Looking back, part 2 | D.C.’s top CDs of 2010

by Giovanni Russonello and Luke Stewart
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In 2010, D.C. undeniably experienced something of a jazz renaissance; even in today’s conservative times, the city’s creative spirit is moving along. All the innovation and creation going around ought to result in some great recorded music, and sure enough, plenty of exciting albums found the light of day in 2010. Here’s a look at our five favorites.

– Click here to read part one of our 2010 Looking Back series, on D.C.’s avant-garde music scene –

Diamond in the Rough, Nasar Abadey and Supernova
A new release from D.C. jazz master Nasar Abadey is certainly a welcome event, especially when it’s with his group Supernova – a collaboration of some of the best jazz cats in the metro region. And all the tunes on Diamond in the Rough were written by Nasar himself, exhibiting his fine skills as both a master percussionist and composer. He’s also is a great bandleader – particularly when paired with such a talented band. It is clear through the song titles (“Sacred Space,” “Eternal Surrender,” “The Covenant”), as well as the feeling and mood the album presents, that this is a spiritual offering to the creator. One cannot help but sense the connection to a higher power with this release. Featuring saxophonists Gary Thomas and Joe Ford, pianist Allyn Johnson and bassist James King, the album is a stellar example of a great D.C. jazz artist working with the area’s best to present to the world a work on par with any great contemporary jazz album released in the past decade. If top jazz music publications did more dedicated research, this album would most definitely be reviewed and acclaimed as much as any other top-selling jazz album. (Luke Stewart) Buy album at cdbaby.com

Straight Ahead Soul, Paul Carr
It might seem funny to think of tenor saxophonist Paul Carr as a wise elder. He’s just in his early 50s, making him downright sprightly by jazz standards. Since rising to prominence in the D.C. area in the early 1990s, however, Carr has largely been defined by his role as a community leader. As the founder of the non-profit Jazz Academy of Music, he’s mentored hundreds of young musicians since 2002, and as an organizer of the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival he’s given voice to the area’s vast array of talent. The danger in all this talk about his tangible accomplishments, of course, is that we might lose sight of just how enchanting and vital his music is. On his fourth release, Straight Ahead Soul, Carr and his heavy-hitting sextet pour a hefty dose of gospel and soul into every track, but stay true to the album title: The music is straight-ahead jazz. The fare ranges from mid-tempo grooves (“Straight Ahead Soul”) to plainly stated, upbeat blues (“Light and Lovely”) to melancholy, mournful collages pierced by rays of hope (“Healing Song”). Just like any good gospel choir, the band comprises an interconnected, interdependent whole — but every player shines in his own right, as well. Pianist Allyn Johnson, of D.C.’s Young Lions trio, was born for this kind of soul-jazz playing; guitarist Bobby Broom sounds like Wes Montgomery has just stepped to the pulpit; bassist Michael Bowie keeps the operation swinging hard; Sam Turner’s percussion adds a Latin dimension; and drummer Lewis Nash is disciplined but reactive. All told, Carr’s album avoids facile soul-jazz excesses but stays catchy and groovin’. (Giovanni Russonello) Buy album at cdbaby.com
Between Worlds, Paul Carr[audio:http://ehub23.webhostinghub.com/~capita37/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/08-between-worlds4.m4a|titles=Between Worlds|artists=Paul Carr|width=204|righticon=0x444444|lefticon=0x444444]

