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Brick's Picks: Sax and the City

Man, there are so many fine saxophonists in town this week. Take Friday, for instance: Two of our mightiest saxmen,Don Menza and Pete Christlieb, are pairing up and facing off at Charlie O’s for a night of classic tenor battling. Exuberant, joyous stuff. And over in Encino at Spazio, it’s the hard-bopping Rickey Woodard. Hank Mobley fans will dig this guy’s sound. Chuck Manning will be out in Sierra Madre at the splendid little Café 322. He’s an original, but if you listen closely, you can pick up a lot of his mentor, Joe Henderson. With this quartet here it’ll be some gorgeous straight-ahead playing, deep and stirring. And sax and fluteman Michael James Turre offers up “Bop, Blues and Brazil,” with pianist Mahesh Balasooriya along for the ride, and this kid’s playing is explosive. Check out drummer Fritz Wise too, all at the Sea Bird Jazz Lounge (730 E. Broadway, Long Beach, 562-606-0250).

On Saturday smooth-as-bourbon Plas Johnson is at Charlie O’s (and even if you don’t know him, you know his playing on the Pink PantherTheme). Looking for some Bird-inspired action? Alto Gary Foster and bassist Putter Smith (remember Mr. Kidd in Diamonds Are Forever?) are at Giannelli Square (19451 Londelius St., Northridge, 818-772-1722). Foster’s bop moves like quicksilver: The man has his craft down. Then on Sunday Chuck Manning is out at Spazio, while at Charlie O’s check out one of L.A.’s most original and uncompromising tenor players, Benn Clatworthy. His is a big, gutsy, fearless approach; listen closely and he’ll take you places. (And he’s got a mess of excellent CDs on infinitesimal labels, which he generally has copies of — they are well worth picking up.)

On Monday settle on the Don Menza Big Band at Charlie O’s. He surrounds himself with an army of brass. Sit up front, but don’t plan on idle chatter — dinner music this is not. (Besides, up front you can feel the sound.) And we do have an out-of-town entry: Chicago tenor Frank Catalano is at Hollywood and Highland on Tuesday. On the release we have by him, Cut It Out, he wails and growls and kicks ass like a then 19-year-old Windy City tenor should. And saxist Dale Fielder (yet another immigrant from Pittsburgh, as are John Heard and Roy McCurdy) is at the Jazz Bakery, and does he wail on that horn too; pianist Jane Getz is part of his exciting quartet. And also on Tuesday you can see the excellent Andy Suzuki alongside trumpeter Steve Huffsteter.

On Wednesday you can stay home and rent Some Like It Hot and watch Tony Curtis playing sax in drag. Just an idea.

On Thursday, though, there’s Pete Christlieb at Charlie O’s again, or check out George Harperat the Crowne. This is a CD-release party for the latter’s new album (which features singer Karen Evans on a few tracks). Harper’s tone is warm and a touch pensive and always hits home. Great to see him finally leading a session too. Finally, the great Justo Almario is at Vibrato. This guys plays with wild ’Trane inspiration and is never short of Latin rhythms. Catch him a little later on at this place, when he’ll let loose. And his Colombian take on the music gives his sound an unusual edge.

And there are also a couple of exceptional events in the World category this week: Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 are at California Plaza on Friday. Fela’s youngest son, he’s reconstructed the pieces of his dad’s last band, and if it has any of the old spirit, this will be one helluva show. Get there early for a seat, and bring your terpsichorean shoes. Then on Saturday afternoon at LACMA the exceptional mandolin player Ted Falcon (in a quartet with his cohort Pablo Fagundes) runs the gamut of Brazilain choro, forro, samba and who knows what else. When Falcon gets soloing, you’ll hear kinds of Brazilian music you didn’t even know existed (that country ain’t all bossa and tropicalia). And finally, there is a bit of a jazz festival at Pasadena’s Levitt Pavilion on Saturday, the highlight of which has to be singer Charmaine Clamor, whose torchy and swinging jazz blends standards and Filipino classics (often in Tagalog) is pretty irresistible (check out her Flippin’ Out). Charmaine hasn’t played locally since early spring, so it’ll be interesting to see if she’s gone in more of a world music direction after her jazzapino success. It’d be a natural fit. But whatever’s she’s doing, the crowds’ll love it. Something pretty refreshing on the local vocal scene: She hits the stage at 6:15 sharp.


(Brick can be reached at brickjazz@yahoo.com.)


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