Thursday, October 23, 2014

Blow by Blow

I knew I'd made the right choice of what to do tonight when I saw how many musicians were in the room.

A lot of really good ones.

The Broadberry was hosting trumpeter Rex Richardson's dual CD release party tonight and just about every table and chair in the place was already taken when I got there. Plenty of people were standing in front of the stage, too, and more continued to arrive.

No surprise there because Rex is kind of a big deal, a phenomenal musician whether he's blowing on a trumpet, coronet, flugelhorn or whatever.

My interest in tonight's program had its seeds in a show I'd gone to at the Singleton Center back in 2006 when Rex had been playing in a group called Rhythm and Brass. Memorably, that night's program had ranged from the Beatles to Radiohead with bits of everything in between.

That was the night I'd fallen for his trumpet playing (I might have even been that person who went up to him afterwards and gushed a bit).

Since that show eight years ago, I've seen him many times at VCU's Singleon Center and more recently, when he fronted an evening with the Richmond Symphony. Always on a limited budget, I'd splurged $10 on a next-to-the-last-row ticket for that show and now tonight I was dropping another ten-spot to hear Rex play his newest stuff.

His quintet began without any introduction beyond him blowing his horn to begin "Tell, Tell Me Again" and get the entire room's attention.

After that, he reminded us that CDs were for sale at a table in the back staffed by his beautiful wife Star. "Don't look at her," he warned, "look at the CDs."

After "Red Shift," which he characterized as an angry song, he said, "Now for something less manic," and played a song by the quintet's drummer, Brian Jones. It was the kind of beautiful song you could get lost in and at one point, I noticed a couple of musicians near the bar with their heads bent, not even looking at the stage, just deep in the music.

The man about town stopped by, a drink in each hand, complimented my sweater and asked if he was blocking my view (nope).

Of course Rex dedicated "Seeing Star (Blue Shift)" to "that lady at the back table selling CDs." I was bowled over when they did bassist Randall Pharr's soulful "Blues for David Henry," which they'd apparently also played on a morning TV show "when jazz musicians aren't really awake."

Just as stellar was "Big Sur" ("There's probably a story there but I never asked him") written by Jones that didn't last nearly as long as I would have liked.

Rex thanked the audience repeatedly, clearly thrilled with the size of the crowd that had shown up tonight. And just like that, the quintet portion of the show was over.

A lot of the people who'd been sitting at tables got up and left, but most of them didn't look like the kind of people who spend much time in stand up venues, so it wasn't surprising. Fact is, for a jazz show, it had started unbelievably early (not long after 8) and it was only 9:45 when the second part got rolling.

During the break, I listened to the two guys next to me on the banquette as they raved about the Star Hill Black Sabbath Stout. They were each on their fourth, so they knew of what they spoke.

All of a sudden, there was a plop next to me and a familiar smiling face sat down. It was a woman I'd met at Amuse and since run into all over town.

She was lamenting her recent resolution to only drink on weekends, although she'd had a glass of wine at dinner earlier and another at the bar at the Broadberry, so there was already some resolution bending going on. I empathized, nonetheless.

The second portion of the program was dedicated to "Dukal Bugles," written by Doug Richardson, who led a big band with some of Richmond's best jazz musicians onstage and Rex out front playing a variety of horns.

The piece is a tribute to Duke Ellington and the series of amazing trumpeters he worked with. We got a demonstration of each of the horns and sounds that would be featured before it began, but it was the seamless way Rex segued throughout that demonstrated his virtuosity.

If you weren't looking at the stage, you'd have thought there was a gaggle of horn players taking turns based on the stylistic differences we were hearing.

When it ended, everyone was on their feet and screaming for one more. The big band obliged with Mingus' "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" while  the clutch of young VCU music students behind me talked non-stop about the magic going on onstage. I was sorely tempted to tell them to button it.

Boys, boys, boys. Maybe when you're real musicians, you'll take a cue from the guys I saw tonight and just lose yourselves in the music silently.

If not, I'll just have to tell, tell you again. Music this good deserves to be heard. You opinions, not so much.

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