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2014 in the D.C. jazz scene was less than dramatic. Not everything was hunky-dory, mind you, with the (temporary) loss of HR-57 and the (perhaps permanent) loss of the U Street Jazz Jam, plus the scene’s engagement with the Perpetual Trivial Grievance Machine known as the Internet, but there were no huge disasters to speak of, and a hell of a lot of good music.
Note, however, that 2014 was a year in which your humble correspondent had a baby in September, and the following should be viewed in light of a three-month respite from the scene.
Here, now, are Washington City Paper‘s fourth annual Jazzies.
ARTIST OF THE YEAR:
Meadows (above) made his recording debut this year with Somethin’ Good, a solid runner-up for Recording of the Year (see below), and a clear winner for the best single track of the year with the gorgeous “Once Upon a Purple Night.” It was a record that made his compositional and arranging chops clear; his pianistic chops were never in dispute. (It also established his singing chops, which I’d never known before.) But then, consider his side work: Unscientifically, I can relate that Meadows was a key player on the vast majority of great local gigs I saw this year, in just about every venue. Where there was good jazz happening in D.C. in 2014, Meadows was making it happen.
RECORDING OF THE YEAR:
Reginald Cyntje, Elements of Life
Trombonist Reginald Cyntje’s third album is his finest, a meditation on nature and social justice that blends all of his musical influences into an insoluble whole. Factor in his tremendous band (saxophonist Brian Settles, steelpannist Victor Provost, pianist Allyn Johnson, bassist Herman Burney, drummer Amin Gumbs) and the magnificent wordless vocals of Christie Dashiell, and you’ve got the year’s loveliest recording of any genre.
Whether doing his blues-laden thing as a member of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, in the ensemble at the Lincoln Theatre’s “In the Tradition” concert in June, or anywhere else I heard him, Williams had unquenchable fire.
Cyntje remains at the top of his game. His recorded music shows him ready to add new influences to his palate and take chances; his live appearances find him ever at the ready for surprises (both to the audience, to his fellow musicians, and to himself). A hard worker and an incredibly sharp thinker.
BEST ALTO SAXOPHONIST:
The bluesy, sticky sound that Parker’s mastered was in fine form this year, in particular at the aforementioned “In the Tradition” concert. While Parker is a lover of Charlie Parker (no relation) and Cannonball Adderley, his sound comprises a blend of elegance and gutbucket that puts these ears more in mind of Johnny Hodges.
BEST TENOR SAXOPHONIST:
You might call Paul Carr a meat-and-potatoes saxophonist, and his sound certainly fits under the “Real Jazz” banner that he waves so proudly. He’s stubbornly straight-ahead and he makes a damn good case for it, with musical ideas that explode out of his horn like a Texas gusher. His latest album, B3 Sessions, makes a superb Exhibit A.
BEST BARITONE SAXOPHONIST:
Leigh Pilzer (tie)
If it hasn’t been one of these, it’s been the other in the Jazzies. This year it’s both, and any given Monday with the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra will tell you why. What else can be said?
BEST SOPRANO SAXOPHONIST:
There is only a little bit of soprano sax around here (though probably more than you realize). But Keys’ work on the ax, as eloquent and thoughtful as on his main instrument (alto), inspired the addition of this category.
From the department of “Well, duh.” Pirog this year became one of the hottest rising talents on the national jazz scene, and his experimental, genre-busting brilliance was Emily Dickinson‘s thing with feathers.
Yes, again. Johnson was undiminished. The top of his game was surely his residence at the Caverns, during which he recorded a live album of solo piano (please let us get that CD soon); but the three-way piano battle at Union Arts with Orrin Evans and Lafayette Gilchrist wasn’t exactly small potatoes, either.
This came close to a three-way tie, unsurprisingly. Bowie is a solid and often stolid professional, who can and has done everything there is to be done on the double bass as well as the electric. That thick, thudding sound now epitomizes the D.C. bass, and with last year’s sad loss of Butch Warren, Bowie becomes the Dean.
Howard Kingfish Franklin
Technician supreme. If you didn’t know what a hard worker he was, and what a careful thinker about his craftsmanship, you’d think Franklin barely even noticed what he was doing so precisely. But he packs personality into his playing, too. I always come back to a time when Brent Birckhead was telling me about a forthcoming gig, describing what each member brought to the proceedings; he ended with “And ‘Fish—-well, Fish is Fish.”
If you still haven’t figured this one out, I don’t know what to tell you.
This has been Dashiell’s year. The young jazz vocalist has been a visible and popular presence for quite a while, but she stepped up her game as a featured performer on on both Cyntje’s and Meadows’ recordings this year. On top of that, she was an Artist In Residence at Strathmore, a program that’s quickly become a rite of passage for jazz musicians in the D.C. area.
I’ve already mentioned “Once Upon A Purple Night,” but let’s just add that Meadows’ tunes are not only durable and memorable, but rich and exquisite. And he writes lyrics, too!
There’s nothing that can be said about this place that hasn’t already been said. Killer atmosphere, spectacular bookings, excellent staff, and the bar always has Delirium Tremens in bottles.
BEST LARGE ENSEMBLE:
Washington Renaissance Orchestra
Was the large band at the “In the Tradition” concert a one-off? Organizer Nasar Abadey promises it wasn’t, and I’ll take that to the bank. What an astonishing roster of all-stars, including Abadey, Johnson, Cyntje, Parker, and even the father-and-son team of Williams and his baritone-sax-playing father Whit.
BEST SMALL GROUP:
Reginald Cyntje Group
Dix Out (tie)
Not exactly two combos you’d associate with one another. Cyntje’s group seemed to find a magical combination with the addition of seventh member Brian Settles on tenor sax; the whole ensemble simply clicks as never before. Brad Linde‘s Dix Out is a quartet/occasional quintet that meshes free and Dixieland jazz; the group is pushed to the top by both its fantastic name and its sheer audacity.