by Timothy Forbes
HR-57’s banner, freshly hung at 1007 H St. NE, feels more like a declaration of promise than a reality. It stands out from neighboring signs that advertise cell phone services and church services, sitting suspended above a facade of bare, unfinished plywood. On Friday night, though, the only marketing that seemed necessary was the powerful and dexterous sound of Antonio Parker’s alto saxophone, which flew out the wide-open windows and into the street. HR-57 had been closed for a few weeks amidst a move from H Street’s 800 block, but it is now very much back in business.
For all the venue’s new qualities, the musicians on stage kept the evening thoroughly grounded in history. Parker, a regular headliner at both of the club’s previous locations, led a quartet that included drummer Keith Killgo, a founding member of the local funk group the Blackbyrds and a mentor of Parker’s. D.C. jazz veterans Cheney Thomas on bass and Darius Scott on piano completed the quartet, with fellow Blackbyrds charter member Allan Barnes joining the group on soprano saxphone for a number of tunes.
Parker’s saxophone delighted, as always, moving deftly through aggressive, straight-ahead jazz as well as softer ballads. Killgo’s seasoned drumming was syncopated with some improvised clapping and un-miced vocal accompaniment to augment Parker’s solos.
The new venue, the almost two-decade-old jazz club’s third incarnation in two years, retains key elements that regulars will find familiar — namely, reasonably priced, reliable soul food, and a BYOB policy. The space itself, however, is more capacious and inviting than the preceding H St. location. The acoustics are a welcome upgrade, with the music filling the club more profoundly than at any of HR-57’s previous sites. Large windows that can be flung wide open provide a strong, welcome connection to the neighborhood and an airy feel to the venue. Now that HR-57 is settled in, it can justifiably call itself a linchpin of the flourishing H St. scene.
Timothy Forbes is an independent photographer. You can find more of his work, including additional shots from HR-57’s new location, at timothyforbes.com.