Some weeks there's a big jazz supernova in town, and other weeks there's just all kinds of good stuff scattered all over the clubs. This week is one of the latter.
On Saturday, guitarist Anthony Wilson and trio play at the Blue Whale Downtown ($10) — his playing just slays us. The very same night, saxist Don Menza dominates Vibrato way over in Bel Air, the Elliott Caine Quintet (with Mahesh Balasooriya on piano) put on their usual solid sets of '60s classics and originals at Jax in Glendale, and Nick Mancini, probably our fave local vibist, has his weekly quartet gig at Bleecker Street, out in Tarzana (18640 Ventura Blvd., 818-996-3008). No cover at those last three, either.
Sunday kicks off strong at the ungodly jazz hour of 11 a.m. in Hermosa Beach at the Lighthouse, with the righteously straight-ahead Cannonball/Coltrane Project. They are just like the name says, plus some (with Bruce Babad doing the Cannonball), and there's no cover. Also on Sunday, one of our favorite local saxophonists, Louis Van Taylor, plays the Jazz Brunch at Twist Restaurant in the Renaissance Hotel (Hollywood & Highland). It's $35, but the spread is lavish, the champagne flows freely and Taylor is a helluva player — maybe you've seen him, dreads flying, blowing up a storm with Gerald Wilson. And then, from 5 to 9 p.m. our own Jonny Whiteside throws his monthly Messaround at our favorite honky-tonk this side of the Grapevine, Viva Cantina (900 W. Riverside Drive, in Burbank). No cover. Tenor great Gil Bernal headlines this time, probably going on in the second half, and he'll have some great L.A. roots players backing him. Chances are you'll hear more of his R&B side than you'd hear in any straighter-laced jazz joint, but you'll still get that same signature tone, huge and pure and stone beautiful. Recommended.
Two great saxophonists play farther out in the Valley that night — the extraordinary Ernie Watts, with a quartet, at Spazio, and Chuck Manning at Charlie O's. Watts is a force of nature when he starts to blow, another of those massive L.A. jazz talents you can't believe you're seeing for 10 lousy bucks. You've already heard us go on about Manning, and this lineup — bassist Hamilton Price, smoking drummer Lorca Hart and, especially, guitarist Larry Koonse, a former bandmate from his L.A. Jazz Quartet days — gives him lots of room for experimentation. It's a tough choice between the two gigs.
On Monday, Charlie O's hosts the often stunningly gorgeous trombone playing of Andy Martin (that other great local trombonist, Scott Whitfield, is there on Thursday). On Monday night, drummer Kevin Kanner leads his weekly jam session at the Blue Whale, with (usually) saxist Walter Smith III, pianist Matt Politano, guitarist Charles Altura and bassist Hamilton Price III. The scene is energetic, virtuosic and packed — it is fast becoming quite the hang. Just a few blocks away, at Seven Grand, another trombonist (also a fine violinist), Dan Weinstein, and his trio (including guitarist Ron Hershewe and bassist Jeff Littleton) will do “more of a funk-jazz–type thing,” like lots of old-school instrumentals from the '70s. If that means Ohio Players on the trombone, that is just too cool.
There's some fascinating stuff from way out of town this week, too. Bassekou Kouyate, a Malian ngoni (spiked lute) virtuoso, brings his group Ngoni Ba to the Getty on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. He'll present his new I Speak Fula album, on Sub Pop (a radical departure from the Sub Pop singles we wore out in the '80s!). Though Malian to the core, Kouyate updates the traditional sad, lilting griot sounds with a hipper, more energetic style that fans of Afropop, rock, Latin and even hipper Americana can grab on to. Both these shows are free, so you better call (310) 440-6810 to reserve tickets.
And Gilberto Gil is at Royce Hall on Saturday night. It will be different from his recent Hollywood Bowl performance, as he'll front a string quartet. Not just any quartet, either, but one led by master cellist and arranger Jaques Morelenbaum (you should be familiar with him from myriad other Brazilian projects, including many remarkable Caetano Veloso albums). Gil has had a long and varied career, and while not everything he's done has been our thing, a lot certainly has, going as far back as his classic Tropicalia albums. If you dig Brazilian music at all, this should be a pretty special event.