Rumble on Vine Street

by Tom Beekman RVAjazz contributor Beekman, in his first RVAjazz contribution since the website’s anonymous days, reviews last Saturday’s “Vine St. Rumble,” a backyard barbecue-styled all-day affair at which several up-and-coming groups performed. I need provisions. Getting me out of the house has been quite the task these last couple of weeks. For this quest, […]

by Tom Beekman
RVAjazz contributor

Beekman, in his first RVAjazz contribution since the website’s anonymous days, reviews last Saturday’s “Vine St. Rumble,” a backyard barbecue-styled all-day affair at which several up-and-coming groups performed.

I need provisions. Getting me out of the house has been quite the task these last couple of weeks. For this quest, I will require: beer and cigarettes. I’m getting ahead of myself.

I wouldn’t consider myself a ‘jazz guy.’ I do not play jazz. I, at one point, owned every Dream Theater CD, and, at another point, every release from the Dave Matthews Band. I like TV. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve used the word ‘killin’, and it’s usually to describe a Wendy’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich. I don’t think that musical merit is completely based on technical ability or overt weirdness. Now, you might say “Tom, there isn’t a protocol to liking or disliking jazz” and I would say I agree. But, for the purposes of this article and the blog it will be published on, I will NOT pretend to know everything about Ken Vandermark or pretend that Miles Davis single-handedly quelled the Vietnam War. Call me crazy, but this made me the ideal candidate to write about this concert.

It’s hot. The first day of the year that it was really, really hot. On the bike, I immediately pass a quartet of girls in their summer clothes, which makes me think of that Springsteen song “Girls in their summer clothes” but I need to shake these Boss thoughts out of my head, I have a jazz-b-cue to attend.

If you asked me after a few minutes of biking in this weather what the most refreshing thing I could think of was, I would say standing in the beer cave at the Trolley Market, which is precisely what I did. I elect to bring six Rolling Rocks because they are cold and green bottles make me feel like a hipster for some reason.

Tenney, Hicks, Chapman, & Hood of Use the Vastness

Rolling up to the Rumble, I am immediately greeted by a horn band called Use the Vastness. David Hood, Marcus Tenney, Chelsea Temple, Brett Ripley, Mary Lawrence Hicks, Reggie Chapman and a drummer I don’t immediately recognize (Stuart Jackson) are jamming away on a kind of busy New Orleans shuffle tune. To a lay person, they might sound unrehearsed, but the cacophonous, thick textures and dynamic changes they lay down could never go unnoticed. This is Stravinsky jazz: a little weird but always retaining a sense of groove and freshness. I make a grave error of sitting in the sun for the duration of this group.

Ripley & Jackson of Use the Vastness

People mill around me and I’m slowly getting drunker. A friend of mine once told me that when you drink in the sun, the sun wins every time. After just one beer I am feeling it, so I elect to hit the water pretty hard instead–gotta keep my brain up so I can do my journalistic duties.

I chat up the bassist of the next group, who claims his band sounds like folk and folk-rocker Sufjan Stevens. I debate him on this claim, due to the obvious lack of a wind quintet, and we agree to pick up where we left off after the band finishes. He also reminds me that they were in the 2008 RVA Mag “Bands to watch out for” section.

Wow. A group that actually has their shit together. Jungle Beat is a quartet of acoustic instruments, guitar, violin, upright bass, and drum kit. While the songwriting may be Sufjan, the lead singer’s voice hearkens something different, a little earthy and yearning. I decide that I love this band immediately and so does the jazz crowd bobbing their heads around me. A violin playfully banters with the male vocal, and three part harmonies come and go. I decide that three of the four band members are in love with each other, and make up all sorts of funny Fleetwood Mac scenarios in my head. My girlfriend will later tell me that only two of them are in love with each other, IRL.

Best moment of this band: An older gentleman saunters up to the edge of the backyard smoking a nice cigar and drinking a Miller Light from the bottle, listens to 4 songs, then abruptly leaves.

