By Alex W. Rodriguez
Jessica Jones and Hitomi Oba
Better than… “All of the shitty indie bands I've ever seen, combined” – quote from my singer/songwriter friend who tagged along for the show.
With the opening phrases of moody, resonant counterpoint between the two tenor saxophones and upright bass, Jessica Jones and Hitomi Oba made it clear that the small crowd gathered to hear their collaboration wouldn't be disappointed. Jones, a New York-based tenor saxophonist, made the most of her one night in Los Angeles yesterday, sharing the bill with her former student and fellow saxwoman Hitomi Oba to present a brilliant showcase of their compositional skill and improvisational acumen.
Joined by bassist Dominic Thiroux and drummer Michael Lindsay — and no pianist or guitar player to add harmonic definition — the pair offered a tasteful set of original pieces, each with ample room for inspired improvisation. Thiroux was the perfect bassist for this gig: his enormous sound and melodic sensibility allowed him to fill in the gaps usually occupied by piano or guitar.
Opening with the contemplative arrangement of the traditional spiritual “Poor Mourner,” the group moved into a medium swing tune penned by Jones, “It All Comes Down to This.” For the third number, “Cotillion,” built on a raucous groove, jazz superstar Ambrose Akinmusire sat in on trumpet. As it turns out, Jones was one of the people who first hipped him to jazz, too. His solo came on the heels of her forceful improvisation, and he managed to take the energy up even further, compelling Lindsay and Thiroux to join him in a chorus of loud, ecstatic virtuosity.
Oba, by contrast, projected a subtler approach to the song, weaving soft melodic fragments together into longer phrases; this effected smaller ebbs and flows of musical energy from the rhythm section. She then glided nimbly through Jones' composition “Waynopolis,” navigating the chord changes flawlessly while remaining rhythmically unpredictable. The group closed the first set with Oba's “Wheel to Cart,” which interspersed long tones over a frantic rhythm section. Tiptoeing on the verge of chaos, the quartet always managed to maintain control.
Jones opened up even more during the second set, unleashing a wave of animated post-bop over the cheerfully quirky tune “Packing for the Apocalypse.” She even played a little piano, on her song “Palm Reader,” built on a hard-grooving gospel feel. “Family,” the stunning ballad that closed the evening, showed off the sophistication of her harmonic sensibility, ending the night of music in an uplifted mood. The title offered a fitting conclusion for this musical pairing: after watching Oba take her first musical steps 15 years ago, Jones must have felt a hint of maternal pride while sharing the stage with her talented protégé.
Personal Bias: Since moving from New York City last year, this is the one venue that I always count on for creative music and a vibe comparable to the West Village's jazz clubs.
The Crowd: Sparse but enthusiastic. Lots of nodding and head-swaying, and only two people texting during the set. You know who you are.
Random Notebook Dump: After the show, the bouncer was dropping some serious arm-wrestling knowledge on the evening's stragglers. If pianist Vardan Ovsepian, a regular at the club, ever challenges you to a match, be forewarned.
Set list below.
It All Comes Down To This
Wheel to Cart
Packing for the Apocalypse