Richmond Jazz and the Live Scene in 2016 

click to enlarge Rex Richardson

Scott Elmquist

Rex Richardson

What seemed an agonizing crawl in the moment is a blur in retrospect.

A highlight is the Richmond Jazz Festival’s center of gravity shifting from smooth to serious, with headliners Herbie Hancock, the Roots and Esperanza Spalding as a post-feminist Ziggy Stardust. The Richmond Folk Festival remains the crown jewel — and greatest value — in local, large-scale production.

Drummer Brian Jones largely was out of sight getting a doctorate but emerged for the somewhat annual ALS-fighting Mingus Awareness Project and the joyous cacophony of the Musicircus. The latter event was at the Modlin Center, still the go-to place for such eclectic big-name jazz artists as bassist Christian McBride and pianist Robert Glasper. Guitarist Richard Thompson delivered a brilliantly unpredictable night of acoustic mastery and audience requests.

Smaller venues had great nights as well. Notably: Todd Marcus with Don Byron and Eli Paperboy Reed at the Camel, Nels Cline at Gallery5 and any number of genre-transgressing acts at Balliceaux.

Newer venues, including breweries such as Hardywood, have stepped up with great weekend shows. Macon “McChicken” Mann’s Wednesday night series at the Vagabond continues to attract some of the best players in town. One memorable night featured the return of longtime Richmond- and now Los Angeles-based guitarist D.J. Williams with world-traveling drummer Corey Fonville, Marcus Tenney and the omni-talented Devonne Harris on bass. No BS Brass was one of a number of locals to play at Carytown retail icon Plan 9 Records.

The breakout artist this year may have been Alan Parker, who seemed to be everywhere — from Natalie Prass’ summer set on Brown’s Island to a new jazz trio with Fonville and bassist Cameron Ralston, to intimate dinner music performances with Jason Jenkins at the Barrel Thief. Parker also is part of drummer Scott Clark’s Quartet, whose “Bury My Heart” Native American suite seems, in the context of Standing Rock, more timely than ever.

Other milestone events include Rex Richardson’s three-concerto marathon at Virginia Commonwealth University, Butterbean’s 25th anniversary at Bottoms Up, and anywhere Sam Reed, Bio Ritmo, Adfro-Zen Allstars, Future Prospects or Butcher Brown happened to be playing.

In recordings, Miramar’s “Dedication to Sylvia Rexach” was in a class of its own. Its only Richmond performance to date in 2016 was an intimate Church Hill house party in the fall. But local audiences have a final chance Dec. 30 at Gallery5.

Perhaps the most significant Richmond release was Doug Richard’s long-delayed “It’s All in the Game,” featuring Grammy-nominated vocalist Rene Marie and departed legend Joe Kennedy Jr. on violin. A decade and a half since its recording, it remains one of the freshest and most adventurous big band records, period.

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