Brick's Picks: Eye and Ear Control

Listen, man, Dr. Elliott Caine is up front explaining astigmatism to a Highland Park hipster mom when Cannonball just starts burning on alto for a zillion choruses, then Hank Mobley comes in, takes it back to the head, and in comes Miles again. A little while later it's a funky Lou Donaldson session, then an even funkier Lonnie Smith with a groovin' George Benson before he got so damn rich. And look around: Half these cats are up on the walls; no waterfalls and floral scenes in Dr. Caine's office, just classic jazz photography. As we're about to step back out onto York Boulevard we hear the opening strains of Search for the New Land. Dr. Caine looks up from the script he's writing, says, "Ya gotta have some Lee Morgan, man," then goes back to optometry. It's pretty damn hip office for an eye doctor.

He's got a pretty hip band, too, at Alva's this Friday. Tenor Carl Randall, bassist Bill Markus and drummer Kenny Elliott are solid players and veterans of the jazz grind, earning and learning the craft the hard way in the joints and bars along Central Avenue or on Chicago's South Side or in just whatever dive was booking for awhile before turning into a disco. The experience shows. When they do blues, it's down and dirty. When they launch into one of Caine's exciting post-bop things, it smacks of the street and a zillion worn-out Blue Note LPs, not of art school. (And Markus is the only jazz musician we know who saw the Ramones at the Cathay de Grande.) Caine's trumpet reflects decades of long nights doing casuals or blowing high notes in funk and Latin and ska bands while learning every Lee Morgan and Miles solo just to see just what made them tick. Sitting in again is astonishing young pianist Mahesh Balasooriya, who in a town awash in ridiculous keyboard skills stands out for the visceral power of his playing, a virtuosity stripped of frill and niceties, just stunning jazz power. And the brilliant Nick Mancini returns for this live session, too, bursting with ideas that, no matter how arcane or out or gorgeous, he never lacks the vibes chops to pull off. (Nick also writes a great gig announcement — get on his list.) It's an evening well worth your $10, especially when you can bring your own drinks and eats and there ain't a bad seat in the house. Plus LeRoy Downs in emceeing, and he don't do no bogus gigs.

Now Sheila Jordan is one of those vocalists — think Betty Carter — who is as much a musician as a singer. That is, there ain't much difference between what she does with her pipes as any accompanying horn player does with his axe. She's that jazz. Too jazz to ever fill the Hollywood Bowl nowadays, maybe even too jazz for Disney Hall; you can see her this Saturday in the snug confines of Vitello's, but for damn sure call for reservations, as the lady is a legend and she remains extraordinary. This one's a steal, people.

But you will have to lay out a chunk of bread — $45 — to see the exciting NYC saxist David Binney's quartet at Plaza del Sol at Cal State Northridge on Saturday. We know that is a lot of money with things as they are — 10 even 20 percent of an unemployment check — but if you got it then check this cat out; his is the kind of NYC creative jazz that's so edgy and gutsy and virtuosic and soaked in funk. M-Base and whatever, that's been happening back there for a couple decades but is only lately beginning to a find a scene — we think — out here. You might just be blown away by this.

Don Menza lays down his big, fat, powerful tenor sound at Charlie O's on Saturday, and is always highly recommended, especially at this great spot. On that same night, alto Richie Cole burns up Spazio like nobody, like the craziest Bird freak you ever saw, unbelievable bebop runs on that horn. And bassist Ryan McGillicuddy has a quartet at Little Tokyo's happening Blue Whale on Saturday. This is a young cat hangout, the intense ones, all serious players. Finally, tenor Gil Bernal has one of those big, honest tones that can break your heart, that Prez kind of sound that can't really be taught in academies, apparently, since you don't hear it much anymore, the sound of a life of long nights playing joints and endless roadtrips on buses. Tenor Pat Chartrand did a career's worth of big band tours himself, so bassist Richard Simon had the notion of pitching these two against each other old school–style, one of those rousing tenor battles you don't much get anymore. These are great things, these bouts, longs jams of competition and joshing and tenor showmanship. Priceless, really. Check out this second round at the Lighthouse on Thursday.

(Brick can be reached at


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