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Standout Track: No. 6, “Gardenias,” a slinky, shadowy 32-bar tune right out of a noir detective flick. There are no solos. Settles merely renders the melody, unaltered, with a feathery tone on his tenor saxophone while bassist Corcoran Holt and drummer Jeremy Carlstedt create a stately pace. There’s improvisation, though: Pianist Neil Podgurski plays a new flight, stomp, or curlicue with every passing measure.
Musical Motivation: Gardenias were the signature flower of Billie Holiday, especially during her 1930s and early ’40s heyday. “It’s my interpretation of that period in jazz and American history,” says Settles, “in terms of the sound and the approach of a song that’s sung with very little improvisation.” The melody, he adds, “to me evokes Billie’s presence and her energy.”
Home Rules: A native Washingtonian, Settles spent several years in New York, where he attended The New School. Central Union consists mostly of his former Brooklyn housemates. He returned to his hometown to woodshed, not expecting it to be permanent—but D.C. ended up inspiring him. “Coming back re-energized me in ways I wasn’t expecting,” he says. “It put a lot of things in perspective. I’m here to stay, man.”