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Brick's Picks: Charmaine Clamor’s “jazzapino” Grooves 

Wednesday, Nov 5 2008
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Our picks this week are a little slim — it’s a slow month — but here are some choice ones. On Friday at Spazio, John Altman will showcase his quartet. Altman plays the rarely seen curved soprano, a funny little horn with a soulful sound (for you rock fans: it’s the tiny sax that Garth Hudson plays for a couple seconds there in The Last Waltz). Altman turns its tone into some swinging jazz, and his quartet appearances run the gamut of material, from bop standards and tin pan alley classics to obscure English show tunes (Altman is quite the historian). You Started Something, should you ever find the damn thing, illustrates his style perfectly: swinging, medium tempo’d and straight-ahead. L.A. appearances are rare — a big-band gig last summer, basically — and this is his first local quartet gig in a couple years. That’s what happens when you’re spending your time off in London, jamming with Prince or every jazzman passing through Blighty, not to mention writing a zillion scores. In fact, he was recently feted all over the Indian press for some Bollywood work (he can talk cricket, too). But what does he really want? To get up in front of a little jazz club crowd in Los Angeles and play that crazy horn of his.

Charmaine Clamor’s Flippin’ Out made a huge splash (for a vocalist) with her blend of jazz and Tagalog standards, what some marketing genius called “jazzapino.” It got a lot of play on the world-music radio, even NPR. So this time she really took the world plunge and recorded an entire CD of Tagalog love songs, My Harana, and it’s gorgeous. The instrumentation is spare — guitars (and such), bass, Filipino percussion — her singing is evocative, sensual. The duet with vocalist Mon David is almost spooky. Wonderful stuff — even the non-pinays dig it. The official release is at Catalina Bar and Grill on Sunday, a room she owns whenever she’s there. Like Altman, she doesn’t do that many local gigs anymore, so catch this one.

Pianist Theo Saunders does play a lot around town as a sideman. Describing piano playing trips us up every time, but his style is a little more spare than most, not Basie spare but a refined Monkishness, in a way, or the more spacious McCoy Tyner. What he doesn’t do often enough is lead, which is a shame, considering the quality of his own stuff, which we’d think would be begging for release. Someday, maybe. In the meantime he’s fronting a quartet at Charlie O’s on Tuesday, and he always assembles the best players, so the jazz will be deep and flying. The perfect joint for it, too — a pure jazz spot. This will be a good one.

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And from out of town comes alto player Sonny Fortune kicking off a four-night stint at the Jazz Bakery on Wednesday. The man absolutely burns, with a technique both intense and inspired — lots of that old ’Trane fire, which permeated his excellent releases in the old days, as well as the more straight-ahead swinging material from the last decade. As with any era, Fortune soaked in the vibe of the times he played in, so that fire and intensity you hear weren’t picked up in school or secondhand, but directly — it was in the air back then, the water, the smoke. Hence the fire. Check out Serengeti Minstrel: His flute and Woody Shaw’s trumpet get into it. Oh man. He’ll have ideal accompaniment at the Bakery. too, with Theo Saunders, bassist Skipper Franklin and Roy McCurdy on drums. Dig it.

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

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