Yellow Grass follows. At this point, an overall malaise has drifted across the backyard. I’ve been in the sun for more hours than since the summer of 2008. Slow jams are in the cards however, making me more pre-occupied with breaking the line of ants that are crawling around my cargo shorts, they get so discombobulated. BUT! You cannot write this group off as being boring, oh no.

Randazzo, Wilson, Gibson, & Heemstra of Yellow Grass

Paul Wilson’s compositions float through the summer air and the group is tighter than I expected. I am informed that this is the band’s maiden voyage, and they did not play Maiden Voyage–so much for jazz jokes. Wilson utilizes the upper-mid range of the guitar much better than I had originally expected. Solos smooth like Metheny, drip with overdrive and sing with reverb–sonorities tensioned and slackened while Andrew Randazzo (bass) and Sam Sherman (drums) groove away. Jonathan Gibson (tenor) and Ben Heemstra (flugelhorn) add subtle touches to the texture, and give some great solos in their own right. I decide this is epic-guitar jazz, because Wilson makes the guitar not only an accompaniment instrument but a soaring, majestic hawk flying over Richmond on this warm evening. I decide this transfiguration is scary, so I duck inside to grab another beer.

Between groups I finally grab a chair and chat with a few folks. By this point, there are at least 30 people in the backyard, most of which I am well acquainted with, and some of which I’ve never met. Lucas Fritz is a fine host, dancing around the party in his sideways hat and his Bulls home-red Jordan Jersey. He grills, he mingles, he greets the new people that have come into his yard. Now it is his turn to play.

The Fritztet Offensive sets up and I am immediately expecting some interesting things. Devonne Harris sits in front of a pretty Wurlitzer electric piano, Ben White in front of an analog synth. Sam Sherman takes a seat on his drum throne and Chris Harrison, from the aforementioned Jungle Beat, takes a spot in the middle with a bass. The frontline: Wilson (guitar), Suzi Fischer (alto), and Fritz (trumpet). Lucas informs the gathering crowd that they are the Fritztet Offensive and I laugh–I’m always game for a good ‘Nam joke.

They play arrangements of some of Fritz’s favorite songs. Cream, Bjork, Rufus Wainwright. Not straight-up arrangements, but some interesting re-imaginations of the tunes

. The front line are all accomplished soloists and they show it during their spots. Fischer, with her oh-so-silky tone, commands respect from the rest of the band to just shut up a little and listen. Fritz, who holds a trumpet to his face like he’s drinking through the coolest, silveriest, most trumpet shaped straw ever, takes me on a journey through different mutes, sounds, and ideas while he improvises over the Bjork song.

White, kicks it old school at one point, mimicking those ‘what are they?’ sounds you asked in 1992 when The Chronic first came out. Harris, a spectacular keyboard player in his own right, dresses the music up nicely with his often-sparse, clustered, playing. I was afraid him and Wilson would get into a battle for the middle-range, but they stay out of each other’s way pretty well.

Riding home, I couldn’t help being surprised by what I had heard. Lucas Fritz not only put together a top-notch beer-b-cue, but he also highlighted some new, good groups that are often overlooked. With all due respect to these groups and their members: it was nice to go to a jazz concert and not see Big Bull or Ombak. It gives me hope that the jazz idiom in Richmond is thriving beneath the radar.

Tom Beekman is a monster. At 6’5” he dominates the basketball court and the kitchen. A music education major, he hopes one day to dominate the classroom with ferocity. Maybe not. In his free time he likes to work on his jump shot, grow beards, and occasionally practice classical guitar. Among his favorite people in Richmond are Eric Maynor, Lindsey Prather, Dean Christesen, and Pete. Cous Cous makes him smile, so does Commercial Taphouse. His favorite movie is Annie Hall, and his favorite month is March, the reasons should seem obvious.

