After a few months in Los Angeles, I am finally figuring out where the jazz is happening — it’s not like New York, where you can just see who’s playing at the Jazz Gallery or Village Vanguard on a given evening. But after digging the scene at the Blue Whale a few times — including a fantastic show by the Alan Ferber Expanded Ensemble earlier this month, which I wrote about for WBGO — I have started to get the hang of it out here.
One advantage of checking out a big band concert is that it brings a whole bunch of great players together for one evening — just following a few of them has led me to some cool gigs. One of those musicians is trombonist Joey Sellers, who also happens to have just released a fantastic solo trombone record, entitled “What The . . . ?” (Yes, a solo trombone record: that’s how much of a badass this guy is.)
Sellers also plays with the Kim Richmond Ensemble, a six-piece bebop outfit with great arrangements by alto saxophonist and bandleader Kim Richmond. In addition to touring with the Stan Kenton band since the 1960s, Richmond has been a mainstay of the LA scene as an in-demand studio player, writer, bandleader and educator. In fact, about 10 years ago, he led a high school jazz combo at a summer jazz workshop in Port Townsend, WA, which featured a certain scrawny teenage trombonist . . . another reminder that when it comes to the jazz community, it really is a small world.
The gig took place at Contrapuntal Hall, an acoustically brilliant space built into the gorgeous Brentwood home of Alan Kay and Bonnie MacBird — the scene had a decidedly DIY vibe, but one clearly not wanting for funds.
The group was at its best when the three horns were playing Richmond’s juicily-harmonized melodies, with Richmond and Sellers joined by John Daversa on flugelhorn. The rhythm section, featuring Mahesh Balasooriya on piano, Mike Valario on bass and Jamey Tate on drums, backed the horns with a tight groove and creative interactivity. Richmond’s clever treatment of the straight-ahead repertoire reminded me what a pleasure it can be to hear well-written, hard-swinging bebop played live by top-notch improvisers. This was even more clear when the sextet was joined by surprise guest Hubert Laws — yes, that Hubert Laws — on flute. This is precisely the sort of only-in-LA interaction that I hope to hear much more of while I’m out here. Catching such a master of the idiom casually yet vibrantly stretching out over “Stella By Starlight” is a musical experience that I won’t soon forget.
Although the group played arrangements of standards, they were certainly not lacking in originality. Richmond makes a point of arranging his charts to bring out the individual voices of each member, and includes some truly wacky material in the process. His “derangement” of the standard “Taking a Chance On Love,” for example, featured everything from deeply-in-the-pocket swing to no-holds-barred free jazz. They played two pieces by Wayne Shorter — “Footprints” and “Infant Eyes” — as well as the Sam Rivers classic “Beatrice,” each in a way that neither of the saxophone giants would have imagined themselves.
I left the concert feeling refreshed, reminded that there is indeed a great scene out here to be dug. I look forward to learning more about it while I’m here and sharing it with you, whether you’re reading from California, New Jersey, Chile or China. But wherever you are, I’m sure that there’s great jazz happening near you, too — so take a minute to check out who’s playing and catch a show when you can!