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Last year’s Jazzies were created on a whim, searching for a way to sum up the year in D.C. jazz; to our surprise, it went viral within the local community, giving Washington City Paper little choice but to turn the cute one-off into an annual tradition. Thus, without further ado, here are the winners of the 2012 Jazzies.
ARTIST OF THE YEAR: Victor Provost This choice was made somewhere around September. Provost, the city’s lone jazz steelpan drummer, is a master craftsman and improviser whose surefooted melodic sense is exceeded only by his playful, intoxicating way with rhythm. Provost was involved this year in a multitude of fascinating, superb projects: Michael Bowie‘s Sine Qua Non, Reginald Cyntje‘s Caribbean jazz ensemble, a pan-off at the CapitalBop Jazz Loft, and his own bands. Lots of styles, and Provost was magnificent in all of them.
RECORDING OF THE YEAR: (tie) Blake Meister, Septagon Antonio Parker, Steppin’ Out: Live @ HR-57 A mea culpa: Writing for City Paper‘s Annotated Guide to 2012, I credited only Parker with this title. I hadn’t yet heard Meister’s. Both, however, are stunning. The latter is a more cerebral effort, exploring complex, unusual (original) compositions with a cool demeanor and curious colors. Parker’s live album is a traditional hard bop affair—-but a barn-burner, performed by D.C. warriors with fire and palpable exuberance.
BEST TRUMPETER: Thad Wilson Wilson is a rarity on the bandstand, and keeps to a small handful of them. (In 2012, he seemed most frequently to appear at Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Jazz Night.) When and where he does show up, though, he runs circles around everyone else.
BEST TROMBONIST: Corey Wallace Once again an unexpectedly competitive category—-trombone is the District’s secret stash. Wallace gets the trophy, however, for his aggressive, punchy tone; his riffy phrasing; his technical fluidity; and for the heavy dose introspection that sits right on the surface of his playing.
BEST ALTO SAXOPHONIST: Marshall Keys The long, energetic, extraordinary lines of melody that pour forth from his horn are the calling card of Keys, one of the city’s longtime alto stalwarts. They also made him unbeatable on the instrument this year.
BEST TENOR SAXOPHONIST: Lyle Link Link was a busy man in 2012, with residencies at Twins and Bohemian Caverns being only the most prominent of his steady gigs, so he had an advantage just in terms of opportunities to hear him. Even if he hadn’t, though, he’s got that bold, incisive tone—-one of the wonders of Washington.
BEST BARITONE SAXOPHONIST: Brad Linde Just because it’s by default doesn’t mean he didn’t earn it. Linde’s got a brawny tone on the horn, tremendous versatility, and his melodicism can sometimes cloak his smart approach to rhythmic accents.
BEST GUITARIST: Anthony Pirog Having a unique conception on one’s instrument isn’t a free pass for the Jazzies—-but in this case the conception is so unique, and so brilliant, that it can’t be put aside. Pirog is the hands-down victor.
BEST PIANIST: Allyn Johnson Competition is tightening on piano—-that’s a very, very good thing, mind you—-but Johnson is still the king, a lightning-fingered virtuoso whose extended runs are stuffed with blues and gospel spices to spare. Allyn don’t mess around.
BEST BASSIST: Tarus Mateen Still D.C.’s power instrument. Its most impressive practitioner this year, though, wasn’t of the D.C./Keter Betts tradition; Mateen is a bassist of the world scene. His attack, his effects, his lines, and his confidence while playing all of those things are a thing to behold; the word I hear most often, from my own mouth as well as of others who’ve seen him work, is “badass.”
BEST DRUMMER: Lenny Robinson I hereby coin the name “Machine Gun Lenny” to describe Robinson’s rapid-fire, powerhouse attack, particularly on the snare (though his cymbal work ain’t far behind). If only that nickname also encapsulated the dizzying sense of adventure he brought to the traps in 2012.
BEST PERCUSSIONIST: Victor Provost See above, and see last year, for full explanation on this one.
BEST VOCALIST: Akua Allrich I’ve said it before—-if you hear (as you often do) that contemporary jazz seems to be missing soul, it’s because all of the soul of a generation has been concentrated into Akua Allrich.
BEST COMPOSER: Michael Bowie Bowie’s winding, organically developed compositions—-based primarily on his love of classical music, but with a limitless supply of other influences as well—-are so rich and intriguing that he had to assemble an unorthodox quintet, Sine Qua Non, just to explore and interpret them. It’s sublime music that’s only going to get better.
BEST VENUE: Bohemian Caverns It’s a perennial choice, but the thing that really made the Caverns this year was the flowering of its artist in residence program. It wasn’t new—-it got into gear in 2010—-but the consistency, quality, and dedication it evinced was a great refreshment for a great legacy.
BEST LARGE ENSEMBLE: Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra Took a licking and kept on ticking. Founding members Charles Phaneuf (tenor saxophone) and Rodney Richardson (guitarist) departed for good this year, and pianist Amy Bormet took a summer hiatus, but the BCJO soldiered on with new staff, new arrangements, and the same old commitment to their craft—-not to mention the same old ability to pack the house every Monday night.
BEST SMALL ENSEMBLE: Sine Qua Non A jazz ensemble with a fusion trajectory and a classical basis, three of the five members of Sine Qua Non are already listed above. Provost, Link, and Bowie provide incredible interplay in a band whose performance focus is on dynamics; add in the unerringly graceful work of drummer Mark Prince and percussionist Sam Turner and the level of musicianship and imagination is damn near flawless. (Disclosure: I wrote the bio for Sine Qua Non’s website.)