Any jazz cat will tell you that the art of improvising is the primary contributing factor in what sets jazz apart from other genres. It is the artists' ability to continuously and freely explore a composition. As they expand the notes and the feel, they expand and open our minds along with them.
One of the finest examples of that process can be heard on 3 Nights in L.A.. Tenor saxophonist George Garzone, drummer Peter Erskine, pianist Alan Pasqua and bassist Darek Oles have played together often over the years. That symmetry is apparent and is the backbone of this most significant jazz record that was recorded on three consecutive nights at Sam First in Los Angeles. This relatively new jazz club is gaining recognition as a room with a cool vibe and great acoustics. The record quality is brilliantly crisp and clear. As Sam First is a listening room, the record is void of chatter, clinking glasses or whirling blenders. It was cold and raining outside, but inside the jazz was hot and simmering. The result is a three CD package that serves up twenty-one tracks and over two hundred minutes of live jazz. That sheer volume of music would mean nothing if it was a generous portion of mediocrity. Instead, it is the epitome of live improvisational jazz, played with both freedom of expression and with pure joy. On a rare night everything comes together in perfect harmony. The musicians and the sound, the ambiance and the aesthetics, the mood and the spirit. Three consecutive nights in this breathtaking zone is, if not unprecedented, at the very least of historic proportions.
Originals contributed by all members of the quartet are interspersed amid their stamp on several timeless standards. Those include compositions by John Coltrane, Rodgers & Hart, Kern & Hammerstein and Billy Eckstine. Old or new, it all flows and grooves. The musicians' timing and sensibility in playing off each other translates to four heartbeats as one. It served the group well that they took the stage each night without arrangements. They counted off a tune and kicked into it; free to take it in any and/or many directions. Garzone's nuanced and delightfully expressive takes are matched only by the freewheeling and ever nourishing Erskine. Longtime fans of the latter will no doubt appreciate his pinpoint dynamics on this record. Oles is patient and sensitive to the chemistry. His strength here is holding down the fort and allowing others to shine. Having said that, he took advantage of appropriate opportunities to enter his own voice. Erskine wisely once said, "It's not a democracy, everyone doesn't need to solo." That's so very true. How many times have you heard solos that weren't necessary? Sometimes they can detract, rather than add, from the feel of a song. You'll hear none of that on 3 Nights in L.A.. What does add to this record is the versatile and melodic impressions of Pasqua. He has some stellar moments each night and fits like a glove in this handsomely suited ensemble.
We live in an era where the genre has spun out into many directions. In the words of Jerry Seinfeld, "Not that there is anything wrong with that." However, if you are interested in hearing a pure live jazz record in all its glory, you might want to give this a spin or two. This is Grammy material, simply as good as it gets. It could have just as easily been titled 3 Nights in Heaven.
Disc 1: Have You Met Miss Jones?; All The Things You Are; Dedicated to Michael Brecker; Twelve; I Hear a Rhapsody; Tutti Italiani; The
Disc 2: Like Someone in Love; Invitation; I Want to Talk About You; Hey Open Up; Agrodolce; Have You Met Miss Jones?; The Honeymoon.
Disc 3: I'll Remember April; Equinox; To My Papa; It Will Happen To You; Sky Shines on an August Sunday; Have You Met Miss Jones?
George Garzone: tenor saxophone; Peter Erskine: drums; Alan Pasqua: piano; Darek Oles: bass.
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