Transfixed: Old stand-bys set standard

at Miller's
Thursday, July 1

Driving around Charlottesville, it's hard to miss how quickly the city is growing: apartments on Main Street, developments out Avon Street, Route 20 south and north, Old Lynchburg Road, and of course the ever expanding University. It's happening, and happening fast. Although I would love to complain about traffic and all the other clich├ęs that come with the territory, I'm forced to bite my tongue because, alas, I too am a transplant here, adding to the congestion.

With the current boom we say, "In with the new– but not necessarily out with the old or familiar."

As a matter of fact, in many cases, the familiar staples of Charlottesville are surviving by providing inspiration and a foundation for the new. Case in point: Dawn Thompson and John D'earth's Thursday night jazz at Miller's.

By far the longest-running music residency in Charlottesville, Thompson/D'earth never fail to provide a weekly dose of heavy-hitting jazz. In an attempt to keep the weekly shows fresh, D'earth has a rotating stable of talented players who sit in and try and keep up with his level of leadership.

This past Thursday night was no exception. The hipsters brought along to play were members of the fusion ensemble Modern Groove Syndicate– an outfit whose talent far outweighs their mass appeal.

And so, instead of spending my one night out listening to the futuristic sounds of Laptopalooza at R2, I chose to go for what I knew, something guaranteed to complete my day and satisfy my evening. D'earth is the type of player who plays whatever he is feeling– whether pleasant or disturbing. I've seen him blow intense pain through his trumpet as many times as I've heard him soothe and excite. His mood may very well determine how you feel when you leave the venue.

On Thursday, he became a supporting actor, allowing the others in his sextet to dictate the vibe. For the most part, the vibe was mellow and mysterious– an aura that illuminates Dawn Thompson on stage and off. Dawn's vocals subtly and gracefully layer a sexy mantle over the band's arrangements. As a vocalist, she gives the musicians space to explore the nuances of the songs. Her tunes frequently have long vocal-less interludes, taking the song far from its roots only to cleverly come unexpectedly back to her vocals.

As far as I'm concerned, Daniel Clark on keys stole the show. He's as tasteful as one can get. I marveled at his fingers dancing around the keys, producing unexpected, but always right-on, results. D'earth smiled with approval as he and drummer Brian Kaputo created a vicious pocket that had the entire room transfixed.

I began to notice the eyes and faces around me at Miller's. The eyes of the young crowd was glued to the alchemy on stage. Seeing it all made so much sense. Thompson/D'earth may be one of the longest-running musical traditions here, but they're one of the few who will continue to inspire the influx of young new musicians as our city grows.

Thursday night is jazz night at Miller's.