Sounds of ’17: Best Jazz of the Year 

click to enlarge Samantha Reed

Lauren Serpa

Samantha Reed

Christian McBride's salute to Ray Brown at the Tin Pan was good enough to make a decade rather than just a yearly list. There is no better bass player. Benny Green and Lewis Nash were brilliant, and the portrait of their acerbic friend and mentor was fresh, funny, and lovingly unsentimental.

The Rabbit Hole in the basement of Vagabond has become Richmond's equivalent of New York's Village Vanguard. The space combines the adventurousness of two departed venues: Balliceaux and the dark intimacy of the Commercial Taphouse. There have been any number of great nights in the Hole, including one captured in a new recorded performance by Butcher Brown. One standout night, among many, was Samantha Reed's moving tribute to Nina Simone.

Spacebomb graduated to the big time with a major cash infusion, work with a growing variety of international artists and an ever-growing roster of label artists. Matthew E. White has long been the label's soulful icon, but this year arranger Trey Pollard earned long-overdue attention with his cinematic arrangements for Bedouine and Foxygen, and orchestral scores for a host of top area musicians at the Richmond Symphony's classical-rock mash-up, RVA Live. Bio Ritmo — which, full disclosure, did their own arrangements — was a standout at that event, but this year the focus was more on the band's side projects, including the achingly lovely boleros of Miramar, the gloriously giddy rock of bassist Edward Prendergast's Mikrowaves, and the great concept record from percussionist Hector Barez, "El Laberinto del Coco."

It was a great year for festivals. The Richmond Jazz Festival was a blizzard of talent. Two standouts: Pat Metheny's career-spanning set with a first-rate pickup band, and the lineup of great Cuban bands, especially Jane Bunnett's all-female Maqueque. Frankly, I would spend weeks at the Folk Festival if anybody was crazy enough to put it on. In 2017, big name players — Bon Iver, Kamasi Washington — swept in for memorable performances, but the best of the year in Richmond, as for at least the past decade, is the local scene itself.

Somewhere, perhaps, there is another human-scale city, with its own No BS Brass-like hometown boosters or a parallel self-effacing wunderkind to Devonne Harris. I'm sure they have another roadhouse classic like Thorp Jenson, but I still say ours is better. Maybe there is another town where community trumps competition, where musicians are each other's biggest fans, and young upstarts like singer Kenneka Cook and guitarist Morgan Burrs are welcomed. Maybe Richmond is not unique. But, to find its like, you'll have to leave. And the only guarantee is that, in your potentially futile search for another place like home, you'll miss a lot of brilliant nights.




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