The wife said turn left for no particular reason and we wound up heading up the Kern River canyon, and somewhere past the sign that shows why Merle Haggard will never swim Kern River again the satellite radio cut out. We popped in the new Regina Carter release, Reverse Trend. Trippy stuff, man, great driving music. It's a collection of African tunes from the Niger River Valley that she has adapted for violin and arranged for her excellent band. She's added kora player Yacouba Sissokoto the lineup, and he meshes seamlessly. We settled into the undulating groove of Highway 178 listening to this music — it all seemed so natural. We even listened again on the way back down. Back on flat land, the satellite radio signal returned and it was Merle again, his voice resonating with the San Joaquin Valley the way Regina's inspirations feel like the slower times along the banks of the Niger. The roots of the blues are said to be in that part of Africa, maybe even the roots of jazz. Hence the logic of the title. Hear it for yourself on Saturday night, when she'll be playing a mess of it at the Grammy Museum downtown, at Olympic and Figueroa. You can google “Grammy Museum” for details.
There's three solid days of nothing but straight-ahead jazz down at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott. The L.A. Jazz Institute is calling this latest megabash East Coast Sounds, and it's a vast accumulation of highest-quality, even outright-legendary jazz players performing live and sitting in on panel discussions. They're also showing lots of priceless documentary footage of the glory days of yore, when jazz giants strode the earth looking to score.
Friday's live highlights include Don Menza's Tribute to Stan Getz, Med Flory's Jazz Wave, which is a thrilling Supersax update, and the Mose Allison–Harry Allen Band doing Al Cohn and Zoot Sims; Saturday highlights include the Mundell Lowe Orchestra, the Johnny Mandel Big Band, and the 50th Anniversary Celebration of Gerry Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band directed by Bob Brookmeyer. Finally, Sunday features the Cannonball-Coltrane Project, the Teddy Charles Tentet, Terry Gibbs with the Tiny Kahn All-Star Big Band and the Bob Brookmeyer New Art Orchestra. Yow. And you can walk right up to the bar and talk to these legends, too; ask Teddy Charles how many musicians there are in a tentet or Bob Brookmeyer why his trombone doesn't have one of those slidey things. Whatever — just go. Google “Los Angeles Jazz Institute” for all the details.
Jazz pops up in the strangest places, and damn if that wasn't the Elliott Caine Quintet sounding way hip on Good Day L.A. this past Tuesday. Something about providing the necessary groove for the City of Angels Wine Festival this Saturday. Google the thing for details. But if you've got $65 to get good and soused all Saturday afternoon with celebrities, politicians and dog-toting downtown hipsters, go for it. He's got Javier Vergara on tenor, too. Caine's sextet, with vibist Nick Mancini and pianist Mahesh Balasooriya, is at Alva's on Friday, too. A good one.
The Harry Allen/Graham Dechter Quintet featuring Jeff Hamilton at Vitello's on Wednesday. Allen's plays some gorgeous tenor in a Stan Getz mode (he has the bossa thing down) and guitarist Dechter–we recall seeing him the first time a zillion years ago at World Stage keeping up with all the Stage veterans and their monster groove. He's still in there, and totally in the pocket, always. Great rhythm section, too, swung solidly by Jeff Hamilton. You'll need to call for reservations, and do so quick.
Tenor Bob Sheppard is at Vibrato on Friday, and he's always brilliant. We totally dig tenor Don Menza who's with the John Heard Trio at Charlie O's on Saturday. He's got one of those sounds from when sax players were king, this big and huge and powerful tone, the kind of thing you can trace all the way back to Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins and the big guns that came in their wake. Menza sounds like that. And Ernie Andrews—who's at LACMA on Friday–comes from the days when jazz singing wasn't this art thing you learned in school. When you swing like Ernie you don't need to fret over all the refined lines and those little Juilliard sort of things. Hell no. And he sings a real blues too, because he knows what the hell a blues is, the real live Central Avenue blues. Because Ernie Andrews is the real thing. And he'll tell you so.
(Brick can be reached at email@example.com.)