Brick's Picks: Goodbye Pasadena Jazz Institute, Hello JI Lounge

The L.A. Jazz Collective is putting on another Mini-Fest this Friday and Saturday at the Café Metropol downtown. Friday is sort of a going-away party for Matt Otto, who’s moving to Kansas City. Big gain for them, big loss for those of us who know how damn good his saxophone playing is. If you want a last taste, he’s doing three sets with three different combos at this thing on Friday. First is a Tom Waits Tribute, with trumpeter and (apparently gruff) vocalist Aaron Shragge and some great support, including guitarist Brandon Bernstein, bassist Ryan McGillicuddy and drummer Jason Harnell. Then it’s the proofreader’s nightmare: JoE-LeSs shoe with Otto and Harnell again, alongside guitarist Jamie Rosenn (their album is terrific, too); finishing up is the Matt Otto Quintet with Harnell and McGillicuddy, pianist Gary Fukushima, and the excellent guitarist Steve Cotter. Saturday has no sax at all, with drummer Brian Carmody’s trio; the Gary Fukushima Trio; and McGilliguddy’s Sigmund Fudge, with Rosenn, Harnell and fine pianist Joe Bagg. Music runs from 7 till 10 p.m both nights. A concentrated burst of L.A.’s new jazz scene.

Singer Dwight Trible has been around a while, starting back in his days with Horace Tapscott (at least). Trible never fails to knock us out with that powerful, Leon Thomas–inspired voice, that stage magnetism and choice of material, so steeped in the spirit of ’Trane and Tapscott. He might seem a little heavy for some, but many of us, Trible generates a mighty spiritual jazz groove. Certainly his musicians — here, a trio of pianist Peter Smith, bassist Trevor Ware and drummer Dexter Story — get caught up in the mood, delivering intense, powerful, sometimes epic performances. He’s down in San Pedro at Alva’s Showroom (1417 W. 8th St., 800/403-3447) on Saturday night for two shows. Highly recommended.

Guitarist Kenny Burrell is as veteran as they come, and a must-see for serious jazz fans, and he’s at Catalina’s from Friday through Sunday. On Friday, saxist Justo Almario explodes at Charlie O’s, backed by the John Heard Trio (with Theo Saunders on the piano). Justo loves his ’Trane; he loves that Bird, too, which gives you an idea of what to expect. Grab a table and hang on. He’s from Colombia, and his playing has a feverish Latin American intensity (much like Gato Barbieri, in fact). Originally from next door, in Venezuela, pianist Otmaro Ruiz has been playing his often extraordinary jazz — loaded with classical inferences, South American folklorico and amazing chops — locally for years now, though it has yet to gain the attention it deserves. He’ll be at the Baked Potato on Wednesday, with his prized quartet of saxist Ben Wendel, bassist Jimmy Johnson and drummer Jimmy Branly. And drummer Steve Smith’s Vital Information, with guitarist Vinnie Valentino, bassist Barone Browne and longtime Santana collaborator Tom Coster on keys (and accordion!), kicks off a national tour at Catalina’s Wednesday and Thursday (and next Friday, too). Smith, one of those virtuoso’s virtuosos, has a mess of new releases this summer, as well, including this band’s Vitalive! We’re not necessarily fusion people, but this is a terrific band — and with that accordion, what’s not to love?

Of course, live jazz isn’t only about musicians. It’s also about venues. So good news from the booze front: We just got word that the Pasadena Jazz Institute is now a real, live jazz club with a full liquor license and a cool new name: the JI Lounge. (No more sake margaritas!) Get looped on the hard stuff alongside your favorite jazz legends (while drinking responsibly, of course). In keeping with the spirits, the place has booked some Kansas City jazz this weekend, with the Dave Stephens Jazz Circus on Friday and singer Brenna Whitaker on Saturday. There seems to be a buzz on about Brenna — Michael Bublé popped in for a duet, etc. — and she does have an exciting young octet, including a tenor we really dig, Robby Marshall. Certainly worth a listen and a couple drinks, and it’ll be interesting to see if this now turns into the jazz spot it has the potential to be. The JI Lounge is on Level 2 of the Paseo Colorado in Pasadena. There’s a $10 cover.

Finally, salsero Yari More kicks off the Autry Museum’s Sizzling Summer Nights, which means hot-as-hell salsa and Latin jazz every Thursday in July and August. Members get in free, nonmembers pay 5 bucks — but you won’t find another outdoor summer venue where the musicians and crowd reach such a fever pitch. A good band like Yari’s is a great band here, and a great band (like Perico Hernandez or Johnny Polanco, both coming soon) is out of sight. The dancing is contagious and noncompetitive, the stylish and leggy and the casual and, uh, new-at-this all having a ball. (And the two bars pouring margaritas don’t hurt.) You can’t miss the Autry. It’s in Griffith Park, right off the zoo’s parking lot. We’ll be there — but we ain’t dancing, so don’t even ask.

(Brick can be reached at

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