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Brick's Picks: Running Hot and Cold 

Jazz in L.A., May 2-8

Wednesday, Apr 30 2008
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Back in the days when every alto saxophonist seemed to sound like Charlie Parker, Lee Konitz didn’t. Bird’s playing exploded, Lee’s floated. When cool jazz came into being, Lee’s sound was a natural fit (well, obviously: That’s him with Miles on Birth of the Cool), and his ethereal tone and subtly free-flowing ideas will still move you. He has a huge lifetime catalog (though if we had to pick just one, it’d be Motion) and is still consistently recording little masterpieces. Bring your imagination and listen. He’s with a trio at the Jazz Bakery through Saturday. And trombonist Curtis Fuller begins his stand at the Bakery on Wednesday. Fuller was also all over the NYC jazz scene of the ’50s, but his was the hard-bop world — years spent with Cannonball and the Jazz Messengers and Benny Golson and scads of other hard-swinging, hard-grooving outfits. And that is what he has assembled around him here: tenor George Harper, pianist Nate Morgan, bassist Tony Dumas and drummer Fritz Wise. This will be as hot as Lee’s sets are cool.

The locals are out this week, and it’s plenty solid. On Friday, saxist Justo Almario is at LACMA, and when this man gets going the audiences goes nuts — it is sheer exultation, waves of Trane. Then head over to the Café 322 for Bobby Bradford’s mad Mo’tet, or to the Café Metropol downtown to see saxist Dale Fielder... last time around, his quartet roared through the joint, and wild solos and hard-assed ensemble playing must have had that poor woman upstairs hiding in her closet. And it’s always fun to see pianist Jane Getz’s ideas play across the keyboard. On Saturday at Rosalie & Alva’s in San Pedro, it’s pianist Otmaro Ruiz, who seems, so far, to be one of those visionary jazzmen whose compositional ideas seem a little beyond what fits into the concepts of jazz and Latin jazz today. Full of pan-American rhythms, classical references and wide-ranging jazz notions, all driven by his astonishing virtuosity, this is mind-blowing stuff. And he’s brought along his regular quartet, including Jimmy Branly’s dizzying syncopation and saxist Ben Wendel’s willingness to go anywhere (and chops to do so). Highly recommended.

Thursday’s a tough choice: Out at the Crowne LAX, Isaac Smith shows just how impassioned a trombonist can be, from way up in the brass stratosphere down to beautiful balladeering. His quartet features the excellent pianist Danny Grissett. And at the Edison downtown (108 W. Second St., in an alley called Harlem Place), the virtuosic vibist and composer Nick Mancini performs with his Collective, while just a few blocks down the street, the fire-eating saxist Azar Lawrence and his tough quartet (pianist Nate Morgan, bassist Trevor Ware, drummer Fritz Wise) are at 2nd Street Jazz (366 E. Second St.) in Little Tokyo. The downtown jazz scene continues to bubble away just beneath the surface, and perhaps things will catch on ...

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What will never catch on is the avant garde ... and if it did, its purveyors would change it to make sure next time it didn’t. But it sure can be fun when you can find it — like this Sunday at the Eagle Rock Center for the Arts (2225 Colorado Blvd., 626-795-4989), where trombonist Michael Vlatkovich and tuba hero William Roper do strange things without saxophones, supported ably by Dead Air (featuring trumpeter Dan Clucas, another of Bobby Bradford’s students sent out to see just how far things can be pushed while idolizing Bubber Miley). But prepare yourself first by heading out to the Musicians Union (817 N. Vine St., 323-462-2161) Sunday at 2 p.m. for the California Jazz Foundation’s Jazz Explosion. Alto Bruce Babad kicks it off nicely with a Paul Desmond tribute, followed by Latin jazz from Ramon Banda, vocalist Billy Valentine and a final blowout by — who else? — Azar Lawrence. All that and a couple of the special whammies the nice jazz ladies mix at the bar will prepare you for anything on a tuba and a trombone.


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

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