First step, Kevin Pace Trio
Too often, Kevin Pace’s skills as a bassist remain in the background. That’s not an uncommon problem for a bass player, but it’s especially true because of the emphasis he puts on his work as a composer. This is why First Step, Pace’s debut CD as a leader, feels just right: Accompanied only by trumpeter Joe Herrera and guitarist Rodney Richardson, Pace’s commanding, swingin’ bass walks and solos really do reach the fore. This doesn’t seem accidental; on opening track “7524,” a Pace original, he takes an extended solo right out of the gate, and it’s during that solo that the listener’s ears really perk up. After Herrera’s spirited run through the boppish theme, Pace unfurls two minutes of front-loaded triplets and swinging melodies, strung together with a palpable urgency. This is not to take away from Pace’s clever and compelling compositions, three of which are heard on First Step. The bassist is a member of the Bobby Muncy Quintet, a group of musicians who are almost dogmatically committed to pushing jazz forward with original compositions and who perform at Utopia most Wednesday nights. The risk of a trumpet-guitar-bass trio is that it will sound like background music for a cocktail party, but these musicians stand up as some of D.C.’s finest. Between Pace’s relentless strength; Herrera’s clarion, fluid melody-playing and improvisations; and Richardson’s breezy, expansive comping style, the album is a perfect showcase for Pace — and the trio’s other two rising local talents. (Giovanni Russonello) Buy album at cdbaby.com
Blues Noir, Kevin Pace Trio [audio:http://ehub23.webhostinghub.com/~capita37/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/07-blues-noir4.m4a|titles=Blues Noir|artists=Kevin Pace Trio|width=204|righticon=0x444444|lefticon=0x444444]

This Is the Rodney Richardson Trio, Rodney Richardson Trio
There’s something about an organ-guitar-drums trio that gives off a feeling of inexplicable warmth. And on This Is the Rodney Richardson Trio, Will Rast’s swelling B3 organ expands and fortifies the smolder of Richardson’s tenderly traced, sinuous lines. The interplay between this pair and drummer Larry Ferguson feels effortless, and the effect is an atmospheric beauty whose melodies sneak rather than club their way into your head. And despite the impressive “sound” of this record, it is Richardson’s melodies — both in his solos and in the themes of the album’s six original compositions — that make This Is so compelling. Richardson is a guitarist much in the mode of Wes Montgomery, rarely venturing too far “out” in his improvisation, but the influence of modern players like Pat Martino and Kurt Rosenwinkel is obvious. The trio’s covers of “Phantom Other,” by the indie rock band Department of Eagles, and “Golden Brown,” by psychedelic new wave outfit the Stranglers, are studies in the potential of subtle innovation. In large part, Richardson’s trio lets the tunes’ original melodies and harmonies speak for themselves, but then he adds a lightly bluesy (“Phantom Other”) or propulsive, freewheeling (“Golden Brown”) flavor as the renditions progress. A D.C. native and graduate of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and Howard University, Richardson has been making a name for himself on the burgeoning jazz scene here. As his debut album attests, that’s a good thing for the city. (Giovanni Russonello) Buy album at cdbaby.com
Hubbub, Rodney Richardson Trio [audio:http://ehub23.webhostinghub.com/~capita37/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/09-hubbub4.mp3|titles=Hubbub|artists=Rodney Richardson Trio|width=204|righticon=0x444444|lefticon=0x444444]

Feeling That Way Now, Brad Linde Ensemble
Brad Linde digs bop. On his Feeling That Way Now, Linde comes out of the box swingin’ with a solo over the uptempo opening track “Budo,” then follows that with the (only somewhat ironically titled) “Boplicity (Be Bop Lives).” But while there’s plenty of that boppish energy on the album, it’s undeniably a cool jazz record. Linde, who has gained extra recognition this year as the co-leader of the popular Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra, heads a 10-piece band here through tributes to Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool and the album The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall. The ensemble skews toward an early-Bob Brookmeyer and Gil Evans sound, whether playing compositions by the local pianist Gene D’Andrea or “Feeling that Way Now” by Monk. At the same time, particularly on D’Andrea’s charts, layered rhythms with a tinge of Maria Schneider’s influence sometimes jump in. The horns here are not concerned with draping themselves over the beat, so much as gliding atop it. That makes for a dramatic effect. Linde takes some very strong solos here, and trombonist Matt Musselman’s lyricism shines, especially over the Chris Byars arrangement of “Baby Grand.” Drawing on the strengths of past music, Brad Linde is making a case for keeping cool jazz alive in the 21st century. (Note: Feeling That Way Now was officially released in late 2009, but Linde celebrated its release with a series of shows in 2010, so we’ve included it on this year’s list.) (Giovanni Russonello) Buy album at cdbaby.com
Baby Grand, Brad Linde Ensemble
[audio:http://ehub23.webhostinghub.com/~capita37/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/03-baby-grand4.mp3|titles=Baby Grand|artists=Brad Linde Ensemble|width=204|righticon=0x444444|lefticon=0x444444]

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