EVERY LARGE CITY has its own ambiance. Generally, it is subliminal and most people, if asked, cannot really put their fingers on just what inner elements distinguish New York from Chicago or Los Angeles from Boston. Weather, architecture and population have little to do, directly, with this inner feeling; it is a subconscious attitude rather than a physical element.
One of the things that make up a city's pulse is its music. Not the music brought in by major attractions who perform wherever they can sell tickets, but the music of area musicians who play primarily where they live and know the terrain.
Washington is a hotbed of musical activity and its natives' abilities mirror the city itself: earthy in some ways, esoteric in others; capable of both exceptional quality and inexplicable shodiness.
Three recent albums by local artists emphasize those aspects of the city/music relationship.
THE NIGHTHAWKS: Side Pocket Shot (Adelphi AD 4115) The Nighthawks are the quintessential bar band, loud and gritty with occasional flashes of grace. This third effort for locally distributed Adelphi Records showcases the band's talent as well as its limitations.
The group is no longer confined to playing D.C. dives on weekends, having gained a sizeable following in Atlanta, Boston, and New YorK. At the core, though, the Nighthawks still have juke joint moxie and this album is in that vein.
"Are You Ready (For Me Baby)" is a reworking of the old rhythm-and-blues tune which the group adapts to its chew-'em-up-spit-'em-out delivery. Jim Thackery immediately establishes his credentials as one of this area's top guitarists, and vocals are raw and effective. All that is immediately neutralized in the next track, a poor interpretation of Larry Williams's "Slow Down". This one may suffer by comparison since a lot of bands - including the Beatles - have recorded it. Still, the sluggish rhythm and thin singing make this version expendable.
Next up is the Nighthawks own "I Keep Cryin'" which may be the best tune the Hawks have ever done. Mark Wenner's harp is discreet and tasteful. Thackery's guitar blazes, and the Rhythm Kings born section (Ed Jonnet, Chris Patarini, Van Crozier, and John Hogue)moan a la Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. "I keep Cry'" is a perfect distillation of blues, rock, and bar-band swagger.
The rest of Side Pocket Shot fluctuates between average ("Honky Tonk Queen") and interesting ("Love's So Hard to Understand"). The album is essentially a description of the band - continually promising but consistently inconsistent.
TIM EYERMANN: Unity (Juldane DB-SLP-20039) This one is a local effort all the way; from the recording at Silver Spring's DB Sound Studios and Bias Recording in Falls Church to the production by Silver Spring's Jules Damian to the liner notes by area jazz heavyweights Bill Bennet and Felix Grant.
Eyermann has been a local jazz favorite for years and his frequent appearances at area clubs always draw well. This is his first albums and on it he plays reeds with both a sextet and quartet.
Live, Eyermann sometimes has a tendency to play a bit ethereally and his oboe can add a hint of mysticism to his music. On "Marracino" though, the sextet bases its improvisations on a recognizable samba rhythm.The piece is compact and Eyermann's soprano saxophone cuts through the instrumental layers for some tight ensemble playing. The title cut is more of a rocker, full and richly textured, and features some tasty runs by trombonist Lee Robertson.
"Mist Screen" and "For Our Friends in the Back" are clean if frenetic, but the quartet shines on "A Time Past," a slower piece enhanced by Tony Matarese's keyboard work.
The only major problem with Unity is its remarkably short length - the entire album clocks in under 28 minutes. That aside, it is a good first effort for a deserving performer.