Bennie Maupin onstage with Dolphyana
The quote above comes from a poem from the drummer Sonship Theus, one of the many spiritual fathers of Los Angeles underground jazz who was present in spirit on the second day of the Angel City Jazz Festival. “Paying homage” was the watchword of the day -- not a heavy one at that, but a celebratory one: After all, Theus, who has been battling health problems since as long as he’s been playing, is still with us, as is Bobby Bradford, who just turned a silverfoxed 75 last July and, of course, the man who started it all; Ornette Coleman, still twisting eardrums at a testy, Pulitzer Prize-winning 79.
4pm: Alex’s Cline’s Band of the Moment
All three of the above composers are called upon by the Cline Brothers in their separate sets(natch for twins, I guess). Alex Cline’s performance begins with the exhalations of his Chinese bells and gongs before his fusion-flavored sextet launches into “Nan Madol” from the 1974 ECM debut of Edward Vesala, a Finnish free-jazz percussionist whom, like Cline himself, had his roots in 1960’s rock. The song benefits right off from the twin Fender Rhodes attack of Wayne Peet and David Witham – whose ominous electronic burblings recall another name that will be evoked a lot today, Weather Report’s Joe Zawinul – and the muted, ghostly strains of John Fumo’s trumpet. Halfway through the 20-minute jam, Alex pulls out his junkyard traps—including license plates and what looks to be small saw blades—for a percussion freakfall. The next song, Soft Machine’s “Virtually,” (AC’s tribute to the late bassist Hugh Hopper), is a m*therf*cker: all four parts delivered like a score to a nonexistent Michael Mann or Wim Wenders film. Witham and Peet resembled the Chemical Brothers, heads bobbing over their equipment as they created wintry soundscapes and single pulse drones that lay a snuggly sonic bed for Steuart Liebig’s Hendrixian contrabass solo. (Afterwards, the musicians are sweat-drenched and have acquired noticeable sunburns.) Then comes the kicker: Weather Report’s “Second Sunday in August” augmented by the will o’ the wisp violin of some low-key, cap-wearing guy standing stage right…wait a minute, that's festival co-organizer Jeff Gauthier! Not worrying over the stage placement of the grand piano! Nor graciously acting as roadie for many of today’s bands! Just having fun with old friends! (And playing his ass off.) The final section of the set is a tribute to the aforementioned Mr. Theus, one of Alex’s original drumming inspirations: a vaguely tense vamp featuring Alex’s skittering, edgy snare work.
5:15pm: Wayne Horvitz Gravitas Quartet
Before the set, MC Leroy Downs asks the drowsy crowd “You guys feeling okay? “Cause you’re kind of quiet” before explaining his long brown kaftan to the crowd (“air conditioning!”). Wayne Horvitz offers the most challenging set of the evening: unlike the heft of Billy Childs’ chamber-jazz experiments the day before, Horvitz’s performance is a pared-down affair, a sort of hurricane eye between the Brothers Cline. They begin with “One Morten” and “Way Out East,” respective tunes from their second and first albums. “Remembrance” benefits from local lass Sara Schoenbeck’s sonorous bassoon and the exquisitely minimalist cello draws of Peggy Lee (the secret weapon of this set) on “You Were Just Here.” The GQ leans perilously close to fussyboots conservatory music, but this is leavened by a heartbreaking read of the late punk busker Elliott Smith’s “A Fond Farwell,” its aching melody embossed with Ron Miles’ soft trumpet aeries. Then Horvitz announces that Schoenbeck just had a baby!
6:30pm: The Nels Cline Singers with Jeff Parker
Would it be fair to call this “caucasian brainiac party music”? Well, why not? Perhaps it’s cliché to restate the unpredictable qualities of the NCS, but every time these gents step on a stage together, you feel like they’re getting away with some unlawful wackiness—and you are in on it. Lately, Nels has been cheekily opening his sets with slower material, like the softer jazzier structures of “Lullaby For Ian” and “Sunken Song,” which are compressed into a medley for the opening. Second guitarist Jeff Parker (representin’ Obama’s Chi-town) and Nels seem to switch roles like a married couple: one leaning aggressively while the other hanging back and soothing the waters a tad. Nels pays tribute to Bobby Bradford, the last surviving member of L.A. free jazz’s original holy triumvirate (John Carter met his heavenly reward in 1991, Horace Tapscott followed him eight years later), with a whimsical take on Bradford’s ballad “Coming On.” Oddly, it is Parker who is showcased on this tune. Seated on a chair onstage like a Mississippi bluesman, he sticks to clean and understated licks with a hint of grit—like Wes Montgomery playing through a slightly smashed amp.
