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With all the complex chord changes, difficult melodies, and tricky time signatures, it’s easy to forget that jazz is supposed to be as much fun as it is arty. That’s where the Potomac Jazz Project comes in. The Springfield-based, straight-ahead quartet is a popular staple at venues all over the D.C. area, with a classic repertoire that they spice up with catchy, memorable arrangements.
Their self-released CD The Scenic Route is a nice summation of the PJP’s work: a concept album of songs and arrangements that act as snapshots of places around the world. The quartet is particularly fond of Latin grooves (“I’ll Remember April,” “Caravan”), although these are often packed with neat surprises too—on “Corcovado,” for example, bassist Stan Hamrick slyly anchors the band with the vamp from Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father” (you may also know it from Steely Dan’s “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”). They’re particularly proud of their unique ska’d- and sexed-up take on “A Night in Tunisia,” but they do just as much for “Song for Bilbao,” turning Pat Metheny’s new-agey ‘80s period piece into a hard-charging, funky workout that’s highlighted by a dramatic but ass-kicking drum solo from Gary Taylor.
Good though The Scenic Route is, its main function is as an advertisement for PJP’s frequent performances. They’re regulars at Extra Virgin in Arlington, and at the Sala Thai locations in Bethesda and U Street (they’ll be at Bethesda this Thursday night, in fact, and at U Street next Friday, the 20th), among others. Go check ‘em out; the aforementioned places all happen to have delicious food to go along with the delicious jazz, and if you like what you hear, ask the band about picking up the CD. It’s good music and, importantly, good fun.