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Brick's Picks: Where Has All the Swing Gone?

Two Fridays ago, the charismatic Seun Kuti took that crowd at California Plaza by the hips and never let go. His band shook them into an ecstatic gyrating, swaying, hollering mass animal. It was monster Afro-funk groove, all tight breaks and furious drumming and rampant horn solos. The audience was beside itself. This was the liberating power of music, man. This is what is missing in so much of everything anymore. Same with Tower of Power at this year’s Playboy Jazz Festival. Like Kuti, there’s nothing jazz about their sound, just pure East Bay Grease, all funk and soul. But the crowd was out of their seats dancing with noncerebral abandon. Truth be told, as a live act Tower of Power probably blew an entire day of often very fine jazz right off the stage. Oh well.

And then there’s that stack of records from the Goodwill. Somebody’s beloved album collection, hundreds of pristine swing records, a buck each ... good half of which now sit in stacks here by the stereo. And listening to all this Basie and Duke and Lunceford and Goodman and Artie Shaw and Woody Herman, we’re just struck (well I am, the wife has fled to the other half of the house) by the driving swing. This stuff simply rocked. It’s no wonder kids went nuts. Be bop, as mind-blowing as it was, didn’t have that primal rocking thing, it didn’t swing. Diz’s big band died in the ballrooms. Then in comes John Coltrane, and jazz got even more mind-blowing, but again no swing. You can’t dance to it.

But that’s missing the point. Bird and Diz and Monk and Miles and Ornette and ’Trane meant for us to sit and listen, as do all their progeny since. Go into any jazz club in town, and there’s nothing to dance to, really. It’s a listening thing. Oh, John Heard may get them out of their seats when he digs deep into some Eddie Harris, even at Charlie O’s, but that’s John Heard. And the Gerald Wilson Orchestra drives people nuts, but then, Gerald Wilson is an old swing cat (started with Lunceford, in fact). And, of course, there’s all the Latin jazzers — but that’s a different thing entirely. These pure jazz cats, with breathtaking solos and infinitely subtle rhythmic and harmonic variations, their musical concepts that nonjazz players really have no hope (or inclination) to truly comprehend; they’re not about grooving your bod at all. Not like Seun Kuti’s afro-beat or Tower of Power’s funk or a stack of old swing LPs. Jazz anymore — honest and non-smoove — just doesn’t click with most people, and it probably never will. But for those who do listen, the students and artists and intellectuals and assorted other oddities, the listeners who shush the talkers and laughers, the people who come back from Goodwill with boxes of records, who understand each in our own strange way why this pure jazz is so damn good, here’s a few picks for a slow holiday week.

Tenor Rickey Woodard flat-out cooks, and his classic bop/hard bop will stir up the folks at LACMA this Friday. He’s got a lot of soul in his sound too — in fact, he was Ray Charles’s saxophonist for years. Saxist Michael Session has plenty of soul as well, but his is less confined by framework and can just go off, as you’d expect from a player raised in Horace Tapscott’s bands. He brings his distinctive brand of Leimert Park jazz to Pasadena’s Levitt Pavilion on Sunday at 7 p.m. Guitarist Charlie Hunter is at Hollywood & Highland this Tuesday, and there ought to be plenty of tie-dyed tees in the crowd for this jam maestro. Sniff the air and you might wonder how a skunk wandered in. Wailing alto madman Richie Cole has a Friday-Saturday at Charlie O’s. The man has a zillion releases, all very entertaining, red-hot bop. And we’ve always dug how trumpeter Elliot Caine blends post-bop and classic Blue Note. He’s at the Farmers Market on Thursday; there’s good beer and fried gator just a few steps away. Tenor Benn Clatworthy is back at Jax on Tuesday; his sets can be by turns shambolic and flat-out brilliant here. We saw Rumbakete at the Autry once and they knocked us out with their gutsy roots-driven salsa, which drove the crowd nuts; they’re at LACMA on Saturday. Definitely a dance-groove thing. And word’s just in that ultra-talented clarinetist Don Byron will be at Largo on Thursday. Who knows what he is brewing up, but any jazzman who has played serious klezmer is OK in our book.

—Brick Wahl

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

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