The Washington Post's Free MP3 Download Site

Mark Sabbatini By

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With campaign season in full swing, sacrificing an evening with the Washington Post becoming wise in the ways of our nation's capital seems reasonable. And it reveals a clear path in these times of a sharply divided electorate:

Pledge allegiance to those following a Duke.

That would be candidate Ellington in this case, as music fans willing to invest nothing more than a few hours clicking a mouse can become a voice of authority about the jazz scene in the legend's home town. The Post is now offering free MP3 downloads at its web site, which as of August 2004 contains about 230 jazz songs by 85 performers totaling 18 hours in length (the number of songs in all categories is considerably larger).

Participating musicians contribute anywhere from one short song to several extended-length tracks, provide generally well-written overviews of their work and offer links to sites where more information - and sometimes songs - exist.

There's obviously a wide variety in styles, talent and audio quality, but generally they sound professional and slant somewhat towards progressive mainstream and fusion. Sorting them all goes beyond what can be covered here, but these are a few of the shorthand notes jotted down while the MP3 player spent a weekend plugging through the files:

  • "Carl Filipiak: generous offering of five songs, better than average mainstream fusion."

  • "Danielle Westphal: a Diana Krall-type with four songs."

  • "The Dave Cosby Project: pretty good Latin fusion."

  • "Kenny Wright: wildly uneven - great funk on 'Bootsy The Cat,' but some tepid smooth jazz."

  • "Shake: avant-garde guitar fusion, maybe worth another listen."

  • "New HOTS Jazz Orchestra: decent Dixie and swing 'little' big band, good change of pace."

  • "Lori Williams: one of the better vocalists and a good supporting cast."

  • "The Drummstick - too much of a New Age gloss-and-novelty act."

  • Mud Pie: One of the better offerings, with 45 minutes of contemporary free-jazz guitar/bass/drums/ percussion quartet in four long movements."

  • "Steve Wolf And Swing Speak: one of the good traditional bands."

  • "Ron Holloway: Rollins disciple delivers some decent funk-fusion."

Navigation is simple, with listings available by genre. Song files contain the name of the artist and song title, an enormous help in keeping them organized. New songs posted during the past 14 days are listed, but not by genre. A short list of editor's picks is another option, although no jazz songs were among the five listed at the time of this writing.

Downloading this many files will take a few hours, even with a high-speed connection, in part because of the time necessary to select each artist's page and download their songs individually. But it's worthwhile, as the size, diversity and quality is well above most commercial sites. Many performers will likely be unfamiliar, so the best approach may be storing them on a hard drive or a couple of MP3 CDs (the jazz collection exceeds 1GB) and doing a random playthrough. It's like getting a marathon session of commercial-free jazz radio, with the ability to investigate further when something of interest is heard - which is almost guaranteed for any type of listener.

Search for MP3s at mp3.washingtonpost.com .

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