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Brick's Picks: Size Doesn't Matter; Big Bands Small and Large 

Thursday, May 26 2011
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Ken Poston likes his jazz Big Band big. He seems to have a dozen of them on hand at any time, tight, exciting musicians playing "Cherokee." But this year there'll be a lot less "Cherokee" since he's brought together an international assemblage he's calling the Big Band Olympics at the LAX Marriott (5855 W. Century Blvd.; lajazzinstitute.org has details and prices and discounted room rates, even). On Friday, which is actually Day 2 of the thing, he has the excellent John Altman Big Band. This London-based composer/arranger/curved soprano player has players like pianist Bill Cunliffe and trombonist Andy Martin in his ranks. Good, classic charts, too. Next is the International Trumpet Summit (with Bobby Shew, Guido Basso and Valery Ponomarev aiming at the high notes), and the great Bill Holman Band. Plus films, and Kirk Silsbee trying to keep panelists from talking about drugs and women. Saturday highlights include former Jazz Messenger Ponomarev's big band tribute Our Father Who Art Blakey, plus the Tommy Vig Big Band, and then the Akiyoshi-Tabackin West Coast Reunion, who are ultra-highly recommended. Toshiko Akiyoshi had our favorite big band this side of Mingus: advanced, beautiful, dense, swinging and daring, with Lew Tabackin's often ferocious sax solos a high point. (And hey, kids, you'll readily find her amazing RCA albums in the used bins, so snap 'em up.) Plus more films and ill-behaved panels. It all winds up Sunday with films and panels and the German émigré Chris Walden's big band, and then Don Ellis/Art Pepper pianist Milcho Leviev's Big Band — what a mind-bending player Milcho is (you should hear his solo "Rhapsody in Blue"). Finally, a bittersweet Rob McConnell Boss Brass Tribute Band. Then the fans will leave, the bands pack up, and littered arrangements will blow across the dark and empty rooms.

There's an equally impressive, if way smaller, thing downtown, too, when the L.A. Jazz Collective finish up their three-day mini-extravaganza at the Blue Whale. Friday (Day 2) begins gently with three trios: the Westland Trio (sax/clarinetist Damon Zick and trumpeters Todd Millstein and John Daversa), then guitarist Jamie Rosenn with bassist Ryan McGillicuddy and drummer Jason Harnell, then McGillicuddy again with pianist Joe Bagg and drummer Matt Mayhall. Things heat up beginning at 3 p.m. on Saturday with the John Aguilar Ensemble, "an Ornette-ish type of band," with Aguilar on trumpet and bass clarinetist Brian Walsh, then trumpeter Josh Welchez's quintet, and baritone saxophonist Adam Schroeder's superb bunch with guitarist Graham Dechter, bassist Hamilton Price and saxist Bob Sheppard. The finale begins Saturday night at 8 p.m. with Leonard Thompson's piano trio, followed by tenor Matt Otto (whose sound we totally dig) with a trio and a quintet; then free-ish guitarist John Ehlis with reedmen Anthony White and Vinny Golia. Finally, Golia himself goes bonkers with his own band and things will get so free people will take their clothes off and dance. We promise. $10.

Saxophonist Benn Clatworthy is at Charlie O's on Tuesday and he's exciting, brilliant, Sonny Rollins–tough and why the hell you people aren't packing places when he plays mystifies us. He'll play hard-ass hard bop, then go out, way out, and then get so quiet there's nothing but air and the gentle thwup of pads closing one invisible note at a time. Plus he's funny. Saxophonists don't come more highly recommended in this column.

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Jazz vocalists ain't our strong point, but when Dwight Trible is anywhere at all, it's a pick with us. On Friday he's at LACMA from 6 to 8 p.m. and it's a great venue for him. You'll hear him down past the bubbling tar and mammoths, and when he's really getting into it the Westside art patrons will flee, bothered in ways they don't understand. There's also a very rare local appearance by Viennese guitarist Wolfgang Schalk on Friday at 9:30 at the Bang Studio (457 N. Fairfax Ave.). His quartet includes pianist Vardan Ovsepian, the cover is $8, and there's free wine. Bill Cunliffe and Imaginacion are at the Radisson in Culver City on Friday, always good. On Saturday, saxist Chuck Manning does another killer show at Charlie O's while saxist Don Menza is at Vibrato and Poncho Sanchez rips it up at Vitello's. One of our very favorite saxophonists ever, Charles Owens, is at Sangria in Hermosa Beach on Wednesday, 6:30-9:30 p.m., with organist Mikal Majeed, guitarist Steve Cotter and drummer Don Littleton. Killer little band and it's free. Later that same night you can check out the ear-bending, eye-blurring pianist Otmaro Ruiz at the Baked Potato with a powerful quartet including the brilliant drummer Jimmy Branly. Or head over to the Blue Whale for bassist Michael Formanek's quartet, including the often crazy saxophone of Tim Berne. And the Bad Plus begin their Catalina's stand on Thursday. And since we've run out of adjectives this week, we'll leave it at that.

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

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