Cryptogramophone, L.A.’s own font of out-there jazzoid sounds, has been going along busily for a decade now (check out their sampler Assemblage for proof), and figure it’s time to celebrate. So they’ve hooked up with CalArts at downtown’s REDCAT (at 2nd and Hope, in the bowels of Disney Hall) for two nights of some of the coolest underground sounds and creative jazz SoCal can offer. Friday stars pianist Myra Melford and Be Bread and the Alex Cline Continuation Quartet. Essential pianist Melford’s expressive discography as a leader goes way back; drummer Cline’s, typical of drummers, does not. Which makes his new Continuum a real thrill, a thing of beauty, steeped in an Eastern worldview/sound from the opening gong splash, the strings of violinist Jeff Gauthier and bassist Peggy Lee merging to wash through the spaces and Melford kicking up some ferocious jazz, and Cline is everywhere. The inspired jazz drummer/world percussionist is also — who knew? — an exceptional composer, and the album flows together from one piece, one state to another, each on a higher plane. It’s not always an “easy” listen, but it’s a damn rewarding one. The event continues Saturday with The Nels Cline Singers (using a band to celebrate his solo release Coward, actually) and the always excellent Jeff Gauthier Goatette. REDCAT ain’t exactly party central, but the two nights of music will be exhilarating.

One of the town’s very best new saxophonists Ben Wendel is also celebrating a new release, Simple Song, his first as a leader, with longtime compatriots pianist Adam Benjamin, guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Darek Oles, and drummer Nate Wood. From the opening “Breath” (which required plenty of them, carefully measured), you’ll pick up right away on his highly original sound, crammed with ideas and chops in perfect balance, an amazingly mature musician already — and he’s still a relative kid, forchrissakes. Wendel’s never really been a seat-of-the-pants player, and this is a thoughtful, hell, intellectual album, with plenty of chamber passages and brooding think pieces, a perfect match, really, to the Cryptogramophone stuff above. He’s performing it (with the same band) down at Alva’s in San Pedro on Saturday, March 28, and at the Jazz Bakery the following Tuesday.

Tenor great Branford Marsalis continues his Catalina stand on Friday and Saturday, and we already raved about his new Metamophosen, whose postbop we’re digging even more. We’re also liking vocalist Mark Winkler’s new Till I Get It Right, too, whose release he’s celebrating a release at Catalina’s on Sunday. A fine vocalist and interpreter, the man has style. And Bobby Matos will be playing his fine new Unity with his Afro-Latin Jazz Ensemble this Thursday at Catalina’s. It’s a good one, real Latin jazz, and carries on the vibe of his last Gratitude. Not that it’s an outright ’Trane tribute like that one, but the feeling is there, helped along by tenor Frank Fontaine and, especially, the McCoy Tyner–flavored accompaniment of Theo Saunders (who contributes some great originals, too.). And dig the extended percussion jams.

And it’s a good week for big-band fans. The tremendous Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra (with Ernie Andrews out front) is at Spazio on Saturday, and considering the guys typically are seen locally in nice, intimate settings like the Hollywood Bowl, seeing this organization in all its glory in these closer confines should be wild. Of course, Spazio is downright spacious compared to Charlie O’s, which manages to cram a big band in there every Monday. This time it’s drummer Frank Capp’s awesome Juggernaut. If you dig your Basie straight up, atomic and 3 feet away, this is your night. And then, on Tuesday, Vibrato has managed to land the exceptional Bob Mintzer Big Band. Added up, this means three world-class big bands in four days. Toss in the fusion craziness of the John Daversa Contemporary Big Band at the Baked Potato on Sunday, and it’s a sweep. Earplugs, anyone?

Brick can be reached at

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