Los Angeles Jazz Scene - Jazz Around Town
                            May 2016
A TRIBUTE TO JOHN CLAYTON
      
The California Jazz Foundation, under the direction of the tireless Edythe Bronston, is a remarkable organization that is assisting many jazz
musicians in need. Their annual gala, which this year was called “Give The Band A Hand,” doubled as a fundraiser and as a tribute to John
Clayton. The L.A. Hotel Downtown hosted the night which included a cocktail hour, a silent auction, an overlong live auction, and awards
given to John Clayton and the late Ray Brown. Bassist-arranger-composer-bandleader John Clayton is a beloved figure who has educated and
cheered on a countless number of musicians through the years. His speech was heartwarming and witty as was that of Jeff Hamilton who was
a member of the Ray Brown Trio.
However there was far too little music during the first few hours. A piano-bass duo provided background music for the diners but otherwise
there were only four songs performed. A quintet with altoist Grace Kelly and guitarist Graham Dechter played the medium-tempo blues
“Music In Common” and “FSR (for Sonny Rollins)” which was based on “Doxy.” Ms. Kelly showed enthusiasm and the influence of Phil Woods
and Cannonball Adderley in her concise solos. Pianist Gerald Clayton played two solo pieces: a soulful “You Are My Sunshine” and a blues
worthy of Ray Bryant.
      
The highpoint of the night was the mini set performed by the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra to close the evening. Since Clayton was the
honoree, Jeff Hamilton took care of most of the announcements. An opening blues began with some colorful trumpet from Clay Jenkins. The
exciting piece was filled with heated riffing. Ray Brown’s spirit was felt on his arrangement of “Squatty Roo” (taken uptempo) and his tribute
to Art Blakey “Buhaina, Buhaina.” Clayton was featured on bowed bass during a beautiful rendition of “Emily” which its composer Johnny
Mandel (who was in the audience) must have enjoyed, and the beginning of “For All We Know.” But all-too-soon a blues ended the festivities.
      
More information on the very worthy California Jazz Foundation can be found at www.californiajazzfoundation.org.

TURTLE ISLAND STRING QUARTET AND CYRUS CHESTNUT
      
The Turtle Island String Quartet, one of the first improvising string quartets in jazz history, was featured at the Valley Performing Arts
Center with guest pianist Cyrus Chestnut. While their show was titled “Jelly, Rags And Monk,” it was mostly Monk and bop, with Jelly Roll
Morton only making a couple of cameo appearances.
      
Turtle Island, currently comprised of violinists David Balakrishnan and Alex Hargreaves, Benjamin Von Gutzeit on viola, and cellist Malcolm
Parson, was founded by Balakrishnan in 1985. They started the night with two pieces including Lee Konitz’s “Subconscious Lee.” Chestnut
soon joined the ensemble. He has played many shows with the string quartet and easily fit right in on Jelly Roll Morton’s moody “Jungle
Blues” and Debussy’s “Cakewalk.” The quintet explored Monk during excellent versions of “Little Rootie Tootie” and “Ruby, My Dear” before
the first set finished with a hard-swinging “Bouncin’ With Bud.” The latter could have gone on much longer.  Chestnut started the second half
of the night with a lightly-swinging solo piano version of “Tea For Two” (which he filled with breaks that sounded like bugle calls) and a
beautiful rendition of Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing.” The full group also performed a trio of Monk tunes (“Nutty,” ‘Bye-
Ya,” and “Rhythm-A-Ning”) along with a Scott Joplin piece and Morton’s obscure “Turtle Twist.”
      
The music throughout the night was pleasing and often gentle. I would have loved to have seen the Turtle Island String Quartet really cut
loose and have heard Cyrus Chestnut stretching out much more, but what they performed together was satisfying and fun.

THE MACK AVENUE SUPERBAND
     
Disney Hall hosted a particularly unusual double-bill recently: The Mack Avenue Superband and singer Jose James. James, who was the
opening act, is sometimes loosely associated with jazz but his performance was r&b-oriented pop. While he was inventive within the genre, he
would have made no claim that that was a jazz set.
      
