Now in its 6th year, the Angel City Jazz Festival is becoming one of the most impressive fests, not only in CA (which really doesn’t take much) but all over the world (which does!). This year, Jeff Gauthier, Ruth Price and Rocco Somazzi put together a series of concerts that would make NYC and Perugia jealous, with a lineup that not only boasts big names like Toshiko Akiyoshi, Anthony Braxton, Oliver Lake and Wadada Leo Smith, but artists that are undeservedly under the radar like Aruan Ortiz, Craig Taborn and Azar Lawrence. And where did they find Michael White who was a stud for Impulse way back when?!?
Anyway, the Friday night show at Redcat was a perfect display of the width and depth that the Fest can cover. The opening act featured pianist Cathlene Pineda (who hits the Blue Whale every now and then) leading an expressive and impressionistic quartet of Kris Tiner/tp, Dave Tranchina/b and Paul Kikuchi/dr. They premiered a commissioned piece that featured a collaboration with Poet Laureate Eloise Klein-Healy that featured her poems that served as a projected backdrop to the evocative musings. “I Live Where I Live” and “Cause” featured lyrical melodies provided by Pineda while Tiner’s horn provided thoughtful and pensive musings over melancholy bass chords. Fresh and innocent themes mixed with spacious themes as Kikuchi’s mallets delivered fragrant tom toms before Pineda confidently strided on “The Beach At Sunset.” The cheerful and upbeat “Escucha Mi Vida” captured the evenings celebratory mix of composition and improvisation that melded together like a soundtrack through the So Cal scenery. Pastoral and refreshing.
Up from an earlier generation came Toshiko Akiyoshi, leading a trio of Paul Gill/b and Aaron Kimmel/dr that spotlighted the famed bandleader’s upbringing in the joyous strains of bebop a la Bud Powell.
In this day of jazz via college education, Ms Akiyoshi embodied the lesson that the best way to learn a language is by immersion, and throughout the evening she played the exciting and world changing themes such as “Con Alma” and “Tempus Fugit” as one who spoke the language like a local. Her stories of meeting Powell interspersed her bebop flavored readings of Ellington pieces such as “Prelude to a Kiss” (with a Monkish tip of the hat)s and a latinized “Take The ‘A’ Train” that featured an irresistible ride to Harlem and 52nd St. Her own compositions such as “Long Yellow Road” showed that her music, unlike today’s posers, is not impersonation, but personification of a style, while the old fashioned flavored “Winter Repose” had notes dripping like water off of an icicle.
Her own tuned dedicated to her mentor, “Remembering Bud” included quotes and references to many of his compositions, while the tasty rapport of Gill and Kimmel were in full display on the reading of “Ain’t Necessarily So” that snapped like snow peas. Her closing “Hope For No More War,” a pleading for peace in a world so desperately in need of something, or Someone to guide it right, was like wise counsel from a sage that is passing something important on to the next generation, just as Mr. Powell did to the gifted pianist many decades ago.