Saturday: 6:45 p.m., Altria Stage.
Sunday: noon, Altria Stage and 2 p.m. at the Community Foundation Stage.
The debut of Baltimore pianist and composer Lafayette Gilchrist's "GoGo Suite" is the jazz highlight of the festival. The composition celebrates the seminal Washington music style that shares DNA with hip-hop, albeit with its own unique character.
"It is the last urban, acoustic R&B music that black kids danced to," Gilchrist says. "It's driven by humans pounding out rhythms — that's very important." Such an organic counterpart to a modern era is driven by celebrity and spectacle, he says: "You go see a big concert today — Jay Z or Beyoncé — and there is not a single instrument or musician onstage."
The suite, performed by Gilchrist and the New Volcanoes, the band he's led for two decades, is 45 minutes of nonstop dance music. "It's not something I would describe as go-go per se," Gilchrist says. "It is my personal acknowledgement of the music I grew up with, an expression of admiration, respect, reverence and joy. Certain parts of the suite sonically describe the changes and shifts I've seen over the years in D.C., its plight, trials and tribulations. But what people are going to see is a dance thing, something for the mind, heart and feet."
As a performer, Gilchrist is both bracingly adventurous and warmly approachable. He gained renown in the Octets and Quartets of saxophonist David Murray, an artist who melded big-hearted tradition with the spikiest avant-garde. "Following the great pianists who played with [Murray, including Don Pullen, John Hicks and Coltrane pianist McCoy Tyner]," Gilchrist says, "You really feel the weight of the piano."
A salute to a modern urban genre may superficially seem unaligned with the folk music of exotic costumes and rural traditions, but at a deeper level they are the same. "The essence of the music is the intent and the process," Gilchrist says. "It's not about a sound, not about a style. I am not after the perfect. I'm looking for the deeper sincerity and unity. Finding the things that are not written. Jumping into the void, and seeing what happens."