But any Singers show wouldn’t be complete without some demon-bashing tribal shriekouts, like a punked-up take on Ornette Coleman’s “Congeniality” featuring Scott Amendola clutching a mallet between his teeth and laying down a devastating quasi-salsa pulse. Gabor Szabo’s “Lady Gabor” begins as a ballad but gradually builds in intensity with Cline and Parker’s Eastern-tinged interplay. As a treat, Cline brings out his brother Alex (kneeling behind Amendola's drums playing a jerry-rigged kit consisting of bells, Chinese opera gong, dog dish, tambourine and maracas that Nels had brought), trumpeter Ron Miles and drummer Jim Black (who performed yesterday with Satoko Fuji’s quartet) for a funked out Bonnaroo-style rave-up on Joe Zawinul’s “Boogie Woogie Waltz.” It's a bit of a reminder: This Music Can Be Fun. (Nels tells us later he just recorded the song live in San Francisco with the Singers “and three members of Deerhoof on percussion.” Ah, hope nobody got burned by the passing of the torch.)
8pm: Larry Goldings Trio
Just as organist Larry “Man with the Steady Walking Hand” Goldings takes the stage, the Beast gets into a bit of a music geek argumentation with scribe Kirk Silsbee in which we confess to secretly loathing Hammond B-3 organ jazz. While we’re stuttering out moronic explanations (which for some reason includes a unintended swipe at Joe Pass…?!?), Goldings and his trio provide a pocket by which attendees confounded by the day’s previous sounds can relax a bit with his swinging, fusion-dusted soul jazz. The LGT splicies more vanguard takes on the genre (“Asimov,” “Pegusus”) with gems from the Great American Songbook (“I'm in the Mood for Love,” “Spring Is Here”). Most unexpected moment #1: A cover of Sonny Rollins’ “Why Don’t I?” Most unexpected moment #2: Motoko Honda, in the wings, dancing to it.
9:15pm: Motoko Honda/Oguri
It’s hard not to be drawn in by pianist Honda’s poise and furious concentration – not to mention her scary boatloads of talent. Looking like a resilient (and barefoot) faerie in a flowing white and black gown, she is whirlygig of activity on her prepared strings. Her partner in crime, scarecrow-like Butoh master Oguri is the only jazz musician who performed at the ACJF with no instrument. His kinescope friezes and mangled crash test- dummy undulations on the bare, darkened stage bring an almost disturbing and confrontational edge to the amphitheatre. It's another reminder: This Music Is Never Safe.
10pm: Bennie Maupin & Dolphyana
Can’t think of a better way to wrap this fest up than Bennie Maupin giving bracing breath to the late Eric Dolphy’s newly discovered compositions. Onstage, the sounds coming from Dolphyana on “The Madrig Speaks, The Panther Walks” (with standout flute playing by Nestor Torres) and “Something Sweet, Something Tender” (featuring Jay Hoggard’s surrealist vibes) are those of Men Working It Out right in front of our eyes. The quintet also pays tribute to the Recorded Dolphy, adding their own insistent chamber-jazz interplay to "Out To Lunch" and "Straight Up and Down" while keeping intact the complex yearnings and searchings that still makes Dolphy’s music so galvanizing. Biggest treat: the understated drumming of the inimitable Billy Hart on two of Maupin's own tunes "Message To Prez" and "Equal Justice" (from 2006's Penumbra). His brush-heavy licks are so stealthy and breezy that you forget it’s a 70-year-old playing and not a pair of younger wrists (like Hart’s equally talented son Lorca). Over at Eric Dolphy’s plot at the Angelus Rosedale Cemetery, something green and new must have bloomed.
WE'LL GET SOME MORE PRIME PHOTOS OF BOTH DAYS OF ACJF PERFORMANCES ASAP!
Amusing, Quintessentially L.A. Postscript:
Believe it nor not, there was an after party in the lobby of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. We didn’t go, as we were too tired, but as Rocco later revealed to us, the Roosevelt was filled with “people who didn’t get the other hipper clubs” in the area, and decided to join the “Jazzbo Party,” which came complete with DJs spinning Charlie Parker, Weather Report and Dizzy Gillespie. After a spell, said Rocco, “they wanted the jazz off the DJ list” and instead shouted for “Techno!” Any ensuing explanation that Weather Report’s first two records are up there with James Brown on the Most Highly Sampled By DJs list would have probably proved fruitless. As it should have been.
MAS Y MAS:
Chris Barton reviews the 2009 Angel City Jazz Festival (Los Angeles Times, 9/08/09)
Greg Burk reviews the 2009 Angel City Jazz Festival (MetalJazz, 9/10/09)