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Hot Week for Latin Lovers 

Latin Jazz Festival 2008 at the Greek, plus spicy fare at Catalina, Jazz Bakery

Wednesday, May 7 2008
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Saturday night at the Greek Theater brings something called the Los Angeles Latin Jazz Festival 2008, and it certainly looks to be a great night. Headlining is pianist Eddie Palmieri, whose amazing technique mixes Monk and McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock into Afro-Cuban music, and whose La Perfecta brought a trombone (or two) front and center, giving this music so much of its power. Salsa fans will remember him from the Fania All Stars (and if you don’t have any of those sides, pick some up). He’ll have some great players with him, of course, including Puerto Rican vocalist Herman Olivera and Cuban violinist Alfredo de la Fe, and this stuff will be hot. Palmieri’s roots go all the way back to the era of the great Latin dance bands of the ’50s (brought to life so vividly in the PBS documentary The Palladium: Where Mambo Was King), so having veterans of Tito Puente’s orchestra appearing as the Latin Giants of Jazz is perfect ... and they’re joined by flutist Dave Valentin and percussionist Oreste Vilato (of Santana). Opening the night is our own mighty Jazz on the Latin Side All-Stars. KKJZ announcer/bandleader Jose Rizo’s collection of the best Latin players in town — conguero Francisco Aguabella and saxist Justo Almario, among them — absolutely burns. What a triple bill this will be.

But there’s more: Aguabella brings his own Afro-Cuban Latin Jazz Septet to the Jazz Bakery on Wednesday and Thursday. Aguabella is one of the conga greats, and he’s played in every context, from the purest, most searing rumbas and montunos to the jamming Latin rock of Malo. But this band is Latin jazz through and through, with the outrageous horn lineup of saxist Benn Clatworthy, trombonist Isaac Smith and trumpeter Richard Grant — each a passionate, soulful master of his instrument. Between Clatworthy and Smith’s fury and Grant’s drop-dead-gorgeous tone and the killer rhythms led by Aguabella, this will go places, some serious places.

And there’s even more: local pianist Scott Oakley y Sus Incomparables (bassist Rigoberto Lopez, drummer Raul Pineda — both learned their craft in Havana — as well as percussionist Bob Fernandez and the hot tenor and flute work of James King) will be playing material from Oakley’s brand-new Canción Para Mi Amor at the Jazz Bakery on Sunday. Some nice, pure jazz improv on this one. And Justo Almario joins Brazilian percussionist Mayuto & Sounds of Brazil at Catalina Bar and Grill on Wednesday. Ranging widely through Africa and Latin America and jazz and jam is John Denmore’s Tribal Jazz, at Catalina on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. And by the way, Densmore still won’t let Doors tunes be commercialized ... so you won’t be hearing “Crystal Ship” on a Carnival-cruise commercial anytime soon, which you just got to love.

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Now, if you’re joining for some serious straight-ahead, don’t forget trombone great Curtis Fuller at the Jazz Bakery on Friday and Saturday. Hard, hard stuff ... and his band includes tenor George Harper and the crazy passionate pianist Nate Morgan. And if you need even more passionate horn playing, there’s Zane Musa and the John Heard Trio (with John Beasley on piano) at Charlie O’s on Friday or the Dale Fielder Quartet (with pianist Jane Getz) on Saturday at a new spot, the Marina City Club (4333 Admiralty Way, Marina del Rey, 310-822-0611, Ext. 211). And Wednesday the Tapscott veteran Michael Session leads his quintet (with trumpeter Steve Smith and pianist Nate Morgan) at the Westin LAX, while the same day Frank Fontaine leads his quintet at Sangria in Hermosa Beach. Sometimes you just got to have some crazy saxophone.

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

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