Things are always a little mellow Christmas week, with families and other non-jazz realities getting in the way of the swinging. But there’s still some standout gigs that will do you good to see, and pianist Josh Nelson certainly stands out this week with his Saturday gig at Vitello’s in Studio City. He has an excellent young quintet with him, which includes impressive tenor Dayna Stephens. Nelson’s new I Hear a Rhapsody is a fine follow-up to 2007’s Let It Go — lots of melody in this stuff, but really cooking, and he’s an inspired improviser. Much as we love his records, though, he is even better live, always tearing it up, his crazy complicated ideas flowing so logically they almost seem simple. He mind-melds with the cats in his bands; you can see why he is such a first-call player at all the younger jazz blowouts like the Foundry on Melrose, or at Kevin Kanner’s Monday night jams at the V Lounge in Santa Monica. Highly recommended.
Tenor Doug Webb also laid a couple of his releases on us a while back, No Lesser Evil and 3 the Hard Way, both of them raging hard-bop trio things he did with drummer Mat Marucci. If you like your jazz plenty fierce, these’ll do. Webb is a power tenor, molten even, steeped in Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane and Joe Henderson and all the big fiery names. On Sunday, in that 11 a.m.-till-3 p.m. hangover shift at the Lighthouse, he’s co-leading a quintet with alto player Lanny Morgan, who himself has taken all that Bird and bebop and directed it in a creative straight-ahead direction on his own new Six. Basically, it’s one helluva band. Drag yourself out of bed and get down there.
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We ought to mention accordionist Frank Marocco, who’s leading a jazz quintet at Vibrato on Saturday. You never know with this guy; he can lay out the standards very standard (with a whiff of the Godfather even), or pile in with a French horn, two bassists and a crazy drummer to make great outish music in Flexible Reality. He certainly helps put the squeeze box back onto the jazz map. On Sunday night, well after the Webb-Morgan gig ends at the Lighthouse, you can catch Bob Sheppard at Charlie O’s. If you dug the crazy eights and bounces and squeaks that Rollins did around a centered Coleman Hawkins on Sonny Meets Hawks (esssential listening for you new fans), you’ll dig Sheppard. And Pete Christlieb is at Charlie O’s on Wednesday. Christlieb’s sound can deceive the less advanced student of jazz saxophonery. It sounds right down the middle, steeped in all those traditions going back to Hawkins and Lester Young ... but then it doesn’t. Check out his flat-out classic Apogee with Warne Marsh to get a true appreciation for Christlieb. Though, hell, you certainly don’t need to go to all that trouble to dig the man’s sound and playing. Just check him out and listen. The cat’s a master, truly one of the West Coast’s greatest saxophonists ever.
And we’re not big on New Year’s Eve at jazz spots, personally. But it’s hard to resist tenor Don Menza in Charlie O’s. He’ll own the place, and he’s got the great John Heard Trio with him for your funny little hat–wearing, noisemaking, champagne-popping pleasure. And $25 ain’t a bad cover for New Year’s Eve, either. Besides, this is the best pure-jazz joint in the Southland. Finally, Jane Monheit highlights her five-day Catalina’s stand (which begins Tuesday) with a New Year’s Eve show that will make the man in your life very self-consciously happy. Capable of reducing jazz critics to mush, Monheit mixes her excellent vocal chops with a look right off a Julie London album cover. The combination makes her the ultimate in the current jazz-vocal babe mold, which, judging by all the CDs and press kits we get, is pretty much the standard now. Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Anita O’Day, even Ella Fitzgerald wouldn’t get past auditions anymore. Hell, heard today, Ella in Berlin is almost jazz music from another planet, given all her bebopping and off-the-cuff interpreting, all that unprofessional giggling and lyric-forgetting. Her mindblowing take on “How High the Moon” on that album is as wild as anything Jimi Hendrix ever came up with — really, it is — but good luck hearing anything like that on any stage now. This stuff is far too serious an art. There are rules.
But next week is a brand new year, that whole “out with the old, in with the new” thing. So why not break some rules, trash a few idols, do something people won’t like, just to see what happens? So maybe you won’t get signed. And maybe you won’t be the next Diana Krall. Success is overrated. It sure was for 90 percent of the jazz people you have in your record collection.
(Brick can be reached at email@example.com.)