Singer and multi-instrumentalist Nawal is from the Comoros, an island nation nestled between Africa’s eastern shore and Madagascar, awash in the cultural influences of the Indian Ocean. On Aman, her new tour de force, the nearby African rhythms — that kalimba, and the drumming and call-and-response — mix with Malagasy melodicism and tunings and the complexities of Arabic and Indian musical traditions. Nawal’s years in France have left their impact in some Django-tinged guitar playing, and her trio is backboned by a strong contrabassist, which gives most of the tunes a jazzy thrum down the middle. The variety of songwriting and styles, that mix of sweet melody and energetic rhythms, reminds one a bit of much of Brazil’s best — the variety of Caetano Veloso, of Gilberto Gil at his rootsy finest (and her voice often sounds remarkably like Tom Zé’s). The long tendrils of Islam are never far off, and Sufism suffuses the entire project, lyrically (“God is in your mind/God is in all things”) and in long Sufi trance passages that must be remarkable in person. (Her live shows reportedly are even better than the album.) And dig Idris Mlanao’s jazzy bass lines — it’s what jazz fans can grab onto as we listen, soaking in all the exoticism of the rest. Nawal makes three appearances in town this week, first at the Mint on Fri., June 1, at 10:30 p.m.; then out at the Coffee Gallery Backstage in Altadena, Sat., June 2, at 3 p.m.; and finally at Motherland Music in Culver City, Sat., June 2, at 8 p.m.
Speaking of Brazil, samba jazz vocal great Leny Andrade is with the Stephanie Ozer Quintet at the Jazz Bakery, Mon.-Wed., June 4-6. She is peerless at applying her improv skills to the bossa nova. For more jazz and Latin rhythm blending, the exceptional Otmaro Ruiz Quartet (with saxist Ben Wendel, bassist Jimmy Johnson and drummer Jimmy Branly) are at the Baked Potato on Wed., June 6.
Alto Bruce Babad brings a quintet to Jazz at the A Frame on Sun., June 3. It’s a celebration of Paul Desmond, who made his fame playing with Dave Brubeck. (Desmond’s light and airy solo on “Take Five” is one of the signature jazz sounds of the ’50s — though if you’re new to him, check out “Balcony Rock” on Jazz Goes to College for some really exquisite improv.) Babad himself is a very fine player in any straight-ahead setting, and this should be a nice afternoon. And while we’re on the subject of Bird’s ax, three excellent alto players honor the bebop tradition at Charlie O’s this week: Lanny Morgan on Fri., June 1; Gary Foster on Sat., June 2; and Med Flory (a personal favorite) on Tues., June 5.
Also on the horn: explosive alto and soprano saxist Michael Session (in a quartet including pianist Nate Morgan and bassist Jeff Littleton) is at the Westin LAX Hotel on Wed., June 6. Baritone saxist Adam Schroeder is at the Spot in Pasadena on Sat., June 2, while tenor Matt Otto appears with trombonist Martin Sullivan’s quartet downtown at Land on 2nd on Mon., June 4.
In from Vegas, bassist Morrie Louden winds up his whirlwind Southern California tour for his new Time Piece in a trio gig (with drummer Jimmy Branly) at Jax on Fri., June 3, then with a duo at Spazio on Sun., June 3, and a quartet (with Branly again and saxist Bob Sheppard) at La Ve Lee on Wed., June 7. And here’s an intriguing double bill: Portland-based saxophonist John Gross making a rare trip home to appear with the Tom McNalley Trio; he’s opening for the Bay Area avant-garde pianist Matthew Goodheart and drummer Garth Powell at the Eagle Rock Center for the Arts on Sun., June 3. And veteran bassist Louie Spears is featured at the always fascinating World Stage Stories. Hear his tales of working with Eddie Harris, Etta James, Billy Harper (he’s on Somalia), et al. at the World Stage on Fri., June 1, 8 p.m.