We first remember seeing pianist Otmaro Ruizsome years ago at Charlie O's, where he once was pretty regular on the piano bench. We walked in one night and a perfect maelstrom of piano chords was filling the joint, customers yelling, the band in a jazz frenzy. We'd never heard jazz piano like that, the mad chord progressions, the crazy Latin rhythms we couldn't identify, the things plucked from Chopin and hunks of Monk and Bud Powell.
It was a different bar inside then, some ridiculous piano lounge layout from days when people hung in places like that, smoking too much and picking each other up, and the crowd stood 'round the piano and there was no way to see who the hell was making that crazy-wonderful music. “Otmaro Ruiz,” someone said. Who? “Otmaro Ruiz, the Venezuelan guy.” Like that explained it.
But Ruiz really was an exotic, inexplicable genius back then, and he's just as thrilling now. We saw him with Dwight Trible at California Plaza this summer, and every time he soloed, the audience shouted with excitement. He has a trio at the Blue Whale on Friday and he's always exciting, be it with a mess of players or just as half of a duet. He can completely blow your mind with some one-of-a-kind Latin American–meets–jazz thing, or an absolutely gorgeous melody awash in color, or an utterly mad explosion of ideas that defy words completely.
Dwight Trible also has a trio at the Blue Whale, on Saturday. His voice is an instrument unlike any other in this town, a huge, beautiful thing that can be hurled at the heavens as loud as Robert Plant, or come in on a fading tenor solo, with a moment there where you can't tell which is horn and which is Dwight. A hard thing, that; we've heard Betty Carter do it, coming in like her alto saxophonist (Alison Kraus, too, melding with her own fiddle). Trible really dug Betty Carter, and Leon Thomas, and horn players, and you can hear all of that. But mostly you hear Dwight, that huge sound he wields with extraordinary skill, overwhelming here, barely audible there, just soaked in emotion and always ingenious.
We get a zillion CDs in the mail; some blur together, and some really stand out. Pianist Hiroe Sekine's A-Me was a nice surprise. Her compositions are beautifully arranged little pieces the likes of which you don't hear every day. She plays fine piano, never over-the-top, and has musicians onboard like saxist Bob Sheppard and drummer Peter Erskine and others of that caliber, like the kind you'll see at Vitello's on a great night. Turns out Vitello's is where Hiroe is throwing her release party this Thursday, with some of those same players plus trumpeter John Daversa and trombonist Bob McChesney. It's a coming-out for a local talent very few of us are aware of.
And the end of the week is nice at Café 322, with younger trumpeter Josh Welchez with tenor Matt Otto, guitarist Ryan Seward, the brilliant organist Joe Bagg and drummer Jason Harnell there on Wednesday. That's an exceptional quintet, one of those L.A. Jazz Collective things, and the jazz will be quite uncompromising but not at all noisy. One more: Veteran pianist Jon Mayer has his trio at Café 322 on Thursday, always a great listen.
Alva's in San Pedro looks good all weekend, beginning Friday with young alto saxophonist Justin Janer, who cut his teeth in NYC but is back in L.A. now. He's got an energetic post bop thing going on with guitarist Charles Altura, bassist Dave Robaire and one of our fave drummers, Kevin Kanner. Then on Saturday night pianist David Garfield takes an all acoustic if still eclectic turn with his Latin/World/Jazz Sextet. The ranks include trumpeter Walt Fowler, sax/flutist Larry Klimas, bassist Carlitos Del Puerto, percussionists Luis Conte and Michito Sanchez. This should cook. And finally at 5 p.m. Sunday another young alto saxophonist, Travis Sullivan, winds up an LA area mini-tour at Alva's. Maybe a tad mellower than Janer, Sullivan's tone is less sharp and not so boppy, his melodic explorations more relaxed. He's made quite a name for himself in NYC, playing with some very hip younger cats. His excellent quartet here features vibraphonist Nick Mancini, bassist Gary Swiller and drummer Dan Schnelle. Mancini, as always, will shine.
And as usual, Charlie O's has good stuff all week, including tenor Chuck Manning with the John Heard Trio on Saturday, the Henry Franklin Quartet on Tuesday, and excellent drummer Jimmy Branly's quartet on Wednesday. Branly's a rare Cuban traps drummer, very swinging, very unique. And we'll finish up with the very first gig of the weekend, saxist Bob Mintzer's Canyon Cove Trio at LACMA on Friday at 6 p.m. The new CD smokes with advanced grooves, with Larry Goldings on B3 and Peter Erskine on drums, and the audience will be moving to this great trio.
(Brick can be reached at email@example.com.)