The full house at Vitellos Upstairs was treated to not only a serving of great Italian food and inspiring small group jazz, but got a chance to be on a recording session that everyone in attendance (“and beyond!”) will want a copy of. First, you’ve got the planet’s best clarinetist, Eddie Daniels, who is essentially the Alexander the Great of the stick, crying over his world as he has nothing else left to conquer. Then, with a pianist the likes of Tom Ranier (who does a pretty nice living writing and performing the keys for Dancing with Stars) who can play more on one hand than most guys can with two, and a rhythm team including the adroit Steve Schaeffer/dr and Mike Valerio/b, you’ve got a rotation that rates with the Atlanta Braves pitching staff of the 80s. Not a weak spot in sight.
On the evening’s first set, Daniels got the show swinging with a modern and melodiously buoyant take of “Stomping at the Savoy.” Daniels’ warm tone was like a balm of maple syrup as his fluid and liquid soloing made the sophisticated sounds as accessible as “Do Re Mi.” A series of tunes dedicated to or composed by Duke Ellington followed, with Roger Kellaway’s “Duke In Ojai” spotlighting some sprite and spry interplay that was both bluesy and brainy. On “Sophisticated Lady,” Daniels switched to tenor and took you on a history tour of the saxophone with graceful yet Superman-like leaps of octaves at a single bound. Back on clarinet, his own “Duke and the Roadhouse” had some hip, hep and happenin’ drum and bass work while Daniels’ clarinet flowed like liquid mercury. On the closing take of “Shine,” both Ranier and Daniels turned their instruments into AK 47s and sprayed the audience with a flurry of notes that mixed mind boggling complexity with jaw dropping energy and drive, causing the band to pass out transcriptions of the solos after the show so everyone could break up into small groups and discuss it intelligently. Music this accessible, enjoyable but also artistically inspiring comes to LA way too infrequently. Daniels , Ranier and company showed that we Angelenos should not be as excited about Dancing with Stars as much as listening to them.