Since the legendary all-night contest when Lester Young finally cut Coleman Hawkins, tenor battles have been a jazz tradition. Crowds love it: Herman Riley and Rickey Woodard brought down the house last year at Catalina, going chorus after chorus. But such matches are rare these days. Battling-tenor albums are even rarer. A particularly splendid example, Apogee, had Pete Christlieb and his mentor Warne Marsh going at it across two sides, and the result was joyous, intoxicating hard bop. Alas, Marsh is gone, but Christlieb has found a worthy sparring partner in mighty Don Menza. They sound nothing alike but share a passion for aggressive soloing, and their past matches have been electrifying. No one gets humiliated — these are more chivalrous times — but the competition will be real as the two battling tenors strive to outblow each other at Charlie O’s this Friday, April 13. It’s a perfect way to kick off a great week of local jazz.
And there’s plenty more tenor action around town. Drummer Matt Slocum’s quartet features the excellent Ben Wendel (and pianist Josh Nelson) at the Café Metropol, Fri., April 13. Wendel encores at the Metropol the next night with his own quartet, Sat., April 14. Both outfits are recommended to post-bop fans. Bennie Maupin is the exceptionally creative tenor and reed player (of Bitches Brew fame) who’s playing the World Stage, Fri.-Sat. April 13-14. This is the perfect venue for Maupin to let loose with his exciting Trane-inspired free flights and intricate blowing. For a hard-edged, Hank Mobley sound there’s Rickey Woodard with the Paul Lines Trio at the Pasadena Jazz Institute, Fri.-Sat. April 13-14. The even harder-edged Benn Clatworthy will play close to the vest for the dinner sets at Vibrato, Fri., April 13, but get there later and he’ll be plenty intense. And like Wendel, Matt Otto is a superb young talent coming into his own. He’s with exciting Seattle pianist Victor Noriega’s quintet at Land on 2nd, Mon. April 16; then he’ll play with the Evan Stone Quartet (alongside pianist Josh Nelson) at the Westin LAX, Wed., April 18. In between there’s the Elliott Caine Quintet with Carl Randall at the Jazz Bakery, Tues. April 17. Randall’s tenor adds a rich, warm sound to Caine’s Lee Morgan–tinctured trumpet; together they front a consistently good quintet.
Trumpeter Carl Saunders is at Vibrato on Sat., April 14. The man plays his horn the way Wayne Gretzky played the puck: logically, ingeniously, lightning-fast, and with an overwhelming natural talent. You can also catch his Be Bob Big Band at Charlie O’s on Monday, April 16. The octogenarian Bird-loving altoist Med Flory whips through Charlie Parker standards at Charlie O’s on Tues., April 17. His smart-ass commentaries between numbers are a riot, too. The next night at Charlie O’s, young alto Zane Musa takes over. Not one to crack jokes, Zane solos with a white-hot bop intensity, doubled over his horn, rocking back and forth in a flurry of notes. Or catch his later sets at Vibrato, Thurs., April 19.
Finally, pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba and quintet finish a four-night stand at Catalina Bar and Grill, Fri.-Sat., April 13-14. Expect extraordinarily high-level playing and improv, his Afro-Cuban roots mixed with straight ahead, classical and whatever else his compositions draw from. Then smoky, sinuous tangos from Argentine bandoneon master Dino Saluzzi, and cellist Anja Lechner at the Skirball, Thurs., April 19. On their new Ojos Negros, the dynamics of the Argentine accordion and the timbre of the cello give their virtuoso interplay a depth and breadth of sound that seems more than just two players. And this is Piazzolla’s tango . . . spare, dramatic, jumpy, languorous, full of lust and longing and stale cigarettes. Hard to imagine a finer way to end the week.