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Plunging Into the Third Stream

Maybe a string quartet doing Trane seems a little incongruous — even for an outfit as adventurous as The Turtle Island Quartet. But their new A Love Supreme: The Legacy of John Coltrane is the genuine thing. Kicking off with a swinging “Moment’s Notice,” it sails through a wide-ranging selection of Coltrane music (and some Trane-related covers and obscurities — these guys know their J.C.). But the centerpiece is the really deep and moving reworking of A Love Supreme. This is serious Trane; you can’t fake this piece. It was a watershed album, deeply embedded in our jazz consciousness. And they do wonders with it. The strings startle — they are intense, gripping. Gunther Schuller famously called the merging of classical and jazz the “third stream.” But these conservatory-trained musicians are merging nothing; rather, they take their violins and cello and plunge deep into the stream of jazz and master one of its greatest works. They’ll be playing material from Legacy during their four-night stand at the Jazz Bakery beginning Wed., May 16.

And of course jazz composers as far back as James P. Johnson have long striven to write their own classical masterpieces. Charles Mingus wrote many extended pieces, but his magnum opus, Epitaph, remained abandoned and incomplete at his death. Gunther Schuller laboriously pulled together the 18 movements (including the rowdy “Better Get Hit in Your Soul”), and then assembled a 30-piece orchestra for a monumental 1989 concert in New York. Schuller has reassembled the ensemble (complete with bassoon and contra-bass clarinet) for a Los Angeles performance at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Wed., May 16. Most of the Mingus repertory musicians will be here (such as Ku-umba Frank Lacy, Conrad Herwig, Howard Johnson, Kenny Drew Jr., Ryan Kisor, Kenny Rampton, Jack Walrath, Craig Handy and Ronnie Cuber). And the event should be as vast and monumental and Wagnerian as Mingus intended this work to be. The third stream in full flood, threatening the whole countryside.

Now, if you’re looking for creativity in smaller (and less expensive) venues, Friday offers a lot of choices. Tenor David Sills sits in with young bassist Mike Gurrola’s straight-ahead quartet at the Spot, and alto Jason Goldman’s edgier outfit is at Café Metropol. Saxist Mike McDaniel leads a quartet with more of a spacy, spiritual vibe at Café 322 the same night; while Walter Smith III, one of the most exciting young tenors on the local scene, is at Jax. Watching Smith deconstruct a melody at a breakneck tempo is quite an experience, and he’s just back from gigs in the Big Apple so he ought to be amped. Also on Friday, popular vibist Nick Mancini is at the Pasadena Jazz Institute in a quartet (expect very hot duels with pianist Otmaro Ruiz) on Fri., May 11; he’s back the next night with his Collective on Sat., May 12. And exciting pianist/composer Cecilia Coleman, who moved to NYC a while back, will front an exceptional quintet (with tenor Jerry Pinter and trumpeter Steve Huffsteter) at Charlie O’s, Sun., May 13. Recommended.

And if all that third-stream stuff bores you, there’s always Pete Christlieb and Carl Saunders at the Back Room on Fri., May 11. Or the powerful Don Menza (with a sound that unamplified can fill a room) doing Charlie O’s on Sat., May 12, and Thurs., May 17. Or the terrific bop altoist Lanny Morgan at the Lighthouse on Sun., May 13; or Jack Sheldon at the Westin LAX on Wed., May 16. Or see a bunch of them together (Christlieb, Saunders and Morgan, anyway) in the massed ranks of the hard-swinging Frank Capp Juggernaut at Charlie O’s, Mon., May 14. They do Basie straight. The Juggernaut don’t need no bassoons. No cellos neither.


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