The summer festival season kicks off early with the Cuban Festival at Echo Park Lake this Sun., May 20. Bands so far include Bayalo, Timbao, Tabaco y Ron and Charanga Cubana, playing hours of classic salsa and charanga, Cuban jazz and furious timba from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. At this annual event the dancers get frenetic and the drum circle gets intense. People bring their own percussion — from congas to cans — and play along. Why not? The clave is there, in the air; all one has to do is hear its pulse and join in. At some point a singer begins a montuno, a single voice above the rhythm, and the music’s African roots are laid bare. When it’s right it’ll make your hair stand on end, with singer and players and dancers, everybody, in perfectly measured cacophony — one two, onetwothree. Nirvana cubana. Then there’s Cuban food (like Porto’s .?.?.) and loads of specialty vendors. Or just watch the ladies with the Cohibas, the dudes looking soooo cool in their spotless white suits, or the aging Bay of Pigs veteranos staring at clueless kids in Che T-shirts. It’s a little bit of Miami in Echo Park. Absolutely free. And while the fruit drinks will flow, you have to Bring Your Own Bongos.
Also on Sunday, former Black Note trumpeter Richard Grant and mighty Oaktown saxophonist Robert Stewart get it together again. Grant is one of the best unknown players in town — when he’s hot, he is molten; when he’s mellow, that plaintive tone will break your heart. And Stewart kicks ass on that horn, wailing on the blues, the hard bop, the outer edges. What a superb matchup, and the rhythm section will be fine as well. The music is from noon till 2 p.m. at the West Los Angeles Farmers Market. Ain’t it odd where you can find great jazz in this town?
World-tinged guitarist Joe Lo Piccolo’s quartet (with alto/soprano sax phenom Zane Musa) plays First Lutheran in Glendale, Sun., May 20. The next day Bill Cunliffe, fresh from his 50th birthday blowout at the Vic, grooves hard on B3 in a great trio with exciting drummer Matt Slocum at Land on 2nd. That same night Charlie O’s Big Band Monday features Gerry Gibbs’ Thrasher Big Band. His small group is excellent, so seeing him swinging this expanded version from behind that kit ought to be a treat. And finally, vocalist Charmaine Clamor closes out Michael Konik’s weekly season at Catalina, Tues., May 22. She has a terrific voice with a lot of Sarah Vaughn in it and a very honest stage presence.
Local potpourri: Azar Lawrence plays Charlie O’s on Friday, May 18. Local jazz historian Jeffrey Winston once said that Azar becomes Trane when he plays; he certainly goes nuts on that horn. And the Turtle Island Quartet finish up their take on Trane at the Jazz Bakery Friday and Saturday. If you are sick to death of John Coltrane, trumpeter Jack Sheldon is at Catalina’s on Friday and Saturday, with classic West Coast bop. Elliott Caine is also a nice trumpet player (kinda post-bop with Lee Morgan inspiration); he’s at the Biltmore on Friday and at Jax (with tenor Carl Randall) on Saturday. Also on Saturday the visionary percussionist Brad Dutz brings an avant troupe into Café Metropol for some fun, foot-tapping outside stuff. And bassist Jennifer Leitham, at Café 322 on Saturday night, has the ability to play serious jazz that seems to draw in the non-jazzheads. It’s a great show, with good tunes, phenomenal chops and honest patter. People dig it.
Finally, on Thurs., May 25, The Roy Haynes Quartet begins a four-night stand at Catalina. More on this next week, but just keep in mind that last time this jazz legend (that’s him on Trane’s live “Favorite Things”) played here, every single set was not just great, but remarkable. Do not miss Roy Haynes this time around.