With a respite from the harsh weather that had tied up the city earlier in the week, Ballard Avenue was alive Thursday night with the festive laughter of bar-hopping crowds sampling some of Seattle's finest jazz.
The snow and ice had melted, the winds had stopped, and the sky was clear. The eight venues participating in the Ballard Jazz Walk were comfortably full. Traffic moved in and out steadily, and there was always a free chair to be found amid the friendly tables.
The walk started at the New York Fashion Academy, where tickets were picked up, merchandise sold, and information distributed. Its rustic gallery ambience set an informal tone in keeping with the city's more traditional art walks.
Pearl Django, an acoustic quartet performing the swing music of Django Reinhardt as well as American standards such as Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine," tempered the atmosphere with brisk rhythms and Gypsy melodies.
Next door, at the Tractor Tavern, the Origin Uber Band was suggestive of where fusion might have gone had the movement been spearheaded by John Coltrane rather than Miles Davis. Much of the music was composed by the two guitarists, with the tightly coherent journey of Rick Mandyck's "Escape" contrasting with Dave Peterson's looser and more spacious "Black Friday." Drummer John Bishop kept the tempos shifting.
Matt Jorgensen is another of the city's most exciting drummers, as well as an ace composer. His band, Matt Jorgensen +451, opened its set at Conor Byrne's Pub with Led Zeppelin's "No Quarter" before tackling "Slinky," co-written by Jorgensen and saxophonist Mark Taylor. This was deep listening music for the cerebral set.
Lighter fare was on tap at the Lock and Keel Tavern, with Sonando filling the air with Afro-Cuban sounds. Tom Bergensen's conga drums back-pedaled the rhythm as traces of the Hollies' "Bus Stop" sprinted through the jaunty flute melodies supported by a pleasantly subdued trombone.
For lovers of vocal music, Greta Matassa fronted the Randy Halberstadt Trio at Bad Albert's Bar and Grill. After accommodating a request for a Billie Holiday tune with her impression of "Lover Man," Matassa paid tribute to Anita O'Day, who passed away last week, with a moving rendition of Benny Golsen's "Whisper Not."
The Collective was the most unique of the participating venues. The acoustics were beautiful and the seating arrangement both stylish and creative. It felt like a loft party on a Southern estate. Bill Anschell's trio, with guest Thomas Marriott on trumpet, was the epitome of sophistication, and a perfect fit for the room's causal elegance.