Tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington is a force, and stands as thick as a redwood, which is tough when he is blocking your way to the restroom and he happens to be blasting his horn at that time too. But add in Thundercat on bass, his brother Ronald Bruner on pummeling drums and keyboardist Brandon Coleman playing a pile of instruments and you have one of the best jazz/funk/soul bands to fit into a small space. The seething, sweating crowd was really feeling it as Washington rattled the velvet paintings off the walls.
4. Anthony Wilson/Larry Goldings/Jim Keltner Blue Whale, April 11th
Every nerd with a pair of drumsticks tried to get a glimpse of rock drum legend Jim Keltner at the Blue Whale in April. Under the guidance of guitarist Anthony Wilson, Keltner, alongside organist Larry Goldings, played a breathtaking set that was all about patience and control. Keltner hovered in the back with his shades on, providing a spare but propulsive churn that few men would have the guts to leave so unadorned. It was a daring set amid a multi-faceted residency from Wilson. Rumors of a recording session have been running rampant ever since. Here's hoping.
Jazz at the Hollywood Bowl is usually right down the middle. It's rare to be challenged by much on stage, but it's also rare to not enjoy yourself under the stars. For the Miles Davis tribute, between a straight-ahead, throwback set from Kind of Blue drummer Jimmy Cobb and a crowd-pleaser '80s homage from Marcus Miller, the amps were cranked for Miles' electric period. Guitarist Blackbyrd McKnight cut loose as Nicholas Payton filled the trumpet position with strength and attitude. The stage was loaded with wattage and they made the most of it. It was a pleasantly deafening assault that future jazz shows could learn from.
2. Josh Nelson's Discovery Sessions Blue Whale, July 20th
Pianist Josh Nelson works a lot. When he isn't traveling the world with Natalie Cole or Sara Gazarek, he can often be found seated at grand pianos scattered across Southern California. In July he got to lead his own band at the Blue Whale and set up behind them a striking art installation and a psychedelic projection. It clearly required a lot of forethought (yeah, some people have those at jazz shows) and it paid off with a full house and a tight band navigating through Nelson's winding compositions. It was an engaging night of audio and visual, something we could use a lot more of in the L.A. jazz scene.
We're awfully lucky to live in a town where we can have pleasant outdoor shows in October. We're also lucky to live in a town where the Angel City Jazz organization puts on a half-dozen concerts in two weeks that are some of the bravest bookings all year. This year's theme of "artists and legends" resulted in a five hour blow-out at the Ford that included drummer Peter Erskine's youthful trio, Mark Dresser's scalding freedom, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire's fiery set and a long-time coming set by saxophonist Archie Shepp. The result was an impressive array that was challenging, swinging and befuddling in the best way possible. Can't wait for next year.