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Live Reviews

A Jazz Explosion at the Musician's Union, Local 47, Los Angeles, CA

By Published: May 23, 2008
Bruce Babad Quartet / Ramon Banda Quintet / Billy Valentine Quartet / Azar Lawrence Quartet
Local 47, Musicians' Union
Los Angeles, CA
May 4, 2008



The dues were paid, and honor and homage were made to the true art form in L.A. on this day.

The event was "A Jazz Explosion," hosted by the California Jazz Foundation on May 4, 2008 at the digs of Local 47, Musicians' Union in Los Angeles. It was an occasion for lots of hot sounds—indeed, a conflagration perhaps never before experienced on the planet! Four sets of music by artists on a jazz mission. The fire simply would not be contained—it spread through the auditorium and over the city with artists unleashing succulent standards, bare-boned blues, no-nonsense straight-ahead swing, heart-centered Latin pulsations, and versatile vocal selections.

The Bruce Babad Quartet—featuring Bruce Babad on alto sax, Larry Koonse on guitar, Putter Smith on bass, Steve Barnes on drums, and John Campbell on piano—ignited the afternoon with Gerry Mulligan's "Line for Lyons." Satisfying, like velvet on listeners' ears. Anyone like to trade 4s or 6s? Babad and Campbell certainly did. Moreover, Babad's arrangement of Rodgers and Hart's "My Funny Valentine" was love for the heart, salve for the soul, water for the thirsty, and food for the hungry. Speaking of love...Babad performed a gorgeous waltz he had written for his wife—"Jan." Steve Barnes wasn't bashful with his brushwork behind Babad's melody played on alto. The leader continued to enthrall with a composition he wrote utilizing music notes that correlated with his last name. The tune, entitled "BABAD," produced a cool and funky interaction in the call and response between the altoist and Campbell's piano.

What a tribute to Paul Desmond, the great altoist and composer of "Take Five." And though the quartet had the same instrumentation as Dave Brubeck's, they added their own elegance with stirring bass work by Putter Smith, splendid guitar solos and accompaniment by Larry Koonse, John Campbell's plush yet uninhibited piano playing and Babad's ever smooth, intuitive and sexy alto sax. And this was only the first set of music!

Ramon Banda and his Quintet began with greater intensity than the preceding group. Ramon Banda on drums, Carlos Cuevas on piano, Craig Fundya on vibes, Joey (Joseph) DeLeon on percussion, and Edwin Livingston on bass performed the music of Cal Tjader, Theo Saunders, "Dizzy" Gillespie, Walter "Gil" Fuller, and "Chano" Pozo Gonzales. It was a wonderful exchange among the musicians—a delight simply to watch the astuteness and musicianship connect on the Theo Saunders piece, "Lo Down, No Feathers" and Cal Tjader's "Philly Mambo." The hauntingly beautiful standard "Tenderly" caressed us all while we swayed in the moment. Throughout, Cuevas kept the room ablaze with his lyrical style, his intriguing, skillful hands producing music that sent chills down my spine.

Suddenly "Carlito!!!" was shouted by an audience member, anticipating my own thoughts. I wanted to shout his name as well! Banda turned up the heat with a steady and soul-stirring, joyful rhythmic beat. Cuevas continued serving up his sweet and sizzling vibrations, leading to empathetic communication felt as much by the audience as the musicians. DeLeon was in sync with his tireless pulverizing percussion while Livingston, in his usual attire, fueled the inferno with changes on bass that were galvanizing. They completed their journey with Dizzy Gillespie's invigorating "Manteca."

The "Jazz Explosion" hosted not only incomparable music but a luscious spread of salads, main courses, desserts, fine wines and liquor along with soft drinks, water and hot coffee. The harmony among the audience members and testimonials given by those who have been supported through efforts of the California Jazz Foundation made the event not only personally fulfilling, musically and artistically, but altruistically and communally satisfying as well. We truly communed together on this magical afternoon.

Highlights occurred throughout the afternoon, with each set bringing its special sizzle. Certainly the Billy Valentine Quartet kept the flames going. The Quartet, featuring Billy Valentine—a keen and warm vocalist—includes the equally perceptive Stuart Elster on piano, an animated Bruce Lett on bass and the remarkable Gary Gibbons on drums, who kept it steady, strutting, and swinging.

They performed a touching instrumental arrangement of "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone," each musician making his own statement of pleading. Valentine then joined the group, taking us on a blues- infused trip with Billie Holiday's "Travellin Light." The vocalist also performed the standard "Everybody Needs Somebody" and the 12-bar blues associated with Joe Williams, "Everyday I have the Blues." The ballad "Darn that Dream" drew silent agreement from the listeners, who were in no mood for sleeping. Valentine's vocal chops expressed the spirit if not very essence of jazz. Listening to him sing was a poignant and bittersweet experience.

The explosion concluded with the Azar Lawrence Quartet—the leader on soprano and tenor sax, Nate Morgan on piano, Roy McCurdy on drums, and Edwin Livingston on bass.

If the joint was previously jumping with an uncontrollable blaze, this was the realization of the total explosion, beginning with John Coltrane's "Chasin' the Trane." Lawrence's earnest and compelling message would make jazz converts out of the entire city! The music was filled with complexity, excitement, love, peace, communion, unity, and life. Once a drummer in the groups of Sonny Rollins and Cannonball Adderley, Roy McCurdy played with sustained drive, taking us to yet another pinnacle, while Morgan on piano emotively took us through a palette of colorful modes. The whole time Livingston was right in the pocket, stoking the flame and christening the crowd with his innovative bass work.

The quartet resolved their mission with the opulent Mongo Santamaria piece "Afro Blue."

Afterwards, the intervals of bending notes, expressive chord changes, and glorious melody and harmony was enough to make me wonder..."Did Christmas come early? What precious and loving gifts were presented for each of us from The California Jazz Foundation on this rare occasion?" Perhaps nothing more need be said than that the whole lived up to its billing and then some—an "Explosion of Jazz" and an earnest tribute to the greatest art form known to man since music began.



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