This Friday at LACMA, the L.A. Jazz Society presents its Los Angeles Jazz Treasure award to the great Les McCann. Even if you don't know the name, you know his signature tune, “Compared to What.” Talk about a soul-jazz classic: It cooks hard and is funky as hell. Not to mention it's one angry tune, angry at the Vietnam War mostly, but at everything else too, all the bullshit that was going down in 1969. “Compared to What” quickly morphed into a civil rights anthem in the bitter days after the Jackson State massacre, when “People Get Ready” seemed too quaint and optimistic for the heavier times.
Jazzwise, McCann laid out the tune's funked-up piano and that wonderfully pissed-off vocal, saxman Eddie Harris wailed on the thing, trumpeter Benny Bailey, too. You'd hear “Compared to What” on jazz stations and R&B stations and the free-form hippie stations for years afterward, slipped between angry funk and Gil Scott-Heron. For sure, the jazz man McCann grew sick to death of the thing soon enough, people yelling out for it all the time, no matter what he was playing — and he played an awful lot of great music over the years. But yell it out again here: They did at Playboy, where McCann also appeared with tenor Javon Jackson's quintet, and he performed a pumped-up and righteous rendition, too, 10,000 voices chanting, “Goddamn it, real compared to what?”
Having Jackson here at LACMA is a special treat. We've been digging his stuff for years; he's a brilliant player and we just love his great sense of dynamics. His own grooving take on the soul-jazz thing is alive and creative, never clichéd. Dig this one, people, give it up for Mr. Les McCann and this smoking band. It's free, too.
The LACMA gigs end by 8 p.m., so you have plenty of options afterward. Head into Little Tokyo, where violinist Michael White has his quintet at the Blue Whale on Friday. White is one of those hidden treasures from the Impulse! Records days, who played with Pharoah Sanders and 'Trane and Sun Ra even. Decades later he remains a vital player. Over at Charlie O's, saxist Benn Clatworthy is with the John Heard Trio on Friday. You must see this man play, especially at this place. Even his beautiful ballad-playing is intense. He continues to be one of our very favorite players in this town.
Out at the Radisson in Culver City on Friday, there's another kind of intense: the ebullient bebop of saxist Richie Cole & Alto Madness. He has some great local horn men aboard — tenor Doug Webb, trumpeter Carl Saunders and trombonist Scott Whitfield. Thrilling solos guaranteed. He's also bringing them into Alvas down in San Pedro on Saturday, a great room and bring-your-own.
Also Saturday, drummer Kevin Kanner has his trio — brilliant pianist Matt Politano, bassist Hamilton Price — plus some fired-up guest players at the Café Metropol. A few blocks away, at the Blue Whale that night is saxist Bob Sheppard, an astonishingly creative player and a saxophonist's saxophonist, appearing with a trio. That's just Bob Sheppard, a bassist, a drummer — we're talking intense. Then he's got a four-piece at Charlie O's on Thursday.
(Brick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Bonus Tracks: On Monday pianist Theo Saunders is at Charlie O's, and his sets too are intense and often beautiful. When he and the band really get going, the jazz seems to surge; grab a table up close and let the music suck you into it, Theo comping those big, beautiful chords or delicately tinkering with the melody.
On Wednesday at Charlie O's check out Carl Saunders. His solos are baroque things of beauty, masterpieces of breath control and excursions into all the possibilities presented in a melody. A trumpet is such a limited thing, with only a few keys and compressed air to work with, but watch what Saunders works it into. And at Vibrato on Wednesday, watch Zane Musa work out his own crazed ideas on the alto (and soprano, too), sometimes settling on some funk riff that he pushes into all kinds of crazy shapes, or else going absolutely mad on some Cannonball-meets-Bird thing, hurtling off cliffs but always landing on his feet.
Exciting trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire won himself a Thelonious Monk Competition, went to New York City and came back a star. He has the real live jazz star connections, he's first call for big-time hip-hop sessions, and he's landed himself a Blue Note record contact. We are talking talented, serious and way hip. Not bad for a kid from Oaktown. He's at the Café Metropol on Thursday, and you'd better call right now to get a table.
Damn, is that a great jazz week in this town, or what?