YOUR SOURCE OF JAZZ AND MORE IN WASHINGTON DC AND THE WORLD
The trombone yields tremendous power, and it can be easy to forget that content has to back up that power. Krupa did the finest balancing act of those two elements I heard this year.
BEST ALTO SAXOPHONIST:
Genuinely don’t know how he does it. Keys has some yawning reservoir somewhere of idea after musical idea, and expresses with virtuosity, energy, and astonishing grace.
BEST TENOR SAXOPHONIST:
Dixon’s wondrous album A Conversation Among Friends offers dark-chocolate tenor tone, by a man who munches on that tone with zeal.
BEST BARITONE SAXOPHONIST:
Once again, Pilzer could win this award if it were just “Best saxophonist,” plain and simple. But bari is her primary, and she has a tight-phrased, muscular, but very personal sound on it.
Johnson wins yet again, demonstrating his fearsome ability to do anything he’s asked, or discovers he needs to do. Thanks to this fall’s third album, The Art of Becoming, we can add “master of fusion” to his long list of superlatives.
BEST BASSIST: Michael Bowie
The dean was as great as he’s ever been in acoustic, straight-a-head contexts. But this year he elevated himself to electric bass badass, with rock and funk and angst all joining the party.
Norris goes after the hustle with everything he’s got. But damned if his sharp ears and joyful rhythmic precision don’t back up that hustle.
Yes, he’s probably always going to win.
2016 began Johnson’s comeback, now that he’s retired from New Jersey transit and can give music the full-time treatment. His voice is beautiful, his improvisations savvy, his lyrics clever and entertaining.
Mark G. Meadows
The keen social conscience that Meadows honed so effectively this year—“Stay Woke” might be the song of our era—came without abandoning his ingenuity for writing arrangements (his take on “Reelin’ in the Years” is a classic) or beautiful backdrops for improvisation (“Live to Look Back”).
BEST LARGE ENSEMBLE:
Twins Jazz Orchestra
Perennial winners BCJO were the highest-profile collateral damage of the Caverns’ demise; their occasional gigs notwithstanding, it thinned the competition significantly. But that’s not why Thad Wilson’s TJO won—they simply sounded beautiful, and their late-set forays into free jazz are a great adventure.
BEST SMALL ENSEMBLE:
Firebird Organ Trio
Held at the oft-overlooked Columbia Station, Firebird’s weekly gig paired a unique (and constantly rotating—with trombonist Shannon Gunn the only constant) lineup with a penchant for performing classic jazz albums. What’s not to love?