Brick’s Picks: (Far) Eastern Swing

Local jazz impresario (and saxophonist) Paul Im has learned a lot handling publicity for Rocco Somazzi, whose Angel City Jazz Festival has been absurdly successful considering how goddamn weird a lot of the music was. So it is possible to pull off a jazz festival that doesn’t need R&B, rock & roll, a Famous New York Jazz Guy or even Kenny freakin’ G to pay the bills? This being L.A., gateway to the Far East, how about an all-Asian event? Why not? Hence, this weekend we have the First Annual Asian American Jazz Festival. Times being what they are and sponsor money — all those Asian national airlines, say — not exactly what it was a few years ago, the organizers are thinking small. The three-day Woodstockian extravaganza begins on Friday, and continues Saturday at the intimate Café Metropol just east of downtown in what they still call the Arts District. It’ll be a tight fit, but the acoustics are wonderful, the eats good and there’s plenty of alcohol (without which jazz music isn’t quite jazz music). Friday kicks off just past noon with alto Ian Vo, but make sure to see the daring Seattle pianist Victor Noriega’s trio at 6:30. He’s impressed us down here before. Another highlight will no doubt be drummer Abe Legrimas, who closes the day at 8 p.m. Saturday’s lineup includes Bay Area tenor Hitomo Oba, local experimenter Motoko Honda’s septet (counting the flamenco dancer), fusion bassist Kai Kurosawa, Goh Kurosawa’s world fusion Sharp Three, and a large-ensemble finish with pianist Bryan Wong. Sunday’s conclusion features a big blowout bash at the Japanese American National Museum (369 E. First St.) in Little Tokyo from 1 p.m. ’til 9 p.m. Opening will be local pianist Gary Fukushima, a regular player around town (and co-founder of the Los Angeles Jazz Collective, who hopefully are coming out of summer hibernation), followed up by terrific vocalist Mon David’s quartet; it includes one of our favorite local pianists, the wonderfully swinging Tateng Katindig. Incidentally, Mon’s Coming True (on Free Ham) is one of those rare straight–jazz vocal releases we find ourselves listening to a lot. Korean jazzers Prelude (which is Honolulu-born Abe Legrimas plus several Seoul brothers) have been making quite a stir back home, and this is their first So Cal appearance. Vocalist Charmaine Clamor’s term “jazzipino” might sound a bit like publicity shtick, but there is definitely something going on in her blend of jazz arrangements and traditional Filipino tunes, even including some stunningly spare and gorgeous native instrumentation, especially the gonglike percussion. Mix in the soul, a hint of funk and attitude, some torch tunes and you have a genre in the making. Her “My Funny Brown Pinay” does for the sisters what Joe Bataan’s “Young, Gifted and Brown” did for the pinoy brothers a generation ago. The day and festival wrap up with a lush, classically soaked solo piano performance by Hiromi. Not a bad debut for this thing. Go to for all the info you’ll need.

Speaking of piano virtuosos, Eldar is at Catalina’s Friday through Sunday, and no fusion nonsense for him, no sir. Just think “crazy Russian composers” and “crazy jazz pianists.” Stir vigorously and play; no way that combination isn’t overwhelmingly impressive. Of course, start tossing in obscure South American rhythmic devices and folklorico traditions unknown north of the isthmus of Panama, add the notion that maybe there’s more to jazz than what you hear on the radio, and you’ve got pianist Otmaro Ruiz and his extraordinary quartet (drummer Jimmy Branly, bassist Jimmy Johnson and saxist Ben Wendel), who gig the Baked Potato on Wednesday. You gotta see this cat sometime, people.

And some of those NYC trumpeters are still in town, like Jim Rotundi finishing up his flurry of local gigs at Spazio on Friday, and Lew Soloff, who’s taking a final swing at Charlie O’s on Saturday — accompanied by the John Heard Trio. Veteran saxist Michael Session is always an inspiration live, playing horn and music like his life depends on it, which it does in a way. He’s got a great quintet — trumpeter Steve Smith, brilliant young pianist Mahesh Balasooriya, bassist Jeff Littleton and drummer Mekala Session — and this is L.A. jazz all the way, in that continuous tradition that you can trace through players and teachers all the way back to the days of Kid Ory setting up house out here. Move from there to the vibrant Central Avenue scene and the sound that came out of it (that you can still see in Gerald Wilson’s band), reinvented further west in Leimert Park in the ’50s and ’60s around Horace Tapscott and his apostles — players like Michael Session. It’s a jazz tradition that won’t die, and even if Leimert Park can’t seem to get its act together, you can get a taste of living L.A. jazz at the Crowne Plaza LAX on Thursday night. And if the night is right and everything aligned perfect, this might just be one helluva show.

(Brick can be reached at

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