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Bright Moments: So Cal Jazz Highlights, 2011

Bright Moments: So Cal Jazz Highlights, 2011
Chuck Koton By

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Southern California's jazz community has taken some brutal hits in the last few years. Too many of the brilliant artists who make the music have passed on, as have the venues they performed in. The Jazz Bakery's shuttering nearly three years ago was a breath- snatching body blow; Charlie Os abrupt closing this past summer stung like an upper cut; and the recent news of music impresario Rocco Somazzi's imminent relocation to the Bay Area floored followers of "out" sounds and emerging jazz musicians. Thankfully, Somazzi is continuing his commitment to the Angel City Jazz Festival, a vital event on LA's music calendar for the last four years.
Yet, a few new clubs have opened their doors and begun presenting compelling music for LA area jazz lovers. And several longstanding musical spaces continue to survive in these arts-challenged times. As the new year dawns, a still vibrant, close-knit jazz scene continues to provide bright moments to celebrate in gratitude.
Barbara Morrison
Musicians 47 Union Hall

Los Angeles, CA

September 11, 2011

Sweet notes and warm tears flowed at the Musicians Local 47 Union Hall birthday benefit for the inimitable diva of jazz and the blues, Barbara Morrison, whose recovery from diabetes-related surgery (leg amputation) has provided the brightest and most poignant moments of the year for the LA jazz community.

The event, hosted by the dapper and knowledgeable jazz DJ, James Janisse, opened with the Frank Capp band. Ably assisted by the muscular tenor sound of George Harper and veteran bassist Richard Simon, Capp drove the rhythm to Charlie Parker's bebop classic, "Confirmation." Next, Capp brought on his big band, the Juggernaut, featuring the sweet tenor sound of Pete Christlieb on "We'll Be Together Again" and Duke Ellington's "I Got It Bad." Legendary vocalist Ernie Andrews, recalling the halcyon days of the big bands on Central Avenue, joined in for a moving interpretation of "You Are So Beautiful To Me." Now in his 80s, Andrews continues to sing and swing with an undiminished joie de vivre that captivates his audiences.

The Phil Ranelin Quintet took the stage and tore right into an up- tempo romp on Oscar Hammerstein's "Softly As In a Morning's Sunrise," with Ranelin and one of L.A.'s rising jazz stars, tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington, horn- to-horn, urging each other on. The rhythm section was featured on a dreamy "My Romance," with Trevor Ware's steady pulsing bass and Mahesh Balasooriya's pensive piano notes revealing a familiarity with love belied by his relative youth. The band closed it out with a bright and bouncy "How High the Moon."

In addition to his creative musicality, Ranelin's most important contribution has long been his nurturing of a new generation of players like Washington and Balasooriya. It is these cats who will soon become the foundation for the future of jazz.

Happily, Morrison is back to her old sassy self, not only performing again but also running the Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center. Busy as ever, on this night Morrison needed only to relax and soak up the love from the standing room only crowd of her friends and fans.

Phil Ranelin Ensemble

LA County Museum of Art

Los Angeles, CA

September 16, 2011

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has been presenting world class jazz concerts free to the public for 20 years and, in spite of the brutal cuts to arts budgets everywhere, it continues to support this invaluable music. On Friday September 16th, a typically spectacular and balmy evening, the Phil Ranelin Ensemble performed for a standing room crowd. Ranelin, the veteran trombonist and jazz jewel of the Los Angeles jazz scene, opened with a fast-paced blues featuring Kamasi Washington. Washington, like many players, clearly had the talent and chops at a young age, but now he plays with the confidence, power and personal style that only comes with experience. His tenor sax nearly combusted as he blew chorus after chorus of sizzling blues.

Ranelin shifted to a more tropical mood with an original composition, "Jamaican Sunrise," from Perseverance (Wide Hive, 2011).The band's island rhythms, especially the cascading waterfall of notes played by the ubiquitous and inspired bass veteran Trevor Ware and pianist Mahesh Balasooriya (another young musician deserving of recognition), had the listeners swaying like palms in the breeze.

The band closed the set with a burner, "Spirit of Dolphy," from Inspiration (Wide Hive, 2004), on which Ranelin paid musical tribute to several of his mentors. Don Littleton opened with a tension-filled drum solo, and then Ware and pianist Balasooriya offered up solemn chords, before the horns added their impassioned voices. Ranelin blew rapid and deep 'bone tones then summoned several elephantine roars followed by Washington's frenzied sax exploration.

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