The Angel City Jazz Festival kicked off on Sept. 19 with a swinging set by Young Artist Competition winners the Interstellar Quintet and finished on Sept. 28 with a wave and a blessing from an ailing Arthur Blythe. Throughout the festival, which annually presents some of the boldest jazz you’ll hear anywhere in Los Angeles, multiple venues hosted a range of artists, from vocalist Youn Sun Nah to saxophonist Anthony Braxton.
The final day of the festival featured 10 acts on two stages around Hollywood’s Barnsdall Park. One of those was pianist Josh Nelson, who led his group in the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre. Nelson made the most of the darkened room with help from video artist Travis Flournoy, who backlit the band with mostly black-and-white vintage film clips. Nelson and guitarist Larry Koonse conversed in hushed, gentle tones before Brian Walsh joined in on clarinet with a humming warmth built around Nelson’s right hand. A humorless tune dedicated to comic actor Peter Sellers played out like an “in memoriam” montage that featured a beautiful bass solo from Dan Lutz.
The theater’s house piano took a beating from Aruán Ortiz, who went deep with a cacophonous performance aided by bassist Eric Revis and drummer Gerald Cleaver. Cleaver was the bedrock for the ensemble as they capitalized on a slow build. The trio at one point engaged in an extended collective clattering that sounded like a thousand bats trying to escape the stage.
Pianist Craig Taborn, who was third in line for the bench, delivered a rather impenetrable set. He attacked the instrument with an incredible range of dynamics and the deliberate touch of someone avoiding a few well-placed mousetraps. Like the previous two pianists, Taborn was not hesitant to stick his hands inside the strings and mess around a bit.
The multiple stages at this year’s Angel City Jazz Festival ensured that something was always being missed. Though the organizers encouraged listeners to wander in and out of venues to catch whatever interested them, the performers didn’t cater to the wristband-wearing vagabonds. To fully appreciate the breadth of most sets, it was necessary to commit to one choice and stay put.
On Barnsdall Park’s outdoor stage, trumpeter Daniel Rosenboom raised hell with his electrified quintet. Tenor saxophonist Azar Lawrence followed with a straightahead quartet that included bassist Henry “The Skipper” Franklin and drummer Alphonse Mouzon. Lawrence brought Coltrane-like heat, including a deep take on “I Want To Talk About You” that featured a meditative solo from Franklin in the shadows.
A supergroup that included saxophonists David Binney and Oliver Lake, marimba player Gust Tsillis, bassist Nick Rosen, pianist Andy Langham and drummer Alex Cline took the Gallery Theatre stage for the festival’s headlining event, a tribute and benefit concert for saxophonist Arthur Blythe. The core rhythm section was delightfully boosted early in the set by tuba player Bob Stewart, who busted out funky lines. Lawrence unexpectedly joined the tribute and seemed to throw the proceedings a little off-kilter, his presence onstage more of a distraction than an asset.
Things really got moving as the ensemble got smaller. The core trio backed Binney and Lake on blistering solos with ample space for Langham to get in some Erroll Garner-like rolls. Vocalist Dwight Trible, who had performed at the festival a few days earlier, delivered an impassioned swirl on “Faceless Woman” that was breathtaking in its unchecked exaltations.
When the band finished after little more than an hour, Blythe was brought on stage. Unable to walk and largely unable to talk, Blythe silenced the crowd as he gave a very brief “thank you.” It was a touching close to a festival that has done a tremendous job of engaging all parts of the Los Angeles jazz community.
Angel City Jazz Festival @ DownBeat