The Gerald Wilson Orchestra is perhaps this town's signature big band. Wilson has that direct connection with this town's glory days, when jazz ruled up and down Central Avenue and L.A. was second only to New York City in the quality and quantity of jazz. Of course, that was a helluva long time ago. But Wilson was there,way back in the '30s, playing trumpet and writing arrangements for the great Jimmy Lunceford band.
Here's the thing: Wilson never stayed back there. He left that era behind. He may have lived that history, but he's not stuck in it. He kept writing and playing all along, putting out incredibly hip stuff in the '60s, the '70s, right into this new century. He's had a vital, muscular orchestra all these decades, cycling in new blood and keeping on the veterans who still have the fire. The material is thrilling (including, of course, "Viva Tirado"), the solos are exultant, and the band always plays like their lives depend on it.
Wilson, all 90-plus years of him, is up front driving them. The players feed off his energy and he feeds off their power. The audience gets swept up in all this jazz celebration. You see the Gerald Wilson Orchestra and you feel lucky to be there, like you're in on a very rare thing — and you are. On a good night (and we've yet to see a bad night), they just might be the greatest big band in the world. They're at Catalina's on Sunday at 7:30. One set only. Be there, man. Just be there.
Of course there's things to be said for silence, or at least a lot less sound. Pianist Chick Corea and vibraphonist Gary Burton made numerous explorations of just that, beginning with 1972's Crystal Silence. It made for some beautiful, fascinating (and very European) jazz. They're reviving their duets at UCLA's Royce Hall on Saturday and at the Orange County Performing Arts Center on Friday. [See Music Picks.]
There's another prestigious big band in town this week, the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble, Monday at REDCAT at Walt Disney Concert Hall. It's a massive NYC outfit, packed full of intense NYC jazz brilliance, and Hollenbeck has come up with some amazing music. He's one of those drummers who can fold a zillion world-music influences seamlessly into jazz. This one is highly recommended. The REDCAT is a fairly small house, so move fast to land some tickets.
While we're off on this tangent, we ought to mention that on Saturday at the Blue Whale, Vinny Golia will be making his out-of-this-world (and over-our-head) sounds with what we think is his octet. Edgy ain't the word for it. And he'll be part of the equally mad and creative Open Gate Band on Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Center for the Arts in Eagle Rock (2225 Colorado Blvd., 626-795-4989). Led by Will Salmon, it includes Brad Dutz and drummer Alex Cline. Opening is percussion trio BoorBaar, which the publicist swears "could lead you to believe that you're encountering the manifestation of a huge living organism." (There was a Star Trek like that. Spock kills it.)
But it's also weird because at the exact same time Adam Rudolph's huge, living Organic Orchestra is playing in Venice at the Electric Lodge (1416 Electric Ave., electriclodge.org). Inspired eclectic jazz, lots of percussion and wind instruments. $20.
We’ve long dug the playing of pianist Josh Nelson. He’s in town twice this weekend, with brilliant drummer Joe La Barbera at the Blue Whale on Friday, and at the Foundry on Saturday. He’ll be brilliant at both, but looser at the Foundry. The hard-driving CJS Quintet is at Catalina’s on Thursday, and Scott Whitfield blows beautiful trombone for his birthday with a zillion cats on hand at Charlie O’s the same night. And we were knocked out by vocalist Cheryl Conley at a church gig recently. We dig her Nancy Wilson-influenced style. Great personality, too. A lively act.
She actually began with Ike and Tina, believe it or not; she ran away from home to be an Ikette. She’s celebrating her new CD at Vitello’s on Tuesday. Saxist Louis Van Taylor is in the band. Highly recommended.
And the Brazilian Carnaval returns to the Nokia on Saturday at 8 p.m. Always a wild, festive event, full of drumming and sambas and feathers and drop-dead gorgeousness. A local Brazilian all-star band leads it, and Katia Moraes will be singing and she’ll be perfect. See BrazilianNites.com for all the wild details.
And finally, we just found out that brilliant Malian singer Khaira Arby, the Nightingale of the North, will be at El Rey this Tuesday. What a sound, rocking and soulful and spooky — but then, we’re suckers for that desert blues. If you dig Tinariwen, you’ll dig her, too. No, it ain’t jazz, but sometimes you have to go on out to the desert just to try and find your past, as Country Joe put it.
(Brick can be reached at email@example.com.)