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Brick's Picks: New Traditionalists, Old Innovators 

Monday, Jan 21 2008
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The big jazz events this week are well within the tradition — depending on which tradition you're talking about. The Monterey Jazz Festival 50th Anniversary Band is coming to town, and judging from the sounds of the CD (on Concord) of their performance at the Festival last summer the MJF/50 All Stars are in a in a celebratory mood. Trumpeter Terence Blanchard, sax legend James Moody, pianist Benny Green and the rest all turn in some terrific straight-ahead performances, Nnenna Frelon steps up to the mic to sing and the whole event is pretty much guaranteed to be a great time of solid jazz. No surprises, maybe, but plenty of fired-up solos. They'll be at Royce Hall on Friday night, but this is a helluva tour, and they'll be giggin' at Irvine's Barclay Hall the night before, and are off to the Haugh Performing Arts Center at Citrus College in Glendora on Saturday, the windswept Lancaster Performing Arts Center on Tuesday and California Lutheran University up in Thousand Oaks on Wednesday. (Maybe you could borrow some Deadhead's bus and hit all of them? Is that too weird?)

What will be weird is the The CalArts Creative Music Festival at the REDCAT downtown. Two nights of weirdness, in fact. Okay, experimentation. Friday opens with violinist Mark Feldman; this former Nashville-session-fiddler-turned Tzadik recording artist specialized in the crazy stuff (such as Pharoah Sanders and John Zorn — and his own). Here he pairs up his strings with the avant and fellow Zorn vet Sylvie Courvoisier's piano strings (and a like-minded ensemble) for who knows what. We have a bit more of an idea of what you'll be into when the Sacred Urban Echoes appear onstage. We can never shut up about how blown away we are by vocalist Dwight Trible, who here combines his art with fellow Leimert Park veteran, the poet Kamau Daaood, whose Language of Saxophones ("sacred act/ to vibrate the air/ and shape meaning") says it tersely, beautifully. Behind them — sometimes inside, sometimes outside, sometimes seething, sometimes seeking — will be a monstrously powerful band: pianist Nate Morgan, saxist Charles Owens, bassist Roberto Miranda, percussionist Munyungo Jackson and drummer Tony Austin, who (according to this press release here) are collectively known as T.I.M.E. (The Improvisational Music Ensemble). And on Saturday, the legendary Art Ensemble of Chicago returns. You probably know their name; their music is most often heard on college stations or on KPFK's "Rise" in the wee hours, but the AEC takes improv to new places, old places, the unexplored, the re-explored. It's gorgeous. Crazy maybe, but gorgeous. And that is just as much part of the jazz tradition as the straightest straight-ahead. Take your pick. (See Music Pick.)

Also ... pianist Cyrus Chestnut brings his blend of gospel, blues and bop into the Jazz Bakery on Friday and Saturday. The Arthur Blythe Quintet do one of their occasional live appearances, this time in the intimate confines of the downstairs lounge in the Ramada Hollywood (1160 N. Vermont) on Saturday. You might have some of Blythe's classics from the 80's (if you don't have Lenox Avenue Breakdown, then get it) and though his sound now is cooler, more introspective, Blythe's alto still has to be one of the most distinctive in jazz. Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt begins a stand at the Jazz Bakery Wednesday and Thursday, and that will be a kick.

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Trumpeter Carl Saunders joins trombonist Scott Whitfield for a couple of sets of inspired bop at the Back Room on Friday, and the Carl Saunders Quintet does the same again at the Lighthouse beginning at 11 a.m. on Sunday. On Monday, Saunders brings his brilliant Be Bop Big Band into Charlie O's. Also on Monday, the Isaac Smith Big Band returns to the Jazz Bakery. The last time the Leimert Park-based trombonist brought this band into the Bakery the place was jammed and the results were reported to have been extraordinary, so we've been really looking forward to their return. Smith also brings his quintet (with the intense Walter Smith on sax) to the Crowne Plaza on Thursday. And the equally inspired vibist Nick Mancini is around town as usual; first with his sextet at the very happening Pasadena Jazz Institute on Friday, and then with a great quartet (including the brilliant pianist Otmaro Ruiz and the idiosyncratic drumming of Nate Wood) at Jazz, for one of those periodic Jazz At the A Frame, up in the Hollywood Hills (call 310-659-9169). And drummer Matt Slocum is back in town with a pair of fine trios, first with pianist Josh Nelson and bassist Darek Oles at the Café Metropol on Friday, and then doing the organ trio thing with Joe Bagg on the B-3 and guitarist John Storie) at the Café 322 on Saturday.

There's some terrific saxophonery at Charlie O's all weekend, with Don Menza on Friday and Mel Martin (or Be Bop and Beyond) down from the Bay Area on Saturday, while Doug Webb is back on Sunday. Can't go wrong with any of that bunch. Saxist Dale Fielder gets a great Pepper Adams feel on the baritone, and he'll be at the Westin LAX on Wednesday, while across town the same night at Jax in Glendale, it's trumpeter Elliot Caine's Quintet (with tenor Carl Randall), and that is always a great couple of sets.

And certainly one of this week's highlights has to be the Ultimate Afro Cuban Jazz Quartet, featuring pianist Chuchito Valdez and conguero Francisco Aguabella at the Pasadena Jazz Institute on Saturday. Chuchito is Chucho's son and Bebo's grandson — one of the most extraordinary familial traditions in all of Cuban music and in all of jazz. This is Francisco and Chuchito's first performance together, and as the event is a tribute to the extraordinary conguero Carlos "Patato" Valdes, who passed just last month, the emotion will be running high. Absolutely recommended. And a great space the PJI is, too. And if you got a Latin jones this week, there's Katia Moraes and SambaGuru on Saturday at La Ve Lee, the Frank Fontaine Latin Jazz Quintet at Spazio on Monday, the Los Angeles Tango Quartet (with violinist Christine Brebes up from Buenos Aires) at Club El Baron (8641 Washington Blvd. in Culver City), and Bobby Matos & the Latin Jazz Trio (with pianist Theo Saunders) on Thursday at the Hollywood Studio Bar & Grill. So go see something.

Brick can be reached at brickjazz@yahoo.com.

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