Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Jazz in the Angel City

Angel City Jazz Festival’s second day included some amazing acts including the headlining Bennie Maupin and Dolphyana playing Eric Dolphy charts that were saved and guarded after the artists untimely passing as well as a beautiful set from the Larry Goldings Trio with Bill Stewart (pictured), and Peter Bernstein...

The Angel City Jazz Festival was a two day event that transpired at the Ford Theater in Hollywood this Labor Day weekend. The first day was headlined by Dave Douglas and included among many talented musicians the great Marvin “Smitty” Smith playing drums for the Billy Childs Jazz-Chamber orchestra. I cannot comment on this first day, however, because I was not in attendance. I only managed to catch the first four acts of day two, which included Alex Cline’s band of the Moment, The Wayne Horvitz Gravitas Quartet, The Nels Cline Singers with Jeff Parker of Tortoise, and finally, The Larry Goldings Trio. I am embarrassed to admit that I didn’t stay for the headliner, but my brother did drive up to go to the show with me and he hung strong for five hours so that I could catch one of my idols, Bill Stewart.
The first three acts were all very entertaining and certainly both of the Cline brothers’ groups came with powerful drumming. First by Alex Cline and then by Scott Amendola of the Nels Cline singers. Alex also came out at the end of his twins’ set to play percussion on a Joe Zawinul fusion number that the composer wrote for Gabor Szabo, which also featured Ron Miles (Wayne Horvitz Gravitas Quartet) on Flugelhorn. Nels Cline’s band also played Ornette Coleman’s “Congeniality,” and had some very interesting conversation between the two guitarists. Meanwhile, the Wayne Horvitz group was a quartet of bassoon, cello, Trumpet/Flugel and Horvitz on piano. This group played some pieces ranging from a third stream vibe with fantastic improvisations from Horvitz and Miles to more early 20th century “classical” style avant guarde pieces with a lot of prepared piano. It was nice to see Horvitz’s relaxed approach to prepared piano; among other things he brought out his wallet to use what were undoubtedly old Blockbuster and Ralph’s club cards to manipulate the timbres of the Baldwin baby grand. Overall, this group was very interesting and definitely fit in with the array of “out” musicians at this event, but some pieces (in particular the ones that had a little more Monk and little less Schoenberg) were certainly more enjoyable and in my mind superior in compositional quality to others.
The Larry Goldings Trio came on stage and seemed to be having some issues with the stage hands/sound men. Bill Stewart in particular seemed to be having problems with the drum kit and also seemed unimpressed with the gentlemen’s ability to fix said issues. This caused the band to start a little late and then eventually be shuffled off stage unexpectedly. They opened with “Asimov,” a tune that I know and love from playing it with Nick Tocco’s band Apropos. This high powered version included some monstrous drumming from Stewart and beautiful soloing from all three of these dynamic musicians. The trio then played “I’m in the Mood for Love,” with Bernstein taking the melody and then comping under a pianissimo Goldings solo before they traded fours with Stewart and the ballad built in a manner reminiscent of Tony Williams or Brian Blade exploding over the top of a Wayne Shorter ballad before bringing it back to an almost inaudible volume. The next tune was Goldings’ own “Pegasus,” followed by Sonny Rollins’ “Why Don’t I,” a tune that the trio often plays, but dedicated to the saxophonist and composer’s 79th birthday. The crowd was unleashing screams and hollers during Goldings’ solo, which turned into dead silence and then exclamations of astonishment and primal grunts during Bill Stewart’s display of raw power, unparalleled coordination, and sense of time during his solo, which often referenced and then commented upon the melody of the tune.
The set came to a screeching halt after the next tune, a beautiful ballad which ended on a whisper of a cymbal hit that Stewart performed with his fist. This was just after Bernstein took an extended solo and displayed his always brilliant tone and motivic development and Goldings followed him with a very legato solo that showed off his knowledge of how to tweak the Hammond’s tone and the Leslie’s vibrato and chorus. The band looked shocked when the final note was played and the MC instantly announced their names while the sound men came out and started clearing the stage. I was a little upset, but decided not to focus on this small negative in the midst of so much great music and my first live hearing of this fantastic group.
Then we decided we had to leave and that the 20 minute breaks between every set previous were a little much considering that every band had been ready, but made to wait. My brother still had to drive home and go to work this morning and he is packing to move to the east coast, etc. I was bummed to leave when there was bound to be more great music, but what we did see was great and I would highly recommend going to this festival next year if they can afford to put it on again!

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