Grammy-winning pianist Bill Cunliffereprises his tribute to Oliver Nelson “Blues and the Abstract Truth, Take 2” on Friday at the Radisson in Culver City. We recall the debut well enough, performed before a packed house at the Vic in Santa Monica. It was beautiful. Every jazz fan knows Nelson's album, and every jazz player has played the tunes. Indeed, “Stolen Moments” is as classic a tune as there is. But here Cunliffe was redoing the whole thing, and adding in a couple originals as well. It was a triumph. Cunliffe's re-arrangments were gorgeous, with his creatively swinging imprint all over them but without reducing any of Nelson's, not one note. The band did extremely well, too — and it ain't easy to fill in for Bill Evans, Eric Dolphy and Freddie Hubbard (and imagine the pressure on Cunliffe, having to be both Nelson the arranger and Evans the pianist.)
All that said, we must confess that we have never heard in its entirety Cunliffe's own Blues and the Abstract Truth, Take 2 (let alone read Kirk Silsbee's liner notes — and we're big fans of him, too) but that show at the Vic burned its way so deep into our memory that we're as excited about this Friday's gig as we were the first one. He's got most, if not all, of that night's lineup, too: trumpeter Bob Summers, saxists Bob Sheppard and Brian Scanlon, trombonist Andy Martin, bassist Tom Warrington and drummer Paul Kreibich. Hell, what we're trying to say is that this is the gig to be at. On Friday, anyway.
Because on Sunday the gig to be at is sitting there on the grass on a perfect Pasadena night waiting for Kneebody to hit the Levitt Pavilion stage. Well, maybe not the gig to be at for everybody: a lot of straight-ahead purists and even some way-hip outjazz freaks don't dig the Kneebody concept, no matter how goddamn good the individual players are. We're talking tenor Ben Wendel and trumpeter Shane Endsley (the new guy) and keyboardist Adam Benjamin and bassist Kaveh Rastegar and the brilliant drummer Nate Wood (who can syncopate anything by hitting on anything, apparently). If you hit the Foundry or Café Metropol or Blue Whale or anywhere the youngest, hippest and best players play, you've seen these guys (well, not Endsley, who's from Brooklyn). We'll admit Kneebody is an odd thing, all that hip-hop/Ornette/industrial/Charles Ives/free-jazz squawk/rock/harsh beauty thing. Oliver Nelson this isn't (tho' the band was nominated for a Grammy). But if you've got big ears, as the jazzers say, you'll dig it. Even if you don't, there's no cover charge to demand back. These shows are always free.
Real quick now: on Friday the CJS Quintet do their perfect straight-ahead at LACMA and vibist Onaje Murray has his Charlie O's debut with the John Heard Trio and something tells us this will be especially good. On Wednesday the all-star (our kind of all-stars, anyway) Tony Inzalaco Quintet are at Charlie O's, featuring tenor Benn Clatworthy, alto Zane Musa, trumpeter Nolan Shaheed, pianist Theo Saunders, bassist Chris Colangelo and Mr. Inzalaco on the traps, while one of our very favorite trumpeters, Sal Marquez, is down at Sangria in Hermosa Beach (with tenor Chuck Manning, we assume). On Thursday the brilliant trombonist Bill Watrous has a band at Farmers Market, while trumpeter Steve Huffsteter reprises his all Horace Silver and Benny Golson quintet, featuring pianist John Campbell and tenor Chuck Manning, at Vitello's, which is a nice venue, people.
(Brick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
It's summer time, the living is easy, and what a perfect excuse to bail out of your Bunker Hill office and get over to California Plaza by noon for Brazilian neo-Tropicalista Tita Lima. She seems pretty damn hip and is cute as a bug and we imagine the scene will be swarming with KCRW types. (And we totally blew telling you that the amazing Joyce was at Catalina's last month—we had no idea she was now Joyce Moreno.) On the Latin side, Poncho Sanchez is at Vitello's on Friday, which ought to be wild, and the Puerto Rican band Plena Libre are at the Levitt Pavilion in MacArthur Park on Saturday, playing plenas and bombas and red hot salsa. Lucky 7 loosen up naturally at the Autry on Thursday, doing their mambos with vibes up front, and that is a seriously fun summer venue besides, with dancers and drinkers and beautiful ladies and those bats up in the belfry (they flit out of there at dusk, look for them) and Gene himself all bronzed and boozy right there in the middle of everything. Finally, we're firm believers that the music of the gypsies—that is the Roma—will be as influential in this century as that of Cuba was in the last. Come check out the source material when Roma band Parno Graszt plays the Skirball on Thursday and see what you think.