Angel City Jazz Festival: Hollywood, CA, Oct. 5, 2012
John Anson Ford Amphitheater
October 7, 2012
A bright, golden sun, cobalt sky and cool breeze welcomed Southland jazz lovers to the friendly confines of the John Anson Ford Amphitheater for the fifth annual Angel City Jazz Festival. Eagerly anticipated by serious and passionate jazz aficionados, the festival's founder, Rocco Somazzi and co-producers, the new LA jazz team of Ruth Price and Jeff Gauthier, presented four stellar bands organized around the theme of artists and legends. Their goal, to celebrate the musical lineage of the modern jazz era.
Drummer Peter Erskine's New Trio opened the proceedings with a simmering, original composition. One of the driving, rhythmic forces who, along with fiery bassist Jaco Pastorius, propelled Weather Report in the '80s, the veteran drummer's light touch provided a soothing contrast to the sturdier percussive grooves of rising piano star, Vardan Ovsepian and bassist Damian Erskine, with whom the drummer has perpetuated the jazz lineage on a genetic level. On another tune, Erskine picked up the pace and intensity, while Ovsepian and bassist Erskine dreamily explored musical space and time. The New Trio generally maintained a mood of gentle, airy sound exploration: almost, perhaps, "light as a feather."
Bassist Mark Dresser's Quintet followed with a more rambunctious set, beginning with "Digestivo," a Dresser original with a Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk-like sound, redolent of those jazz giants' unconventional tempos and note selection. Hyperpianist Denman Maroney won the award for most creative and annoying sounds (think blackboard scratching) in the progressive music category, while Dresser stroked his bass like he was angrily plucking petals off a daisy. If nothing else, Maroney's assault on the piano's strings awakened anyone dozing off in the balmy, early evening air.
At this point, Dresser introduced cornetist Bobby Bradford, a seminal figure in the L.A. musical avant-garde scene. Bradford-with whom Dresser performed nearly 40 years ago in drummer/writer Stanley Crouch's band, Black Music Infinity, along with sax masters David Murray and Arthur Blythe-grew up in Dallas, Texas where he and trailblazing saxophonist Ornette Coleman first hooked up, performing and recording together in the '60s and '70s, thus extending the evening's musical lineage back to the 1950s.
Dedicated to his late musical collaborator, clarinetist John Carter, Bradford's "Castles For Carter" featured guest clarinetist Marty Ehrlich in a vibrant duet, the pair's respective horns sending a piercing call through Hollywood's night air. Ehrlich blew all manner of clarinet cacophony above the raucous rhythms, punctuated jarringly by trombonist Michael Dessen's elephantine roars. But a blues mood underlay the mildly bi-polar ravings, thereby anchoring the music with needed rhythmic ballast.
Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, he of the meteoric rise and soaring sound, brought his quintet to the stage just as night fell over the Ford. The band instantly ignited, burning with an up-tempo sound that recalled trumpeter Miles Davis' second great ensemble. Tenor man Walter Smith III's angular attack, recalling the inimitable Wayne Shorter, incited Akinmusire to blow crystalline sounds over the rhythm section's electric pace. On the balladic "Regret No More," from the trumpeter's When the Heart Emerges Glistening (Blue Note, 2011), Akinsumire blew with the same confident tone and impeccable breath control that helped him capture the 2007 Thelonious Monk Institute's top prize in 2007. Bassist Harish Raghavan also got the chance to show off his rapidly developing bass chops.
In between sets, Southland jazz fans were treated to an announcement by the public face and artistic director of the much missed Jazz Bakery, Ruth Price, who injected a desperately needed dose of optimism for everyone concerned about the future of jazz in Los Angeles. While the fundraising for the actual construction of the Bakery's new home continues, jazz potentate/trumpeter Wynton Marsalis called and volunteered his skills and experience to the Jazz Bakery project. He hoped to help über-architect Frank Gehry avoid some of the acoustical pitfalls faced by Lincoln Center Jazz during its construction. Welcome news, indeed.