Summer’s end

As we head into fall, we can look back and realize that summer was pretty good to us this year, giving us handfuls of great musical moments (and interesting online discussions) to remember.

Summer is over: kids’ hearts all over the world are breaking as they head back to school, and Richmond is seeing its annual rebirth as thousands of new students call the city their home for the first time.

As we head into fall, we can look back and realize that summer was pretty good to us this year. There was no lack of things to do and jazz to hear — unless you were looking for a big messy marching band on Independence Day, and then you were out of luck. But for other gigs, orthodox or not, there were handfuls of great musical moments to remember about this summer.

We began the summer with round two of our Drop the Needle series, where we allow a featured judge to wade through submissions of impromptu or improvised recordings (anything but material for an album) by local musicians and create a playlist of his favorites. Honoring pianist Bob Hallahan as he left his post at VCU, this Drop the Needle featured his nineteen favorites of the submissions.

Busy weekends like this one in June were no rare occurrences. We had people people coming into town, unbelievable performances and great CDs by local musicians, and former Richmonders coming back to strut their stuff. Groups like Samson Trinh’s Upper East Side Big Band brought music and jazz to the masses with performances, in this case re-workings of The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” in its entirety. Later in the summer, they’d play to a packed house at Bogart’s performing “The White Album.”

Fight the Big Bull put out an album with singer-songwriter David Karsten Daniels, and band leader Matt White revealed all about the inner workings and unavoidable deceit that got the project finished. DKD came to town a couple weeks later, and the super-ensemble played to a musically diverse audience for what was one of my many favorite moments of the summer.

As we wait patiently for Glows in the Dark’s new album, we got to hear them hone their compositions old and new. A Sunday night at Commercial Taphouse and the very next night at Balliceaux (accompanied by film) were the perfect chances to hear them play two totally different sets and get eager to hear what will be on that new record.

On the more straight-ahead front, saxophonist Jason Scott reminded us just how modern the bebop-era music of Lennie Tristano is on a Monday night at The Camel. A new band came in for the second set to play his original tunes, which made a splash in Drop the Needle from earlier in the summer.

An album by drummer Kip Williams emphasized the importance of time on many different levels. He and his bandmates — including saxophonist Skip Gailes, pianist Steve Kessler, and other local greats — stretch out while keeping true to the jazz tradition on several jazz standards.

Virginia Museum of Fine Art’s Jazz Cafe continued through the summer and proceeds every Thursday throughout the fall, allowing museum-goers the opportunity to see established local musicians like pianist Debo Dabney. Former VCU students Jason Arce and Sam Savage returned for hits at Bogart’s on two separate, totally killing occasions.

Other highlights include Icelandic pianist Sunna Gunnlaugs’s performance at The Camel, Brian Jones’s return to his Tom & Jerry original music with film and Stan Brakhage-inspired improvisations, Gulf Give RVA that featured No BS! Brass and some other local bands to benefit the gulf clean-up, and an interesting and refreshing new album out by some now-college-freshmen High Noon.

Earlier in the summer on this blog, we had a discussion about the business of hosting live music when Balliceaux began charging for shows that used to be free. The real discussion of the summer, though, came after a post regarding the Richmond Jazz Festival, which was to feature mostly smooth jazz, R&B, and soul, and no jazz as we know it. Although the conversation seemed to become about something else (one certain commenter vs. the world), the heart of the matter remained intact. And we also found out that you can’t write, “There are at least 5-10 bands right here in RVA that sound just like NO BS” around here without getting called out for it.

Judging by years past, the transition of summer to fall should see no slow down of live music. The next two months alone are teeming with upcoming performances like Jeb Bishop Trio, SFJAZZ Collective, Jason Ajemian & The HighLife, The Flail, Cyro Baptista, Mingus Awareness Project, and the Richmond Folk Festival. It’s been great, RVA, and it’s about to get greater.

photo by gfpeck

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Dean Christesen

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