We’re loving the jazz this week: a nice mix of the known and the new. Opening the weekend is The Cross Hart Jazz Experience at LACMA on Friday. It’s the hard-working team of bassist Ryan Cross and drummer Lorca Hart with rotating pianists and horn players and vocalists, and the quality, energy and passion are always high. With the free admission and a summer dusk, this pick is easy. It gets complicated from here on, though — so many choices. Starting a little east of downtown at the Café Metropol, for instance, you have saxist Bob Sheppard. He’s one of those mind-blowing players, way above our heads almost constantly, and we love every second of it. At an arty joint like the Metropol, who knows how far he’ll go? The man does crazy things with melody, with harmony, with tunes you thought you knew. The music runs from 8 to 10 p.m. only, there’s a movie ticket–sized cover charge, and you might call ahead for reservations. Catalina’s in Hollywood has a heavy quartet assembled by bassist Buster Williams with pianist Patrice Rushen, drummer Cindy Blackman and reed player Bennie Maupin — you might remember him playing beautifully all over Bitches Brew. Fusion, straight-ahead, whatever it is, they’ll be handling it on Friday and Saturday. Those same nights out in the Valley, the John Heard Trio keeps Charlie O’s solid, and they’re backing tenor Don Menza’s big sound on Friday and saxist Rickey Woodard on Saturday. Menza survived a lot of bus tours with Buddy Rich; Woodard put in his time with Ray Charles. Neither ever wants to hear you complain about your boss being cranky.

There’s more great stuff on Saturday too. Trumpeter Elliott Caine’s Quintet just tears it up at Jax, turning it into a serious jazz joint for a night. Very hot stuff, hard bop to post bop and a lot of Lee Morgan in there, which is always good. Out at the Café 322 in Sierra Madre, it’s the B3 Organ Trio, with Joe Bagg on the keys, Matt Slocum on the drums. Both Bagg and Slocum show up on a lot of state-of-the-art sessions, and this trio of theirs is not all greasy barbeque — though there’s some of that too. (And they’re also at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach on Thursday.) Down from Vancouver is saxophonist Dylan Cramer, whose tone keeps getting compared to the sound of Paul Desmond and Stan Getz. Not bad company to be in. He’s at Vibrato Saturday. Out from New York City comes vibist Tyler Blanton, who’s been making the rounds of Southern California. Nice player, and he’s matched up in a duo with pianist Josh Nelson at Vitello’s in Studio City on Sunday, and then with another combo at the Industry Café (6039 Washington Blvd. in Culver City) on Thursday. Our own Louis Van Taylor is one of those great under-recognized saxophonists L.A. is chock-full of; you can check his stuff out at Pasadena’s beautiful Levitt Pavilion on Sunday at 8 p.m., and with his organ trio at the Bar Melody on Tuesday. Taylor is on a zillion sessions and in everyone else’s band (he roars through solos in Gerald Wilson’s Orchestra), but you don’t see him out front calling shots too often, so this is cool.

Weeknights are looking good too. Vitello’s is happening Monday with drummer Joe La Barbera’s group, featuring excellent trumpeter Clay Jenkins and pianist Bill Cunliffe. On Tuesday it’s back to Charlie O’s for the return of John Altman, and it’s always fun to see him stretch out jazzwise on that little curved soprano of his. Last time he played here, we mentioned his Monty Python connections (he arranged the music in the Rutles flick, for instance), and that was the only time Charlie O’s was ever full of people who could recite the Dead Parrot sketch. So we won’t mention it this time. On Wednesday Charlie O’s will be back to tough-guy, he-man hard bop with the Tony Inzalaco Quintet featuring saxist Benn Clatworthy, trumpeter Nolan Shaheed, pianist Theo Saunders and bassist Chris Colangelo — one helluva lineup. Start with the parrot jokes and you might get smacked. Also Wednesday over at the Baked Potato, the extraordinary pianist Billy Childs will be getting down with the likes of percussionist Joey Heredia; we’re thinking this will not be chamber music this time around. And on Thursday another extraordinary pianist, Bill Cunliffe, leads a group at Charlie O’s. We are especially nuts about his reinterpretations of Oliver Nelson’s Jazz and the Abstract Truth; perhaps he might touch on that a bit here. But the strangest act of the week has to be Flexible Reality — with French horn and violin and a couple of bassists, one of them Abraham Laboriel — plus drummer Alex Acuna and accordionist Frank Marocco. What it will be is anybody’s guess. See for yourself at Vitello’s on Thursday.

If you like your jazz in two dimensions, you’re in luck: The obscure Wardell Gray documentary Forgotten Tenor is showing this Monday at 7:30 p.m. in Venice at the 7 Dudley Cinema (1411 Lincoln Blvd., Venice, 310-450-6052). They’ve also got shorter takes with the likes of Clark Terry, Art Farmer, Teddy Edwards, Jimmy Smith and Jaki Byard films beginning at 6 p.m. Free admission, too.

(Brick can be reached at brickjazz@yahoo.com.)

LA Weekly