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Brick's Picks: Tigran Hamasayan, Kneebody, Nels Cline and more

Sometimes you see jazz at the Bowl, or in big echoey halls, or even on football fields. And sometimes you watch it in your living room. Well, the Foundry on Melrose, of all places, felt like a living room, with couches and pillows and musicians an arm’s length away. It was wild stuff, too: Josh Nelson had that upright sounding beautiful, and bassist Matt Cory and drummer Zach Harmon were laying down amazing rhythms. Harmon’s drumming in particular is Max Roach and beyond; sitting just feet away you can get lost in the math of his polyrhythms, wicked dense pattering patterns and jarring tom-tom explosions. Damn, man, this stuff is intense. Even the ballads have a romantic intensity, and Nelson at times seems lost in them, oblivious to all but their logic and flow. Cory picks up his bow and announces Proto’s “1963 Suite,” something, he says, that isn’t quite the usual cocktail lounge fare. It isn’t. His arco is beautiful, sensitive, the band simmers, the crowd eats it up. Back of the bar, owner/chef Eric Greenspan is glowing in all this energy. He likes the young cats, their intensity, their art. He never ever tells them to tone it down, like so many other posh places. “You should see Tigran Hamasayan here,” he says. He gets wild? “We let Tigran be Tigran.”

And Tigran was Tigran the following Thursday. Such a little guy. Such a huge sound. So much talent, with themes and ideas and fragments exploding and filling the room, like a blinding, deafening, mind-blowing jazz supernova. The music swirls about us there on the couch, Armenian folk melodies and Russian romanticism, long right-handed Bud Powell trills, Oscar Peterson vignettes, a raging Horowitz, a ragging Tatum, bits of Ellington and Beatles and Cole Porter floating about. As the evening wears on, the experimentation gets wild, savage even, and big phat loud riffs emerge, huge ACDC things (these are all kids, remember), with scrawny little Tigran up on his feet, pounding at the keys like Jerry Lee Lewis or a Horowitz drunk, angry, epileptic.

It was extraordinary.

He’s there again (with Matt Cory and Zach Harmon) Friday and Saturday. You’d be nuts to miss him, as he’s off for good to New York City at June’s end. You’ll probably never see the likes of him in such an intimate setting again. And by the way, the food is great, and though the $30 entrees might stretch the average jazz buff’s budget, the bar fare is excellent and below $10. No cover, either. And you cannot beat the vibe here. The Foundry is at 7465 Melrose, between Gardner and Vista. And you can hear the jazz a block away.

But these young kids, man, they’re all over and they are deadly serious about this music. That very same trio of Nelson, Cory and Harmon is at Charlie O’s on Sunday and from 6-7:30 before the jazz sets begin, Matt Cory will be delivering his doctoral recital. No kidding — you can swill a beer and eat some ribs and hear Bach’s first cello suite (on bass!), some Rossini, that same Pronto suite they played at the Foundry, a Hindemith sonata, with Nelson and Tigran and Harmon and others sitting in. It almost seems sacrilegious in this hallowed straight-ahead space. And Josh Nelson is also part of drummer Kevin Kanner’s hard-charging quintet, which does Mondays at the Mint, alongside bassist Hamilton Price, who himself will be at the Café Metropol on Friday for some intense jazz with trombonist Garrett Smith’s band, which features the scary talented sax work of saxist Walter Smith III (another must-see player), as well as pianist Adam Benjamin and super-inventive drummer Nate Wood — who are half of genre-busting Kneebody, playing one of their far-too-rare local gigs on a terrific triple bill at the Temple Bar, between like-minded genre benders Nels Cline (at 8:30) and Wayne Krantz (at 10:30). Kneebody’s brilliant saxist, Ben Wendel, incidentally, is all over Tigran’s latest, World Passion (a must-have), which neatly ties this mess up.

Or would have, if there weren’t so much amazing jazz this weekend. Young Kamasi Washington keeps alive the L.A. tenor tradition that runs back to Dexter Gordon (he learned his craft on Harold Land’s horn, no less), and he’ll be burning it up at the Sea Bird Jazz Lounge in Long Beach, with a fiery young quartet on Friday. Ratcheting up the ages a wee bit, over at the Pasadena Jazz Institute on Saturday you can see the outstanding NYC trumpeter Brian Lynch & Spheres of Influence (his West Coast edition) with pianist John Beasley, bassist Carlitos Del Puerto and drummer Jimmy Branly, one of this town’s major-league rhythm sections (and Beasley’s new Letter to Herbie — with Roy Hargrove — is a knockout.) Across the basin at the Jazz Bakery, the great congüero Francisco Aguabella continues Friday and Saturday, and this is one hell of a Latin jazz (emphasis on jazz) band with that front line of tenor Benn Clatworthy, trumpeter Winston Byrd and trombonist Isaac Smith. And then on Monday the Isaac Smith Big Band are there, making utterly new and absolutely gorgeous large-ensemble jazz.

Finally, the summer season kicks off early with Sunday’s Cuban Festival in Echo Park, with food and dancers and percussion galore, and on the stage there’ll be Los Puros, the Echo Park Project, Orquesta Charangoa and more. No booze for sale (bless those little airline bottles of rum), but the Cuban coffee and cigars will knock you on your nalga. It runs noon to 7 p.m. alongside the lake, and it’s absolutely free.


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


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