Matt Otto Duo
Ariel Alexander Group
Matt Otto Quintet
Better than…watching the People's Choice Awards
Last night, after a few technical difficulties and a strict adherence to “jazz time,” the second of four residency performances by the LA Jazz Collective got underway at Little Tokyo's Blue Whale. The evening featured three bands presented by two leaders (saxophonists Matt Otto and Ariel Alexander) creating what Alexander cheekily referred to as a “Matt Otto sandwich.”
The evening opened with tenor-man Otto working through a demure set alongside pianist Leonard Thompson. The two share a long history together and it was evident in their playing. For much of the set Otto hovered around his breathy lower register while Thompson laid down an impressionistic pillow of support. After a slight foray into the outer realms Otto returned with “All The Things You Are,” giving it an airy swing that stopped one chord short of resolution. It was a pleasant set but a little sleepy, prompting the man next to me to get himself a cup of coffee.
The second set was led by alto saxophonist Ariel Alexander. Alexander, backed by a solid quintet that included mountainous bassist Tim Lefbrve, played a handful of originals composed by her and her guitarist (and husband), Jon Bremen. Alexander has a tight, controlled sound on the alto but it was often marred by needless and sometimes maddening effects. Nonetheless, within seconds of their opener, drummer Chaun Horton taught the house drum kit who was in charge, pounding with a relentless precision that never let up whether he was using sticks or brushes. The band even got the beanies in the crowd bobbing with their furious backbeat. But throughout the set only Lefbrve appeared to be having any fun, getting so funky on the last tune he had to sit down. Only when speaking did Alexander display a playful personality that could have been put to good use had it been channeled through her horn.
The final set of the evening featured the return of Otto with an instrumentation identical to Alexander's group, but in a more straight-ahead setting. In lieu of Horton's thunder we got the solid rhythm and Keith Moon-esque grimaces of drummer Jason Harnell and the equally stoic guitar work of Jamie Rosenn. Otto's democratic dispensing of solos led to some great turns from keyboardist Gary Fukushima — who drew sharp yelps from his worn Wurlitzer — and fearless bassist Ryan McGilliccuddy, who took the only four-stringed solos of the night. Towards the end of the set, nearly four hours after the start of the concert, Thompson returned to sit in with the quintet, literally sharing a piano bench with Fukushima. The band burned through Otto's obscure homage to George Shearing, creating a chordal wall that Otto had little trouble climbing.
Now halfway through their residency, the LA Jazz Collective has proven themselves worthy representatives of this sprawling city, with the ability to fill a room and keep them there. Their adventurous programming is a great testament to the vitality of the Los Angeles jazz scene.
Personal Bias: I attended the first ever meeting of the LA Jazz Collective. I said very little and enjoyed my breakfast.
The Crowd: Young people doubled up on little chairs. Old people doubled over them.
Random Notebook Dump: With all the feet moving around and all the drinks placed on the floor it was pretty impressive that only three glasses were broken.