The winter of 2013 started exceptionally well Jan. 7, with a night of solo concerts at the ForInstance Gallery. The musicians — Brian Hooten, Cameron Ralston, Scott Clark, Scott Burton and Kevin Johnson — distinctly revealed the individual voices usually blended in their work in a number of local bands. The intimate, art-filled venue is one of the best places in town to hear adventurous, improvised music.
But don’t worry if you missed it — there’s plenty of jazz ahead. True, during the few weeks in town where icy weather threatens, there often seems to be a pause. But the clubs continue at full speed.
On Sunday nights, there’s often something choice at both Crossroads Coffee & Ice Cream (South Side) and the Commercial Tap House in the Fan. On Mondays it’s the RVA Big Band at Balliceaux or Todd Herrington’s all-star jam, with $5 craft beers, at Mekong. On Tuesdays, Jason Jenkins plays the Marriott downtown. Wednesdays often find young Virginia Commonwealth University trumpet phenom Victor X. Haskins at Bogart’s. Thursday jazz gets tony, with the Jazz Society’s series at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and mostly 32 Bar Records artists at the Wine Loft in the West End. The weekends are up for grabs.
A number of new local recordings are in the works. Spacebomb no doubt will kick into high gear when Matthew E. White returns covered in accolades from his “Big Inner” European tour. Bio Ritmo has been back in the studio, working on the follow-up to its breakout “La Verdad.” For novices, the digital-only compilation “Introducing Bio Ritmo” may be a good place to start; the band also has a recent live DVD (“Live at S.O.B.’s” available at hardsalsa.net). No BS Brass Band has three releases on the horizon, the full-length “RVA All Day” and EP Mingus tribute “Haitian Fight Song”— both LP and digital releases — and a concert DVD, “Live at Montrose Studio,” recorded at the local studio run by Adrian Olsen. Of course, you need to fill up your room with enthusiastic, fist-pumping fans to get the full effect of a No BS show. Trumpeter Haskins, in his last semester at VCU, is releasing his debut in the coming weeks.
For those seeking immediate gratification on these not-so-frozen nights, Quatro Na Bossa’s new CD, “Bossa Nossa,” featuring Laura Ann Singh, is full of warm, quiet, Brazilian beauty. The Rootdown’s debut captures the funky, organ-fueled exuberance of Jimmy Smith in hip-shaking modern form. Monk’s Playground’s debut, led by Chris Vasi and featuring pioneering jazz and rock saxophonist Lou Hoff, is an ongoing exploration of the infinite plasticity of Thelonious Monk compositions. And longtime local saxophone hero James “Saxsmo” Gates romps and caresses his way through smooth jazz land with “Gates Wide Open.”
The season ends exceptionally strong with two major local events — a series of concerts celebrating the centennial of modern composer John Cage, and the return of the young musicians from South Africa.
Cage was one of the greatest conceptual artists of the 21st century. He expanded the landscape of music with electronics, unconventional and altered instruments and, notoriously, with a piece called “4’33” during which the musician was merely present and the sound of the audience and the environment was the performance. The series, which includes two musical performances, dance, readings and interdisciplinary acts opens with a March 21 concert by Grammy-winning artists in residence Eighth Blackbird, and concludes with a recital for prepared piano March 27. Brian Jones’ annual production of Cage’s “Musicircus”— the hour-long simultaneous performance by a wide variety of musicians that’s become a local improvised music tradition — promises to be a memorable part of the festivities.
In their last visit, the student musicians from KwaZulu Natal University in Durban, South Africa, produced some of the best and most bracing performances of last year, a revelation in the benefits of cultural cross-fertilization. The exchange program, organized on the VCU side by jazz program head Antonio Garcia (Richmond players also visited South Africa) features a Jazz Orchestra 1 program. VCU Jazz will present its joint concert with musicians from KwaZulu Natal University (Durban, South Africa) on Thursday, March 28 at 8 p.m. But if the past is any indication, that formal production will be the tip of the iceberg as the players sit in at gigs around town during their stay.
Looking ahead, guitarist John Abercrombie will be this year’s jazz studies artist-in-residence at VCU, with performances in mid-April. And as winter recedes, recital season begins. These free and often extraordinary events — essentially young musicians’ masterworks — remain one of the best bargains in Richmond music.CORRECTION TO PRINT EDITION: VCU Jazz will present its joint concert with musicians from KwaZulu Natal University (Durban, South Africa) on Thursday, March 28 at 8 p.m., not on March 26 as had been printed in our February 13 article "Full Speed Ahead")