The Mack Avenue Superband, led by bassist Christian McBride, consists of vibraphonist Gary Burton, tenor-saxophonist Kirk Whalum, Tia
Fuller on alto and soprano, trumpeter Sean Jones, pianist Christian Sands and drummer Carl Allen. They are very much a super band with
unlimited potential and, rather than having an excess of individual features, they functioned very much as a group. Whalum’s “Preach
Hank” (a tribute to Hank Crawford) sounded very much like a mid-60’s soul/jazz Crawford piece. Whalum emulated David “Fathead”
Newman, Burton and Fuller took fine solos and Sean Jones quoted both Roy Eldridge (for a full chorus) and Freddie Hubbard. After Sands and
McBride had their spots, the interplay of the three horns, with Whalum and Fuller “squawking” at each other was quite stirring. It set the
stage for the rest of the set.
      
During an hour of mostly driving hard bop originals, there were many fine spots, particularly from Fuller (one of today’s greats on both alto
and soprano) and Jones who hit high notes effortlessly, using them as a logical part of his improvisations. While the great Gary Burton should
have been featured more, the Mack Avenue Superband certainly performed consistently memorable and inspired jazz. If only they had been
featured for two sets.

A DVD FROM PAT METHENY
      
In 2012 the great guitarist Pat Metheny formed the Unity Band, his first group with a saxophonist (Chris Potter) since his 80/81 band with
Dewey Redman more than 30 years earlier. With bassist Ben Williams and drummer Antonio Sanchez completing the quartet, they recorded
a CD and went on a long and extensive tour. The musicians had so much fun playing together that they regrouped the following year, adding
Giulio Carmassi on a variety of instruments (piano, flugelhorn and synth plus background vocals and whistling) and undertaking a second
worldwide tour. After their last concert, Metheny wanted to fully preserve the music so he had the group perform at an empty venue before
cameramen. They went through their entire program and the results are now available as The Unity Sessions (available from www.eagle-
rock.com).
      
The Unity Sessions has 15 pieces that comprise over two hours of music plus 13 minutes of interviews as an added feature. As usual, Metheny’s
playing and his band’s performances are beyond any category other than modern jazz. Many of the renditions are quite powerful with Potter
heard at his most intense but there are also some warm ballads included, most notably “This Belongs To You” and “Come And See.” Among the
highlights are the passionate “On Day One,” the blend between Potter’s soprano and Metheny’s guitar synthesizer on the assertive “Redfoods,”
Potter’s bass clarinet playing during the atmospheric “Come And See,” the dramatic “Sign Of The Season” and the rockish “Go Get It.”  
Metheny wrote all but two of the songs. “Cherokee” is a real change of pace, a hot tenor-guitar duet on the bebop classic. The group also is seen
playing Ornette Coleman’s joyful “Police People” (co-written by the guitarist). The musicians blow the roof off during “Two Folk Songs” which
precedes the closer, a thoughtful “Medley” with Metheny featured on unaccompanied guitar. In addition to Metheny and Potter (who is
featured on tenor, soprano, bass clarinet, flute and one song on rhythm guitar), Williams and Sanchez have their spots while Carmassi is
mostly in the background.
      
The Unity Sessions is a must for all Pat Metheny fans, permanently documenting one of his finest bands.

CHET BAKER’S LOST YEARS
      
In 1966, trumpeter-singer Chet Baker was beaten up by three men who sought to rob him. His teeth, lips and embouchure were greatly
damaged and for a long period he could barely play. Drummer Artt Frank, who first met Baker one night in 1954, became his close friend and
drummer in 1968. His first set of memoirs, Chet Baker: The Missing Years, is a detailed account of their friendship during 1968-71. Rather
than a sordid account of Baker’s drug problems, this is instead an inspiring story about the beginning of the trumpeter’s comeback.
      
Frank, who took extensive notes during that era, paints a different picture of Chet Baker than has often been written. Baker emerges as a soft-
spoken caring individual with a curiosity towards many aspects of life. During this period he was a family man who wanted nothing more
than to provide for his wife and children by playing trumpet. Frank does not shy away from Baker having a drug problem and always being
an addict but shows that Baker believed he was only hurting himself.
There is a lot of fresh information and new anecdotes in this fascinating book including tales about Baker’s first comeback appearance on the
Steve Allen Show, their Los Angeles club dates, and the album Blood, Chet and Tears. In addition, Artt Frank talks about parts of his own
musical life story and his experiences as a drummer. The book ends just when Baker was returning to New York and his comeback was
officially underway.
      
Anyone interested in the true story of Chet Baker and this overlooked chapter in his life will find much to enjoy in the frequently moving Chet
Baker: The Missing Years which is available from www.booksendependent.com.