Brick's Picks: Gerald Wilson Lives Up to the Hype ... and Then Some
You write a few hundred picks columns and you know you've blown it a few times. You raved about some upcoming show that was so bad people demanded their money back, raved about another that turned out to be tame enough for Leisure World, or was maybe just ordinary and nothing special. It happens.
We got carried away talking about Gerald Wilson last week, made it into the greatest thing ever. So imagine our relief when it actually was. Gerald ran that room, baby, telling his incredible stories — "and Basie told me ..." — and directing the fabulous band at the same freaking time. Like it's the most natural thing in the world to talk over your own band. Or to introduce your family halfway through some piece. Or to break into a musicology lecture or a history lesson or reminisce after the bridge and then turn around and order a series of tenor sax solos that shake the room loose. And loose, yeah, that's the word. This is the loosest band since Ellington's. Hell, the opening number was downright ragged at first, but a few choruses in, they began to come together. But not like a machine — that's the other tradition. The white big bands were the things that roared along like a Duesenberg full throttle, all the European orchestral tradition swinging hard. No, Gerald Wilson is from Mississippi and has the blues in his bones. Even his most brilliant arrangements are essentially splendid extrapolations of blues feeling, loose-limbed virtuosity and soul. When his band comes together, it doesn't so much switch on as come into being. It comes alive, shakes out the stiffness and soon is running full-tilt. His arrangements give this band life; the players solo furiously and the ensembles surge behind them. It's all swing, passion and exuberance; and by the time they're halfway through the opening number, the music is no longer so much on the page as it is alive. The musicians feel this stuff, and the fans certainly do. The house last Sunday went crazy. Man, we wish there were more big band jazz this good.
But there is the Luckman Jazz Orchestra. Saxist Charles Owens directs it. It's another loose-limbed, virtuosic repertory outfit, with arrangements just soaked in feeling. If you've seen Owens, you know just how close to the blues and Trane bone the man plays, and how honest a player he is, whether he's getting intense or down-home bluesy. Musically he's smart as hell, too. The dude certainly knows how to get his battery of great players to work organically but still solo like themselves. It's all Dexter Gordon this time, and Owens will turn out orchestral arrangements that somehow get the essence of Long Tall Dexter coming through the bells of his massed horns. Beautiful. They're at Cal State L.A. Saturday night. Check it out.
Vitello's has legendary vocalist Sheila Jordan on Friday and Saturday, which is pretty incredible. She ought to be at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Highly recommended. And then to top it off they have Kevin Mahogany doing the music of Johnny Hartman on Wednesday. He's an exceptional vocalist and, hell, the Hartman thing did wonders for Kurt Elling. ... (They've also got some massive jazz festival on Sunday from 11 a.m. till 3 p.m. Check their site for details.)
The Blue Whale is really zeroing in on being the place for the younger, edgier jazz scene. On Friday, drummer Matt Mayhall's trio features Kneebody pianist Adam Benjamin (on the Rhodes, we think). On Saturday guitarist Anthony Wilson — who played some amazing stuff with his pop, Gerald Wilson, last Sunday — is bassist in Hamilton Price's quartet. (We're spinning Anthony Wilson's brand-new Campo Bello as we write and it's blowing us away.) Vibist Nick Mancini hosts the great Tuesday jam session, and the amazing drummer Zach Harmon has a group there on Thursday that no doubt will be brilliant.
Now for some straight-ahead. Jack Sheldon does his monthly gig at Café 322 and he's just great in this room. And we love the team of tenor Chuck Manning and trumpeter Sal Marquez. Each seems to totally dig what the other is thinking and it works. They're at Vibrato on Friday. Charlie O's is solid straight-ahead all week, with every night recommended. If we had to pick, though, we'd go with trumpeter Steve Huffsteter on Monday, as he rarely leads up front much anymore, and tenor Bob Sheppard on Thursday, because he blows our minds every time.
Finally, Paty of Brazilian Nites Productions follows up her splendid Carnaval at the Nokia with an appearance by the Balé Folclórico da Bahia at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre on Saturday. Black Swan this ain't... This is seriously genuine Bahian dance, music, rhythm and capoeira... the real thing. In a nice theater, too. YouTube this bunch to catch just how potent a company they are.
(Brick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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