At the birth of jazz-fusion with Mr. Davis, Mr. Hancock took the idea to the next level with his own breakthrough album, "Headhunters." It became jazz's first platinum album, and the Sly Stone-influenced single "Chameleon" was a pop radio hit.
In the 30 years since that album, Mr. Hancock has never slowed down. He had multiple albums on the pop and jazz charts in the '70s and '80s, including "Future Shock" and its early hip-hop-flavored hit "Rockit." All the while, Mr. Hancock also was creating television and movie soundtracks and continuing to play in small acoustic settings with the likes of Chick Corea, Oscar Peterson and Mr. Shorter.
"I never want to stop learning, stop growing," Mr. Hancock says. "I never want to get into the comfortable area of doing the same things over and over. To me, that would be death."
His latest album is "Future 2 Future" a merging of jazz-fusion, hip-hop, DJ/club music and world beat.

Friday and Saturday nights will also find conga giant Poncho Sanchez and his Latin Jazz Band at Blues Alley. JazzTimes magazine's November 2001 cover featured Mr. Sanchez's burly bearded face and the headline "All Hail the New King of Latin Jazz." Mr. Sanchez and his group, recognized as the best-known and hardest-working Latin jazz band today, have recorded 21 albums in 21 years with the venerable jazz label Concord. The band combines salsa, Afro-Cuban, soul, R&B; and classic jazz in a wonderful hip-swaying, spicy mixture.

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