Looks like things have settled into a nice straight-ahead groove this week. Charlie O’s is its usual solid self all week, kicking off with a pair of good trumpeters — James “Smitty” Smith on Friday and Scotty Barnhart on Saturday. Barnhart’s Say It Plain from last year was some outstanding hard bop (and brimming with all-star players, too) and it was spun regularly around this abode. Pianist Theo Saunders takes the stage there on Monday with a quartet that features the passionate alto solos of Zane Musa. They make a good pairing, Theo and Zane, the well-thought-out piano passages and Musa’s hell-bent saxophone soloing. On Thursday John Altman — yeah the English cat with that crazy, curved soprano — returns for a 60th-birthday bash with a fine quartet to celebrate his sixth decade. He finds tunes that have been edited out of the later editions of that hoary old Great American Songbook and burns on them with a nice Blighty touch. But Tuesday is the special event of the week at Charlie O’s, when the late Charlie O himself is remembered with (what else?) a party. The rhythm section is provided by the Bill Cunliffe Trio, and horn players too numerable to list here (and maybe a guitarist and singer or two as well) will testify. Bittersweet, maybe, because even a year later, the man is surely missed, standing at the back of the bar shaking his head at clams, or sitting outside the front door, where to this day you can still smell his goddamn cigarettes. But it’ll be a celebration. They say jazz was born at New Orleans funerals.
Dr. Bobby Rodriguez throws himself a birthday bash at the Culver City Radisson with a terrific septet, including saxist Justo Almario and pianist Joe Rotondi on Friday, and from the looks of the lineup there’ll be some uncompromising Latin jazz with plenty of the good doctor’s high-note artistry. Nice stuff in the other joints too, like trumpeter Jack Sheldon at the Café 322 on Friday, or saxist Benn Clatworthy at Vibrato, also Friday. That’s a good spot to hit for the later sets, when the power diners have left to digest their vast steaks and the place fills with the jazzbos. We still stand behind our assertions about Clatworthy’s extraordinary saxophone playing. He’s not been leading much lately, so check him out when you can. One of the most impressive of the younger pianists in town is certainly Josh Nelson, so his Friday gig at Vitello’s, with the terrific quartet of tenor Dayna Stephens, bassist Dave Robaire and drummer Dan Schnelle, is definitely a highlight of the week; you can get an eerie echo of the same on Saturday at Café Metropol with the Dan Schnelle Quartet, featuring Nelson, Robaire and Stephens. We’re assuming they’re doing different tunes, or at least mixing up the set order. … At Spazio on Saturday, it’s the excellent Theo Saunders Sextet (with saxist Chuck Manning and Zane Musa and trombonist David Dahlsten out front). Highly recommended.
A couple good gigs on Thursday too: Saxist Bob Sheppard never fails to amaze at least a few times a set. One of those real, live virtuosos who likes to push the boundaries of a solo. He has a quartet at Vitello’s. Everybody has witnessed a jam session crash and burn when a guitarist and pianist find themselves in the same rhythm section. It don’t work. So we just absolutely dig it when you do see it — and it works. The interplay between guitarist Thom Rotella and his quartet pianist John Beasley will be a thrill; they’re two of the finest in town at their respective axes, playing off each other just beautifully, and with fire, at the Crowne Plaza LAX. Finally, it is so cool to see drummer Kevin Kanner’s Monday Night Jam — up and happening at its new digs at the V Lounge (2020 Santa Monica Blvd., in Santa Monica). The core group is saxist Tom Catanzaro, pianist Matt Politano, bassist Hamilton Price and Kanner and Dan Schnelle taking turns on the traps. Other players — some big names, even Big Names — traipse in throughout the night ready to burn. The crowd skews young, the jazz knowledge is high, and a DJ lays down beats between sets to let the rest of us know how old we are. (Brick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)