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
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.
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.
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.
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.