Charles Mingus is one of our own, or, to be specific, one of Watts’ own. And though we found out about much of it too late to make the paper, there’s been a lot of Charles Mingus’ honoring about town lately — concerts and talks and presentations and pronouncements and even a ceremonial bass cleaving. But honestly, we have no idea if the Mingus Big Band appearance this Friday at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts has anything to do with any of that. Not that it matters, because all that counts is that one of the greatest repertory orchestras around will be doing, in full, two of the greatest albums — and— by one of the geniuses of jazz. This band, man, is NYC jazz at its finest, with players like trumpeter Kenny Rampton and saxists Vincent Herring, Craig Handy and Seamus Blake, the utterly mad trombonist Ku-umba Frank Lacy, pianist David Kikoski and Boris Kozlov playing, we believe, the lion-headed bass owned by Mingus himself.
If you ain’t familiar with either of those records, released back-to-back in 1959, they are absolute knockouts. People still talk a lot about the classics, Kind of Blue and A Love Supreme and Ornette this and Duke that but somewhere, somehow, the mighty Mingus kinda gets pushed back in a jazz closet, which makes no sense at all. The records soar and rage and are downright beautiful. They transcend jazz, in fact, when you consider that Mingus ain’t making what most people think of when they think of jazz. His sound is something bigger, more expansive. Every fan of Wagner and Beethoven and Liszt, of the Who and Soundgarden and P-Funk and Fela Kuti can really pick up on what the hell Mingus is doing. It’s got that kind of power, that kind of genius, that kind of excitement. We’re not talking Joni Mitchell here. This is big, bruising, sensitive, massive, dynamic; it’s down home and out there and flat-out gorgeous. It’s Mingus. And man can the Mingus Big Band play the stuff. Get tickets if you still can.
As always with L.A., there’s other stuff going on. Those with bread will dig trumpeter Randy Brecker at the Jazz Bakery on Friday and Saturday. He has a killer quintet with him, all tremendous L.A. players. Out at Boston Court in Pasadena you can see pianist Larry Karush on Friday, and monster saxist Ernie Watts on Saturday. Watts in particular puts on an excellent show in this venue. Jonesin’ for some Jimmy Smith? Joey DeFrancesco is at Vibrato on Tuesday, and though Vibrato ain’t exactly a BBQ joint, it’ll feel like one after his first set. There are two events on Thursday: Latin jazz from the brilliant soprano saxist Jane Bunnett & Spirits of Havana at the Jazz Bakery; and the Otmaro Ruiz Quartet at the Whitefire Theater. We can never say enough about this quartet. Pianist Otmaro, saxist Ben Wendel, drummer Jimmy Branly and the ever-impressive bassist Greg Swiller combine to create rad stuff, uncompromising and brilliant. Fun, too.
For those of us in the brother-can-you-spare-a-dime crowd, there’s plenty of no-cover gigs such as one of our favorite pianists, Jon Mayer, with a trio at LACMA on Friday. Dig his style: solid NYC hard bop roots, yeah, but he’s wandered off on his own since then. Afterward you can head for the high ground to catch trumpeter Carl Saunders at Vibrato, dive into the Valley to catch trumpeter Don Rader at Charlie O’s (with pianist Frank Stazzeri), or trek out to Café 322 in Sierra Madre to see Jack Sheldon. That’s a lot of trumpeters. Want some keys? Josh Nelson is at the piano on Friday and Saturday till late at the Foundry on Melrose, and with Zach Harmon on the traps you never know what will aurally transpire. If you wasted yet another Saturday watching the Stanley Cup semifinals and drinking beer, you can get up early Sunday and commence your jazz fandom all over again with west coast bop alto Lanny Morgan at the Lighthouse on Sunday, beginning at 11 a.m. The pier’s right there, and the great bar, and the beach and the girls and plenty of bebop, all of it bad for your soul. Which is why you will need to haul ass up the 405 immediately afterward to attend 5 p.m. Jazz Vespers at Northridge United Methodist Church, where Jack Nimitz and Adam Schroeder will bring their quintet. No bathing suits here, the wine is locked up, the beach far away — nothing but stained glass, hushed, high-ceiling acoustics and the soaring sound of Nimitz and Shroeder matching baritones. God digs them low notes, ya know.
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