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Grammy Grumblings, Jon Hassell, the John Heard Trio and others 

Jazz in L.A., February 13-19

Wednesday, Feb 11 2009
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A lot of hoity-toity goings on lately, with invite-only Miles Davis Kind of Blue reissue bashes and all the Grammy stuff. A lot of fancy people in fancy suits drinking fancy free drinks and talking about jazz — or mostly not talking about jazz, which sometimes seemed to be only the background music at these things, so as not to interfere with the conversations. How many of the people milling about have ever set foot in a jazz club anyway? The disconnect between these jazz celebrations and the jazz you see in the joints around town is sad and surreal. No wonder, since as far as jazz goes, the Grammys don’t mean a damn thing. Not to living jazz anyway. Celebrating the glories of Blue Note is fine — and that’s a lotta glory, a thousand amazing records’ worth — but it’s history. It’s old. Not one but two generations old. And while there isn’t a jazz freak around who doesn’t wish they had every single album Alfred Lion ever produced, this totally ignores the fact that there is a helluva lot of wonderful jazz being created and recorded right now. Indeed, being created the very night all the suits and jazz celebrities had their shining Grammy hour putting this music to rest in a gilded, reissued casket. The jazz in the local joints in this town is alive. Creative and challenging and very much alive and usually as far below the popular radar now as a lot of now-classic Blue Note artists were then. And since these players are still with us, you can go hear them.

So Charlie O’s is swinging hard, old style with Don Menza and the John Heard Trio on Friday, or just swinging out there with the amazing saxist Benn Clatworthy on Sunday. Benn’s playing slays us every time; you never know where he is heading, but it will be both intensely beautiful and fierce and fine, like a good, strong booze. And vocalist Mon David is at Vibrato on Tuesday. From the Philippines and now living here, he has a style so refreshing and affecting, his jazz feel so right-on and so swinging, and his take on “Footprints” nails us every time. He has pianist Tateng Katindig, a remarkable player himself, leading his band. The same night over in Little Tokyo, the ever-imaginative vibist Nick Mancini has a trio (and guests) at 2nd Street Jazz (366 E. 2nd). This is one of those venues popular with the intense young players who have been popping up in little clubs clustered near downtown. Mancini has the kind of chops, ideas and attitude that make his shows a joy. The next night, Brian Swartz & the Gnu Sextet are at the Dakota Music Lounge (formerly the Temple Bar, at 1026 Wilshire Blvd., in Santa Monica). Swartz has been fighting the good fight for years, collecting young players together at the Club 1160 and prompting them to jam their asses off. He has an exceptional band with him at the Dakota, with one of our favorite local saxophonists, Matt Otto, up front with him. And taking his old spot at the Club 1160 this night is trumpeter Josh Welchez, who plays well, and is turning into an excellent writer of compositions shot through with a (dare we say it) classic Blue Note feel. Very nice stuff. Now if you have the bread, saxist Houston Person will absolutely rock the Crowne Plaza on Thursday; the same night, guitarist Anthony Wilson is at Spazio. Ideas just fly out of Wilson’s fingers, whether he is getting down, or laying out the perfect bossa notes, or exploring places a lot of other guitarists don’t go near.

Then, there are times when you know something is happening but you don’t know what it is. Like Jon Hassell & Maarifa Street at UCLA’s Royce Hall on Friday. Trumpeter and self-described “Fourth World” composer Hassell is a legend, with a curriculum vitae — Terry Riley, India, fringe jazz, Philip Glass, Peter Gabriel — that’s bewildering in its scope. His latest, Last Night the MoonCame Dropping Its Clothes in the Street, is a wavy, Glassy textural thing, soothing and spooky, with hints of modal Miles, ethereal field recordings and songs of the humpback whales about it (maybe), and doubtless there are deeply laid Indian influences and avant-garde this and minimalist that. Damn if we know what to say about it. Alas, it has a feeling of importance, like this is something some people ought to go see and experience for themselves. But until we expand our horizons, the work is just an infuriating mystery that we can’t seem to grasp. It’s there, all right, we just can’t see it, like wearing sunglasses after dark.

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

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