Compiling a best-of-the-year list isn’t a simple proposition, where jazz is concerned. Or a fair one. Anyone who hits the clubs regularly will see so many moments of perfection and brilliance and unadulterated inspiration that as the year progresses, all the examples from January and February and March blend into one another and pale, while the moments from December burn fiercely in the mind’s eye and ear. But here are some moments:
Walking up to the stage last summer at the Central Avenue Jazz Festival during trombonist Phil Ranelin’s set was a highlight of the year. You knew this was real. That jazz was a living, creative force. Ranelin and saxman Charles Owens and trumpeter Richard Grant were up there, and their solos had a molten intensity. The audience ate it up. The next day, Skipper Franklin was ablaze, too. Michael Session was up there, and Azar Lawrence, going nuts as Azar does. Blowing, blowing, blowing. The crowd was with it all the way.
And there I was that night, sitting a yard away from the stage at Jax, as saxmen Jason Goldman and Walter Smith III fronted the Bill Wysaske Trio. The crowd was yours truly and a few others, maybe 10 in all, but the band played as if their lives depended on it. Smith’s soloing was especially brilliant.
The Filipino-American Jazz Festival, all of it. Julius Tolentino, Victor Noriega getting deep, the brilliance of Tateng Katindig, vocalists Mon David and headliner Charmaine Clamor (who never fails to impress).
Roy Haynes’ return to Catalina’s was a triumph, as always. The man is ageless, his drumming fresh, pushing his young band to play with everything they’ve got. And then our locals: Chuck Manning, at several places. The 322 stands out, and the intimacy of the Café Metropol brought out aspects of his sound that don’t always carry in louder places. And seeing alto Zane Musa explore the outer edge on the soprano was an epiphany.
The quartet of Benn Clatworthy, pianist Theo Saunders, bassist Chris Colangelo and drummer Jimmy Branly at Charlie O’s — and a night with Clatworthy and the John Heard Trio — went to some heavy places. Seeing Heard’s trio back Charles Owens was one amazing night. And Owens was on fire with Dwight Trible’s band at LACMA. You could hear Trible from the parking lot across Fairfax. And his extraordinary vocals almost overwhelmed the audience in the intimate confines of the Vic.
Nights at the World Stage come to mind: Azar Lawrence. Charles Owens. Richard Grant. The stage brings out the best in players, and when they’re among the best, the results are profound. The preview of the remarkable documentary Anita O’Day — The Life of a Jazz Singer was a thrill. It was at a little theater in Beverly Hills, and O’Day herself sat two rows behind us. She was in a wheelchair and silenced by her stroke, but the audience, surprised she was even there, gave her an immense ovation.
Walking up Cahuenga from a tame day at the tamest of all the Playboy Jazz Festivals into a maelstrom of samba at the Ford Amphitheater, where the Grupo Fundo de Quintal kept the audience on their feet and at the top of their lungs for two hours. Or Caetano Veloso, with a tough little three-piece in a remarkable night of his classic tunes rearranged, stripped down, intensified.
But the year isn’t over yet: Tierney Sutton appears at Catalina Bar and Grill Saturday, Sunday and New Year’s Eve. Also on New Years’s Eve, Ernie Andrews and a zillion friends celebrate his 81st birthday at the Hollywood Park Casino (also at the Jazz Bakery on Saturday). And at Charlie O’s, tenors Pete Christlieb and Don Menza do battle. The remarkable ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro does a three-night minitour (Friday at the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills, Sunday at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood and New Year’s Eve at the Galaxy Theatre in Santa Ana). Trumpeter Elliott Caine has a Latin Jazz quintet at the Biltmore downtown on Friday, and trumpeter Nolan Shaheed is at the Pasadena Jazz Institute on Friday and Saturday, while altoist Zane Musa is at Charlie O’s on Friday and Tuesday. Clatworthy/Saunders/Colangelo/Branly is at Charlie O’s on Sunday, and the must-see/hear pianist Tateng Katindig is there on Wednesday. And finally, there’s Brazilian New Year’s Eve on the Queen Mary in Long Beach, with authentic axe from Made In Bahia and lots more. Bring your feathers. And happy new year. (Brick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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