When we first heard Amir ElSaffar’s Two Rivers, we freaked. This was a couple of years ago, and tucked away in the culturally conservative Los Angeles jazz scene — which, as a rule, never mixes nothing with nothing if it ain’t been mixed before — well, the crazy mesh of American and Arabic music was a revelation. This wasn’t like playing Miles Davis music with horns and sitars; this was the maqam of Iraq — the land of the two rivers, where ElSaffar’s father was a musician — as interpreted by a jazz trumpeter, improvising the melody (ruhiyya) of each piece on his horn, accompanied by oud and dumbek, buzuq and frame drums. The Persian-born, Bay Area–residing saxophonist Rudresh Appa blew through quarter-toned runs here and the blues there like it was the most natural thing in the world. Which it is, really. Just listen to ElSaffar’s gorgeous tone, from the long, drawn-out blues lines to his flights up and down and around those crazy Near Eastern scales. And how it all winds up in an absolutely swinging, Ornettish tune “Blues in Half E-Flat.” Rarely have two supposedly inimical civilizations melded together so beautifully. Bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Alex Cline fill out the four-piece more than ably. They’re playing Monday, May 4, one night only, at the Jazz Bakery.
Couple of other good ones at the Bakery, as well. On Tuesday bassist Kyle Eastwood has a quintet there, a fine outfit, including trumpeter Jon Papenbrook, tenor Doug Webb, pianist Han Zermuehlen and drummer Joel Taylor. Eastwood is Clint’s son, steeped in jazz since birth most likely. It’s an interesting range in players, with Taylor usually wailing in a heavy-fusion style at the Baked Potato; and Webb is a quintessential modern hard-bop player. On Wednesday the great trumpeter Randy Brecker begins his four-night Bakery stand with the exceptional local quintet of saxist Bob Sheppard, pianist Patrice Rushen, bassist Hamilton Price and drummer Gerry Gibbs. Chops heaven.
If you’re carrying a lighter wallet these days, fear not, you have options, too. Multisaxist Dale Fielder is a blow-out-the-room favorite, playing a very muscular hard-bop/straight-ahead/new-thing jazz, and the high-ceilinged Gallery Bar at the Biltmore Hotel downtown will be ringing with his solos on Friday. He’s got the killer players, too, with pianist Tateng Katindig, bassist Jeff Littleton and drummer Thomas White behind him. Crazy stuff at the Café Metropol, too, on Friday, when bassist Ryan McGillicuddy presents his new Sigmund Fudge with pianist Joe Bagg, guitarist Jamie Rosenn and drummer Jason Harnell. Straight-ahead in places, off-the-edge in others. Music runs from 8 till 10 p.m., and there’s a slight cover charge. You can finish the night at the Foundry on Melrose, where pianist Josh Nelson joins the house Trio, and the always-inspired music runs till the Man makes the bars stop serving at 2 a.m. (or close to it, anyway).
If you plan to waste all of Saturday watching Stanley Cup and drinking beer, get out of bed early on Sunday and make the drive to the Lighthouse in Hermosa, where the exquisitely piped Janis Mann kicks off at 11 a.m. Early, yeah, but you’ll be drinking. She winds up at 3 p.m., which gives you time to make it over to the Jazz Bakery for the Jazz on the Spiritual Side matinee. There, bassist Roberto Miranda and crew will draw all those bad vibes out of you. His latest is called With Groanings Too Deep for Words, which kinda says it all (especially if you are an L.A. Kings fan). Then head to the Eagle Rock Center for the Arts (2225 Colorado Blvd.), where the trio Dot Org (with trumpeter John Fumo, Yamaha organ player Wayne Peet, and drummer Alex Cline) get down and loose; woodwind crazies Steve Adams (of the ROVA Sax Quartet) and Vinny Golia (of almost everything) will be doing just about everything on their horns. Things start blowing at 7 p.m.
Finally, got late word of a gala Tribute to Charles Mingus, Son of Watts on Friday, with flutist James Newton, saxist Bennie Maupin, trumpeter Nolan Shaheed, guitarist Steve Cotter, bassist Robert Miranda and drummer Sonship Theus at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center (4718 West Washington Blvd., 323-964-9768). The indefatigable Buddy Collette will tell Mingus stories, the inimitable Bubba Jackson will host, and the inevitable politicians will speak. The music starts at 8 p.m., but there are a reception and an exhibit at 6:30, which will give you all a chance to meet Mr. Collette, a real L.A. treasure. Tickets are $25, but with a band of that caliber playing the music of Mingus, you’ll be getting your money’s worth.
(Brick can be reached at email@example.com.)