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So Cal Jazz 2013: Highlights and a Serious Low

Chuck Koton By

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Meanwhile, out in the bright light and 90 degree heat of the Ford Amphitheater, the crew was putting the finishing touches to the stage. Happily, by the time the Richard Sears Group began to play, a refreshingly cool breeze caressed the tragically too few listeners in attendance on this otherwise perfect October evening. The sextet, which included five nattily attired young cats in suits playing alto sax, bass clarinet, trumpet, bass and Sears on piano, was propelled by the youthful septuagenarian, Albert "Tootie" Heath, on drums. In spite of the impressive musical chops displayed by the youth, the smiling elder statesman, Heath, attracted the most attention. He impishly prodded the band, at times swingin' the beat, at other times funkin' it up, much to the delight of the audience and his band mates. Heath's jovial mood, no doubt, has been enhanced by the critical acclaim garnered by his recording, Tootie's Tempo( Sunnyside, 2013) in which he is joined by pianist Ethan Iverson and bassist Ben Street.

Other highlight's of the evening included a set by Kneebody, which changed the pace with some raucous ensemble playing before the talented "rising star," Ben Wendel, took off on an unaccompanied tenor sax solo. On the original tune, "Sleeveless," from their recording, The Line (Concord, 2013), the band kicked off on a relaxed groove from drummer Nate Wood and keyboardist, Adam Benjamin.

Yosvany Terry, who brought his contemporary take on latin jazz to Angel City, blew seriously hot and spicy alto sax licks over roiling Cuban rhythms. Terry punctuated the tune, "Harlem Matinee," with a brilliant solo on shekere, which he learned to play from his father, a leading Cuban percussionist. Osmany Paredes on piano and Michael Rodriguez on trumpet augmented this tune's mysterious Hancock/Shorter vibe. These cats were as tight as a ride on the Lexington Ave line as it rumbles past 116th St in Spanish Harlem, during rush hour!

Closing out the evening was altoist Greg Osby, who opened with a rhythm section of young Monk Institute cats. With a nod to this year's theme, the band traveled back to the year 1926 when one of the founding spirits of jazz, Duke Ellington, composed the tune "East St.Louis Toodle-oo," an appropriate choice as Osby hails from the river city. Osby's peformance was a lesson on how to connect to the jazz tradition while remaining contemporary. Maintaing his edgy, angular sound, Osby could still swing like a motherfucker! He even managed to slip in a Bird lick. Sadly, this was a lesson likely lost on those most in need of it. Finally, Osby was joined by his guest, clarinetist extraordinaire, Anat Cohen, with whom he swung gracefully through a set that included "Mack the Knife" and "Nature Boy," among other standards.

In spite of the noble and Herculean efforts of Somazzi and Gauthier, who continue to present challenging music almost never heard by ears in the Los Angeles area, people here still just don't seem to get it!

Randy Weston/Billy Harper
Nate Holden Center For Performing Arts
Los Angeles, CA
Nov 22, 2013

Of course, no look back on a year of jazz in LA would be complete without mention of the invaluable and irreplaceable, Ruth Price, whose efforts to keep jazz alive here in LA must have the support of Athena, the gray-eyed goddess herself. Price has performed miracles in garnering political, financial and artistic contributions in support of the Jazz Bakery's resurrection. In her "spare" time, she has continued to present the finest jazz musicians in the world in performance at several local venues under the banner, Movable Feasts. id=45389#.UzNenyh68lJ

In November, the esteemed duo of pianist Randy Weston and tenor saxophonist, Billy Harper, performed a transcendent evening of jazz at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center. Weston, a youthful eighty eight years young, not only tickled the ivories in his inimitable style, but also embraced the role of griot, (an African oral historian) as he enlightened the audience on the roots of the music in Mother Africa. He pointed out that "Nature is the original instrument, the original orchestra. Mother Nature improvises and plays the polyrythms which inspired man to emulate her diverse sounds."

Establishing the roots of jazz in the blues, Weston opened the evening by invoking the roaring Victoria Falls with a powerfully rhythmic, repetitive groove on his original composition, "The Healers." Once he had established the hypnotic mood, Weston was joined by the illustrious Texas tenor, Billy Harper, whose deep and spiritual sound belies his origins in the earthy Lone Star state. Harper lingered in the horn's lower register as he blew a solemn invocation to the ancestors.


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