Monday, Oct. 21, 7 p.m., $15
The Fruit, Durham
Brian Horton Jazz Residency
Tuesdays, 9-11:30, free
On a recent Monday night, I was running a little late to The Fruit, where a line was snaking out of the door for that night’s edition of the semi-weekly Local Jazz series. I joined the queue to catch some of Durham’s best homegrown jazz talent: On this night, it was pianist Ernest Turner and his recently reconfigured trio, with bassist Kevin Beardsley and drummer Jeremy “Bean” Clemons.
Inside, the half-full Fruit felt like a concert hall masquerading as a jazz club. Risers with rows of chairs attempted to blend in with the walls while a smattering of round candlelit tables surrounded the stage. The first folks in line snatched those up right away. I grabbed a seat in the front row of risers with a cold beverage. When Turner (wearing a sharp burgundy suit) and company took the stage after a short, enthusiastic introduction from emcee Shana Tucker, the crowd went wild, then immediately shut up, listening deeply, which Turner rewarded with a wide-ranging, gripping performance that was somehow at its best when he was playing ballads. In between songs, he chattered with the audience, who weren’t afraid to chatter back. It felt like a gathering of friends with one purpose in mind: listening to jazz. I walked back to my car simultaneously hungry (having missed dinner to make it) and satiated.
On Tuesday night, because the weather was a touch cooler, I decided to bike to Kingfisher, one of Durham’s newest bars, where saxophonist Brian Horton has a weekly residency. Even so, I was running late enough that I forgot to turn off the light of my bike, so Horton’s trio was already playing when I walked through Kingfisher’s basement door. It had been probably eight years since I had last seen Horton at his old spot at Whiskey on Thursday nights. It’s safe to say that Kingfisher is not Whiskey by any stretch of the imagination. Whiskey was always smoky and incredibly loud, without enough places to sit, especially when the band was playing. The quality of the music made it worth it, just barely.
Kingfisher, on the other hand, is a great spot to see jazz. The low ceilings and strange layout mean that the sound carries without ever getting overwhelming, even when Horton’s trio expanded to a sextet with an extra rank of horns during the second set. I was initially seated at a bank of tables off to one side. I couldn’t see the band, but I could hear just fine, even though I made it a point to gradually shift to a better vantage point as people around me slowly left. Horton’s trio is a rollicking force, with each player pushing the others ever outward. At one point, the drummer pulled out a clattering second-line groove so deep that it very nearly made my head explode.
Kingfisher is, first and foremost, a bar, meaning that, while there were plenty of people there to listen, there was also plenty of talking going on throughout. It added an air of informality to the show that seemed to complement Horton’s low-key vibe (particularly during the second set, which became a kind of blowing session on a bunch of standards). And even though the service was occasionally a little slow, Kingfisher’s cocktails are tasty, a savory complement to the music wafting around. The experience couldn’t have been more different than the previous night’s, but the jazz was just as good.
Now, does anyone know how to jump-start a bike light? I’ve got to make it to The Fruit to see NCCU alumnus and sax player Shaquim Muldrow this Monday night, and I swear that this time, I’m not going to be late.
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