"I think what's different this year is that just about every band has a CD," says John Bishop, co-artistic director of the Ballard Jazz...

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“I think what’s different this year is that just about every band has a CD,” says John Bishop, co-artistic director of the Ballard Jazz Festival, which produces the Ballard Jazz Walk, coming up Thursday. “It’s also the biggest one we’ve done, in terms of the number of venues.”

Indeed. Seattle jazz will rattle the rafters at eight night spots in this old Scandinavian woodworking neighborhood.

This is one of the most joyous, flat-out fun jazz events of the year. Even if it’s raining and the wind is blowing umbrellas inside out, fans stream up and down the sidewalks of Ballard Avenue like it’s Mardi Gras, ducking into clubs, quaffing a pint of microbrew, then moving on to the next watering hole.

Jazz preview

Ballard Jazz Walk, 8 p.m. Thursday, at the 21-and-up venues Tractor Tavern, Conor Byrne, DiVino Wine Bar, Bad Albert’s Tap & Grill and Lock ‘n’ Keel Tavern; plus all-ages venues Portalis Wine Shop; The Collective; and the New York Fashion Academy, the walk headquarters, at 5201 Ballard Ave. N.W. and the place to buy a $15 lanyard, good for all the venues, as well as CDs and other merchandise (tickets also available at 888-695-0888 or www.ballardjazzfestival.com).
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The Ballard Jazz Walk started under the aegis of the Earshot Jazz Festival, then grew into the independent Ballard Jazz Festival, which has been moved to Spring 2007.

Its directors, Bishop and Matt Jorgensen, who also run Origin Records, decided to keep the popular “walk” in its same slot on the fall calendar. There will be another Ballard Jazz Walk at the spring festival.

The fall lineup, which features the Gypsy jazz band Pearl Django and popular vocalist Greta Matassa, among others, gets under way at 8 p.m. at the Tractor Tavern, Conor Byrne, the DiVino Wine Bar and five other venues.

The Ballard Jazz Walk is not only a lot of fun, it speaks to how many creative new projects have been developed on the scene recently.

Trumpeter Tom Marriott’s Willie Nelson Project, which plays Conor Byrne, offers some great new material. A sneak preview of “Crazy: The Music of Willie Nelson,” recorded last week and slated for spring release, reveals a contemporary, late Miles Davis/Weather Report-style fusion project in which melodic material is the inspiration for abstract forays into sound. There are some straightforwardly beautiful moments as well, including the gorgeous ballad “Everywhere I Go”; “Crazy” delightfully lives up to its name.

Pianist Fred Hoadley’s Afro-Cuban band, Sonando, which plays the Lock ‘n’ Keel, has a new release, too, called “Tres,” after the six-string Cuban stringed instrument, which Hoadley plays on the album. I love his stately arrangement of the tune “Delilah.” Sonando is a vastly underappreciated Seattle band with a mature style and comprehensive knowledge of Cuban music.

Though pianist Bill Anschell isn’t performing with the horn section from his fine new CD, “More to the Ear Than Meets the Eye,” his supple trio — Jeff Johnson (bass) and Byron Vannoy (drums) — is on hand, both on its own and with Marriott.

Matassa’s excellent album “Favorites From a Long Walk” is by far the best she’s released. The sparkling vocalist plays Bad Albert’s with the Randy Halberstadt Trio.

The restlessly brilliant vibist Ben Thomas’ 2005 album, “Triskaidekaphobia,” still sounds fresh. Thomas plays with his trio — Dean Schmidt (bass) and Jose Martinez (drums) — at the DiVino Wine Bar.

The other bands on the program are the Origin Über Band, featuring Bishop, saxophonist Rich Cole and two guitars; Matt Jorgensen +451, led by the other festival co-director, drummer Jorgensen; and the rarely seen and once enormously popular duo of Tom Collier (vibes) and Dan Dean (bass), which released “Duets” on Origin a couple of years ago.

See you out there!

Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or pdebarros@seattletimes.com

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