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  1. Anonymous on said:

    Hi there,
    I haven’t commented here before, but this article made me say something. It was just really terrible. I’m sorry. If you want this site to be taken seriously you should not post stuff like this again. It’s the nerdiest, most boring thing to read ever. ESPECIALLY for a site w/ ‘jazz’ in its title. Again, sorry to be so blunt :(

  2. Tom Beekman on said:

    Thanks Anonymous, feedback is always appreciated. Can you link to your blog writing so I can possibly read it? Always great to hear from a fan!

  3. Anonymous on said:

    I don’t think it is necessarily nerdy to write about fun things that have happened in the city that have to do with jazz. I think it’s pretty important for people to see that jazz doesn’t have to be at Bogarts or at the Camel with a $10 cover. The purpose of this site, as I understand it, is to showcase jazz and experimental music around the city. The Vine St. Rumble was exactly that. The only thing is that it was in a more unorthodox setting.

  4. J Moore on said:

    Au contraire, mon frère… I thought the review was great. It reviews a performance in a somewhat personal setting with a very personal outlook on it.

    Yes, Anonymous, this site does say jazz in the title… it also says on the side:


    an umbrella for jazz, improvisational and experimental music in Richmond, Virginia.”

    If you asked me to write a review for a website focused on “jazz, improvisational, and experimental music” in a specific area I’d probably end up with something very similar to this.

    My two cents… two funky thumbs up to you, Tom.

  5. lindseydanielle on said:

    Nice to have a different perspective on the local jazz scene. I think the only way to keep it thriving is to reach out to the regular guys and gals who aren’t what we would label “jazz people” and get them interested and involved on their level. My favorite thing about is that it comes from many different voices who are affiliated with Richmond jazz in many different ways. I can always appreciate an article that appeals to my nerdy comic sensibilities. To me it says that the site can be as light-hearted and hip as spin magazine with all the jazz information, articles, and reviews of a magazine like downbeat. kudos for not posting the same old thing.

  6. RVAjazz on said:

    Anonymous (#1): Thanks for your comment. As Tom said, feedback is always appreciated. Your comment was just and worthy of consideration until you wrote, “ESPECIALLY for a site w/ ‘jazz’ in its title.” I don’t quite understand this statement, so perhaps you can clarify. To me, it sounds like you have expectations about how a “jazz” blog should be run, and what sort of content should be featured, as well as in what tone of voice it should be written.

    Are you saying the articles on RVAjazz should not be nerdy or boring because JAZZ itself is never nerdy of boring? If so, I beg to differ. Eliminating the possibility of jazz being unexciting would be a grave error, one likely to result in desensitisation to any music that is truly great. Like all of us, I have seen some jazz that I have not enjoyed (more so, some that I have found absolutely intolerable), and maybe I even applied subjective labels like “nerdy” or “boring” when talking about it in an informal conversation. But I value it for how it affects my appreciation of other music, and I recognize that I may be the only one who felt that way. Maybe this isn’t about jazz music, though, and it’s just about writing. Either way, I think there is a parallel here that should be considered.

    I thank you for your feedback, and urge you to elaborate on your thoughts so we might understand and learn.

    Dean Christesen
    Creator, editor, writer

  7. IrishJazz on said:

    The problem with Anonymous is that he/she finds consistency impossible without a firm identity. (I briefly considered writing an abject apology in Anonymous’ name, but that would be overkill.) A personable if somewhat shambling story about a somewhat shambling event, perhaps, but my understanding is that blogs are allowed a slightly more relaxed stylistic standard.

    As are blog comments. “It’s the nerdiest, most boring thing to read ever” isn’t going to win any syntax awards. And there are nerdier, more boring things out there. Star Trek fan fiction anyone?

    But it is bracing to realize that RVAjazz is walking such a journalistic high wire that a single misstep could forever shatter its hope of being taken seriously. Not even the Wall Street Journal has to meet such an unforgiving standard.

    Well done.

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