Branford, Bob Bain, Will Bernard with John Medeski
Publication: LA Weekly
Author: Brick Wahl
The Luckman Jazz Orchestra is performing a Tribute to John Coltrane this Saturday evening at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex at Cal State LA. With selections hand-picked by director Charles Owens, expect some fascinating orchestral treatments of ’Trane tunes both classic and rarely heard; if this is at the usual high level of this outfit’s tributes (the last brilliantly explored the music of Wayne Shorter), expect a blend of beautiful and even startling treatments shot through stunning solo passages. And there is nothing like hearing reed players Bennie Maupin and Charles Owens burn through the upper reaches of the Coltrane stratosphere And the other 15 players won’t be sitting on their hands; dig that crazy pairing of Phil Ranelin and Isaac Smith.
That same Saturday night way across town and genre boundaries, new jazz guitarist Will Bernard gigs at the Roxy Theatre on the Strip, playing some of the smoking tunes off his latest, Blue Plate Special. The album’s a cooker, from Stanton Moore’s opening breakbeat on, with Bernard and (who else?) keyboardist John Medeski trading passages through the four-on-the-floor stompers, fill-the-floor groovers and spacey, soulful extended slow pieces. The whole thing is steeped in that ’70s Blue Note gettin’-down sound. He’ll have the very same quartet at this Roxy gig.
It’s the pure post-bop on tenor Branford Marsalis’ new Metamorfosen, one beautiful, edgy, driving cut after another, certainly one of the best new releases from the bigger-name tenor saxophonists of late (like Ravi Coltrane and his BlendingTimes). Branford is a major-league player in a jazz world in which the jaded insist there is no such thing, and his five-night stand at the Catalina Bar and Grill (beginning this Tuesday) should be a highlight of the spring season (does jazz have seasons?). Also in from NYC is trombonist Wycliffe Gordon at the Jazz at the A-Frame in West Hollywood on Sunday, March 22 at 2 p.m. He’s fronting a quartet that also features saxist Rickey Woodard and pianist John Beasley, so we’re talking the real straight-ahead. Ditto NYC trumpeter Joe Magnarelli, who has booked himself some sort of L.A. tour, beginning with Vibrato on Saturday; with baritone saxist Adam Schroder, guitarist Graham Dechter, bassist Hamilton Price and drummer Kevin Kanner at Spazio on Sunday; Sangria on Wednesday; and the LA Crowne Plaza on Thursday. We’d love to see more visiting players do the same.
Local cats around town we especially dig include powerful tenor Ernie Watts with the John Heard Trio at Charlie O’s on Friday, and the excellent Cannonball Coltrane Project (which is just what the name says it is) at the Café 322 on Sunday. Bookending the week is another powerful tenor, Pete Christlieb, with the Jon Mayer Trio at Charlie O’s on Thursday, March 26. Also on Thursday you can see veteran guitarist Bob Bain at Vitello’s (4349 Tujunga Ave., in Studio City). Maybe veteran is an understatement … the man’s big band experience goes back to Tommy Dorsey and Bob Crosby, with stints with Sinatra, Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson, and, most famously, a couple decades with the Tonight Show Band. And he’s still playing strong. And oh yeah, that was him on the Batman theme.