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Brick's Picks: The Unpackaged Groove 

Jazz in L.A., April 25-May 1

Wednesday, Apr 23 2008
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The table was so close, it abutted the stage, and when Azar blew that soprano of his you could look straight up into its innards and almost see the frantic rush of notes coming out all harmonized. It was that close. So close that you could feel the rhythm section, Lorca Hart’s pounding toms and John Heard’s thrumming bass and Nate Morgan’s jagged chords vibrating through the stage and through the table and into our bones. They had a groove going, a monster jazz groove, and it was unstoppable. Even Azar gave into it, left the stage to let the groove whirl itself senseless, turning and turning, ever widening. Morgan’s fingers were completely mad, pounding and pirouetting insanely intricate melodies out of Monk and McCoy and the blues and Chopin. Lorca, laughing, was all motion and whirring sticks. Yet things did not fall apart. Because holding down that center was Heard, just his second night back at Charlie O’s after a long, scary illness. He leaned into his instrument and laid out a perfect lattice of bass notes that held everything together as it propelled it all forward. No mere anarchy, this. This was an infinite groove. This was a happening. This was jazz in all its overwhelming power, deep black music played white hot. Nothing else mattered. Not the whole crass music business, not the manufactured pop and rock and hip-hop that passes for American culture anymore, not a music press that pompously elevates mass-produced trash into art. None of that mattered, not an iota. This was a Sufi moment, all the horrors of the world dispelled by the twirling monster groove. No one slouching nowhere. When at last it came to a stop, the audience, spent, exploded with applause and rushed the stage to congratulate the players like they’d won the Stanley Cup.

But then if you dig jazz you’ve been there. Moments like that don’t happen every time; if you see enough jazz you’ll experience them. It’s one of the very last things in America, this battered America, that can take a sick and tired you and make you feel like you touched the sun. It still does what the American music industry has destroyed in almost every other music. It remains real, unpackaged, spontaneous. It’s immune to marketing campaigns and image consultants. They may have killed rock and pop and the rest, sucked them dry, but they haven’t touched jazz. Certainly not that night at Charlie O’s ... for if there had been any A&R people in the audience that night, as Lee Ving once said, they certainly went and died.

But it’s National Jazz Appreciation Month, and who here knows it? No ad campaigns, and the city council doesn’t give a damn. But Leimert Park has two special events: Friday at the Village Theatre — 4305 Degnan Blvd., (323) 293-1230 — with drummer Winard Harper’s excellent sextet (and you can see them at Rosalie & Alva’s down in San Pedro on Saturday too). And Sunday at 2 p.m. John Heard plays the same venue — Lorca Hart’s with him again, and Danny Grissett, whom you’ll remember from Charlie O’s a few years back, playing thrilling bop piano and looking gauntly like Bud Powell. Heard’s art is on display as well — intense and beautiful things, for this man has chops with oils and clay like he has on that bass. Reed virtuoso Charles Owens is a Leimert Park regular (see the 2006 Weekly article “Don’t Sell the Soul”) but on Saturday he’s out at Cal State L.A. directing the world-class Luckman Jazz Orchestra in a Tribute to Dizzy Gillespie. Owens has Dizzy’s own arrangements, and is enthralled by Diz’s harmonic conceptions that half a century later, he says, still sound futuristic. That’s jazz appreciation.

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And Central Avenue jazz veterans still appreciate too. Ernie Andrews performs twice this Sunday, first headlining the Dolo Coker Scholarship Benefit Jazz Concert at Founders Church (3281 W. Sixth St.) from 3 to 6:30 p.m., alongside bop pianist Art Hillary,saxman George Harper and loads more (go to www.dolocokerjazz.org for more info). And then at the California Stroke Association Fundraiser at Catalina Bar and Grill alongside the Buddy Collette Quintet, Linda Hopkins and many others. Buddy was laid low by a stroke, but phoenix that he’s always been, he’s back. And though he’s not playing, he is arranging and leading and teaching and talking, talking, talking. Listen to this man. Record him. Film him (where’s that Huell Howser when you need him?). Buddy’s a one-man Jazz Appreciation Month. And let’s not forget there was jazz on the other side of the tracks back then too ... especially at the Lighthouse, where the Phil Norman Tentet play from 11 a.m. on Sunday. Memories will flow like beer at this one, with Ozzie Cadena gone. But the jazz will be wailing. Go see some this week. You need it. It needs you. Live music needs to be heard.

(Brick can be reached at brickjazz@yahoo.com.)

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