It wasn’t in a high-profile venue—-just a small artists’ studio, tucked away in Mount Vernon Square—-but last night’s D.C. Jazz Loft was the showcase that the local jazz scene has needed for years.
Presented by CapitalBop (which is to say: Giovanni Russonello and Luke Stewart, the site’s staff), the Jazz Loft was an evening-long concert featuring five acts in various flavors of D.C. jazz. Variety was the order of the day, and the audience was impressively diverse in age, ethnicity, and social clique, lured into an industrial-cum-bohemian atmosphere by a fascination with the music on display. Yes, all those tired cliches you’ve heard about how jazz bridges the gaps and brings people together turn out to be true.
The music in question, by the way, was stellar. The Tri-O Trio began the night with a fierce freeform session between avant stalwarts Aaron Martin (alto sax) and Sam Lohman (drums), plus Stewart on bass, a sound that approximated a drill sergeant barking orders on speed. The Bobby Muncy Quintet followed with a deft, warm postbop sound, playing outstanding compositions by Muncy, pianist Gene D’Andrea, and trumpeter Joe Herrera. Matta Gawa (Lohman and guitarist Ed Ricart) performed a raging set of “free fusion,” as much avant-metal as avant-jazz, with Ricart creating spontaneous loops and using them to accompany his ever-changing guitar rants. (While it sounded great, this writer did wish he’d brought his earplugs.) Then came perhaps the highlight of the night: Elliott Levin, a Philadelphia player who blew free on flute and tenor sax, bridging the tunes with his own recited poetry against the intense but groovin’ rhythm section of Stewart and drummer Lou Rozier. Not the most accessible band, but their chemistry was fantastic.
The climax, of course, was the assemblage of straightahead local favorites that Russonello dubbed “The U Street All-Stars”: Herrera, trombonist Reginald Cyntje, alto saxophonist Brent Birckhead, tenor saxophonist Elijah Balbed, and the Jolley Brothers (Noble on piano, Nate on drums), and
Baltimore bassist Adam Dieker bassist Blake Meister), playing bop standards and a few obscure tunes. All are great soloists, and together they’re a fantastic ensemble who should work together more often.
As great as the music, though, was the atmosphere. It was less a concert than a loose gathering; the musicians and fans mingled freely as though at a dinner party, laughing and talking and generally enjoying each other’s company (while the organizers quietly ran around, alternating between chatting and feverish behind-the-scenes work). Russonello and Stewart’s mission with CapitalBop is simply to promote the rich but underappreciated D.C. jazz scene, and may have found the secret in this loose, intimate setting. As a side effect, they may establish themselves as new Washington jazz impresarios. Let’s hope so—-more, please!
(Photo: Kyoko Takenaka/CapitalBop)