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Brick’s Picks: Easing Into the Jazz 

Wednesday, Oct 14 2009
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Drummer Matt Slocum is back in town from NYC and joining up with pianist Josh Nelson and bassist Darek Oles to perform music off Slocum’s very impressive new Portraits. A smoking drummer with plenty of taste, Slocum’s really good with the colors of his instrument — the long passages of muffled work on the toms and cymbal washes that’ll underlay Nelson’s long, loitering piano explorations. Then the tempos pick up and he’s right back in the pocket. Oles is a perfect match, smart and subtle, his hands barely seem to move sometimes. Slocum’s made a mini-tour of the weekend, popping up all over the basin. On Friday at 8 p.m. he’s at lately very happening South Pasadena Music Conservatory (1509 Mission St. 626-403-2300), then Saturday down in San Pedro at Alvas Showroom for a couple sets beginning at 8 p.m., and finally for the 6 p.m. jazz vespers at the Holy Nativity Church in Westchester (6700 W. 83rd St., 310-670-4777). Portraits, incidentally, is a slice of what happens when Angelenos go to the Big Apple, they get so serious and intense, they playing edgier, and one senses a fiercely competitive jazz world. No messing around back there. L.A.’s Gerald Clayton is on piano, and tenor Walter Smith III offers a remarkable wandering tale of a solo on the opening track. He’s also got Dayna Stephens and the very impressive Jaleel Shaw (who wowed us at Catalina’s with Roy Haynes). Highly recommended, as are the trio gigs this weekend.

Pianist Ark Sano and trumpeter Richard Grant were two-fifths of Leimert Park’s Black Note back in the ’80s. ... They’ve got a quartet at the Cornerstone Music Conservatory (12121 W. Pico Blvd., at Bundy; 310-820-1620) fundraiser for Students with Disabilities on Saturday at 8 p.m. We’ve always dug Grant’s beautiful sound on that horn; even at its hottest it never loses that bell-like sheen. His chops now are far beyond his impressive blowing in the Black Note days, but he doesn’t seem to get out much, so reunited with the hard swinging Sano here will be a real treat for us locals.

And we’ve been digging pianist Theo Saunders for quite a while, too. He’s got big influences — McCoy Tyner and Monk among them — but that’s all they are, influences. The art you hear and watch when you sit stage-side is pure Monk, fingers skittering through solos, that Basie-like thread of single notes, that space that’ll go on for seconds, just nothing at all, him sitting there, looking for just the right place between bass line and drum beat ... then pouncing suddenly, Monkishly driving bug chunks of harmony by chordal fistfuls into the rhythm, perfectly placed pieces of melody. You catch a glimmer of the melody and he’s gone again, in some entirely new direction. There’s so much to discover in a melody. He’s got tenor Chuck Manning this time, at Charlie O’s on Sunday. Otherwise Charlie’s O’s is staying bluesy and straight ahead this week, with hard-bopping saxist Rickey Woodard on Friday and trumpeter James Smith’s touch of red beans and rice on Saturday. They push it a little bit with the Cannonball-Coltrane Project at Charlie O’s on Monday, and finish up with the unbeatable Pete Christlieb on Thursday.

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And you never know what’ll happen on Fridays and Saturdays at the Foundry on Melrose. The house trio shifts all the time, guest horn players drop by, singers come up, pianists and drummers take a tune or three. We’re told Tigran Hamasyan did three unannounced nights there recently and pulled out all the stops. Damn.

We’ve also got to pick Gil Bernal at the Café 322 on Friday. Sure it’s not his quintet, just a loungey trio (with drummer Billy Paul sounding nice as usual), and Gil sings some for the folks, but when he picks up that horn and blows, it takes you back. Not the chops so much as the sound, a big, fat tone, pure and solid. No one plays like that anymore, that Lester Young thing, or that Dexter Gordon sound from those later European releases when Dex was stoned 24/7 (and anyone stoned 24/7 would pick up some of that Prez feel). But jazz musicians don’t stay high all day and all night anymore, and that languid bluesy muscular ever-so-sad vibe is gone, such a shame. They live longer and play a lot longer, so you get a cat like Gil Bernal blowing strong into his 80s. But sometimes you long for that old sound, rooted in the time before bebop, more relaxed, more easy, less notes, more feel, maybe, when a man could hit the stage at 11 and play till dawn, when there was so much more time for solos to work themselves out. And what’s the hurry? Gil Bernal’s sound has some of that. He leans back in the stool, eases a blues out of the horn and lets it flow, the band stepping back, the thing wafting through the room, filling it, and the jazzbos in the joint just freeze. The bartender pours you another Jameson. Damn, a reefer would go good right now. Someone says something but you’re don’t hear it. You don’t hear any words at all. All you hear is that horn.

Brick can be reached at brickjazz@yahoo.com.

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