Of the zillions of forms of jazz (or dozens anyway), there is nothing like getting down to core values and watching some small ensemble make crazy, passionate, freely bopping music. Thus with James Spaulding and The Cookers at the Jazz Bakery on Friday and Saturday. Alto saxophonist Spaulding and Cookers tenor Billy Harper go back years in NYC circles; between them you can list Sun Ra, Max Roach, Malachi Thompson, Art Blakey, Randy Weston and a lot of the best of the best of Blue Note. Add Billy Hart on traps and you tip that list outward. Exciting, enervating, defiant jazz. Of course if you’re jonesing for bebop there’s hot Rhode Island saxophonist Greg Abate at Charlie O’s on Friday and Saturday. Or dig saxophonist Pete Christlieb and trumpeter Carl Saunders at the Back Room (another fun jazz joint) on Friday; when this pair takes extended forays backed by the superb John Hammond Trio, you feel the power. There’s voltage in the air. And the Pete Christlieb Big Band play Charlie O’s on Monday. Christlieb excels in long solo passages, and at a mere 11 pieces (rather than the usual Monday night’s 19 or 20 musicians filling every inch of that bandstand and points near) he and his players will have ample room to stretch. Big bands also predominate (at least in biomass) at this year’s L.A. Jazz Society Tribute Awards Dinner gig at the downtown Marriott on Sunday afternoon, with award winners Johnny Mandel and Bob Florence each fronting star-laden bands. The rest of the bill includes Linda Hopkins and young bassist Richard Lamm, and big band impresario Ken Poston gets the nod for somehow assembling those big band showcases year after year. Leonard Maltin emcees, which is always cool.
Back from NYC, pianist Danny Grissett is at the Landings Airtel Plaza Hotel on Saturday with bassist John Heard and drummer Lorca Hart, plus grooving vocalist Patrizia Ferrara. Then on Monday he’ll be sitting in with old friends the Cross-Hart Jazz Experience at their weekly jam in the West Lounge atop the Angeleno Hotel in Brentwood. Grissett plays a mean jazz piano (he had the Charlie O’s gig for ages) and it’s always interesting to hear what local players can do after working in the creative hothouse of Manhattan.
And the Jazz Bakery is good all week, even after the Cookers shows. Sunday features great cool bop saxist Gary Foster; Monday has baritonist Dale Fielder (with an excellent quartet with pianist Jane Getz, bassist Nedra Wheeler, drummer Thomas White) performing the music of Pepper Adams, the subject of Fielder’s latest release. (All of his releases are worth picking up .?.?. his Live at the Howling Monk is a classic.) On Tuesday pianist Josh Nelson does material from his new Let It Go, with the great band of saxist Seamus Blake, guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist Darek Oles and drummer Matt Wilson. Sara Gazarek sings a few numbers too. And then there’s state-of-the-art Cuban drummer/composer Dafnis Prieto’s Absolute Quintet (with saxist Yosvany Terry) on Wednesday and Thursday. You can spend five of seven nights at the Jazz Bakery and though those folding chairs might begin to take their toll on your sitting side, you’d be seeing excellent music every time.
The Kim Richmond Ensemble are at Café Metropol on Friday playing some of his harmonically advanced, wildly chorded, densely charted stuff off their Live at the Café Metropol. Jennifer Leitham performs some of her harmonically advanced, wildly chorded yet completely accessible tunes at the Lighthouse at Sunday brunchtime. On Saturday Justo Almario’s Afro-Colombian Project is at the Hollywood Bar & Grill (a great jazz room in Gower Gulch). Drummer Joe La Barbera is at Pasadena’s Boston Court Sunday night.And trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith has gone from the AACM to CalArts with nothing normal in between. He’s appearing Saturday night with pianist Motoko Honda and butoh dancer Oguri in an event dubbed “The Sound of Silence Moving” at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre (4800 Hollywood Blvd., www.roccoinla.com). That butoh is visually surreal stuff, an ideal foil for Wadada. (CalArts is also presenting an evening of ragas with sarode master Pandit Rajeev Taranath and tabla virtuoso Nitin Mitta at the REDCAT on Friday. Details at www.redcat.org.)
And don’t forget the jam sessions around town .?.?. Perhaps the best is Kevin Kanner’s Monday nights at the Mint, with trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos a regular. And on Tuesday there’s trumpeter Brian Swartz’s long-running event with his Gnu Sextet at Club 1160 (at the Ramada at 1160 N. Vermont Ave. in Hollywood), and pianist Gary Fukushima’s jam at Jazz on 2nd Street in Little Tokyo. Alas, the Wednesday nights at Jax that have been alternating between great trios led by bassist Daniel Sefft one week and drummer Bill Wysaske the next are coming to an end in November. They’ve been making some great jazz in there these past couple of years, with vets like Theo Saunders or John Beasley at the bench and hot-as-hell cats like tenor Walter Smith III out front, and the next two Wednesdays ought to be fun. But check the listings or ask around .?.?. there are regular events like this all over town now. And that’s where jazz players are made.