Washington, D.C. is a city which, with regards to contemporary music, has primarily been known for its arguably dissonant musical roots, through the likes of Henry Rollins, Dave Grohl/Scream, and the 9:30 Club. Now, there is nothing wrong with this. I have been a fan, to varying degrees, of all of these.
However, in recent years, a kinder, gentler front has been making her way across the DC Music scene. Her name is Nicki Gonzalez.
I first saw Ms. Gonzalez perform, as I was strolling into my old (and now defunct) bar of choice, Revolution. I'd been there before with my ex-roommate and a few of her acquaintances. One night, after returning from dinner with a friend, I return to a voice mail waiting for me, from one of the said acquaintances who happened to be in town, and wanted to meet up "at that bar you go to all the time". Seeing as it was five minutes away, I rushed over to meet him.
I ended up missing Kent... but, that night, was introduced to the vibrant, resonating voice that belonged to Nicki.
I'd seen the posters on the wall, advertising her upcoming show, but I never took them too seriously. Probably because this place used to be a coffeehouse, or because I'd never really liked their taste in music before. I suppose I figured "The Nicki Gonzalez Band" would be some nouveau-hippie emo band, singing five-cent covers and hawking fifteen dollar CDs. How wrong I was!
I ordered my Guinness
and stood there dumbfounded in the dimly lit annex, listening to and watching this amazingly soulful woman groove through pop octaves and jazz melodies, like an aural Fred Astaire
Unfortunately, I only got to see the last 30 minutes of their set. Nonetheless, I was hooked. Running the risk of looking like a total fanboy
, I went up to Ms. Gonzalez at the end of the show, thanking her for the performance. She was completely gracious, this first time I met her, and has been ever since.
The Nicki Gonzalez Band has been around at least since 1999 -- this is as far back as the Wayback Machine will archive their website. The band consists of several musicians, most notably Ms. Gonzalez herself. A DC area native, Nicki draws influence from musicians that range from Ella Fitzgerald to Jimi Hendrix and even Shannon Hoon. She pens vivid lyrics that come to life with softer undertones of life as she knows it: the lazy sundays, the weekday rush, and living with the greatest love of her life, her son. Poetic with honest integrity, she's a cool glass of water in today's overly saccharine music industry.
Her lyrics are only complemented, however, by the musical expertise of her brother Ira, whose mellow jazz bass and warm voice accompanies her during their live sets and on their first album. Ira, too, is influenced by a wide variety of musicians, from Miles Davis and Thelonius Monk to Paul Simon and Bob Marley.
In 2001, Nicki Gonzalez and her band were each nominated for "Wammies", or WAMA (Washington Area Music Association) awards, Ms. Gonzalez for Best Contemporary Jazz Artist, and the band, which ended up winning for "Best Contemporary Jazz Duo/Group".
Their first, self-titled, album was put out in 2000, and has a mellow, heady lounge jazz feel to it, while still managing to mix it up a bit with the occasional faster-paced track. Nicki sings a sonorous duet with Ira on one track, who also contributes a solo vocal performance on this effort, as well.
In December of 2002, their long-awaited sophomore effort, Spilt Milk was released, which, at initial review, appears to contain similar material while touting a fuller, more mature, sound. Here's hoping that they continue down this path, with successful results in the end. At a time where the airwaves are looking pretty stagnant, it seems there's a small sliver of blue sky visible over D.C..
More information about Nicki Gonzalez and her band can be found at their website: http://www.ngband.com/