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Culture Watch: Slumgum, Pear add new flavor to local jazz scene

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Slumgum, ‘Quardboard Flavored Fiber’ (Accretions)

Pear, ‘Extemp’ore’ (PearStudio Records)

Released a month apart earlier this year, these albums showcase two relatively new arrivals on L.A.'s eclectic jazz landscape.

A piano-and-drums duo fleshed out by a variety of guests, Pear is inspired by the cut-and-paste songwriting from Miles Davis’ electric period (the record opens with a raspy quote from Miles himself). Often mining a jazz-funk seam, bassist Jennifer Leitham provides a fleet-fingered, rubbery counterweight to Nick Pierone’s piano, and session-hand guitarist Carl Verheyen throws sparks over an off-center groove in ‘Carl Session 2.’ Pear takes so many tangents -- kora by Prince Diabaté, a brief if endearingly clumsy stab at hip-hop and vocal turns in whispered French or mined from an answering machine message -- that it’s hard to focus on where it’s coming from, but where it’s at remains intriguing.

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A brightly twisted product of CalArts’ music program, the quartet Slumgum has played off-center local incubators like the Blue Whale and the Steve Allen Theater’s experimental showcase ResBox. Rising out of Rory Cowal’s flickering Fender Rhodes keyboard, ‘Hancho Pancho’ expands into a growling storm led by saxophonist Jon Armstrong, and the thoughtful ‘Afternoon’ showcases the band’s care with slow-burning acoustic atmosphere. The group dips into rougher waters with the knotty ‘Puce Over Pumpkin With a Hint of Lime’ and an uneven six-pack of songs under the name ‘Big Fun,’ but the group’s vivid sense of melody and relentless drive for exploration mark it as a quartet to watch.

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-- Chris Barton


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