Elements Predicts Unpredictable Fusion; Orchestra to Debut Leviev's 'Rhapsody'

Expect a quick contradiction if you tell state-of-the-art contemporary drummer Danny Gottlieb that all jazz/fusion bands sound the same--including Elements, the quartet he co-leads band with bassist Mark Egan and saxophonist Bill Evans.

"There's a Gil Evans-influenced avant-garde attitude in our music that separates Elements from other jazz/fusion bands," says the New Yorker, who's playing with his pals at Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood tonight through Sunday. "Every night is going to be different. It's not going to be slick; it's going to be fresh, with a lot of space and a good deal of stretching out. Like Gil's band, we let it go where it will. We don't want it to become predictable."

Gottlieb and Egan were section mates in arranger/composer Evans' ensemble--which worked mainly on Mondays at Manhattan's Sweet Basil nightclub--from 1984-88, but their musical collaborations go back to their student days at the University of Miami 20 years ago. The pair also worked together in the original Pat Metheny Group from 1977-83, making Elements a culmination of two decades of intense musical interchange.

"It's a unique situation that basically gives us a chance to expound on and expand our concept, our own rhythm section sound, and for us to continue to grow," says Gottlieb, who has also been a participant in bands led by guitarists Al DiMeola and John McLaughlin.

Keyboardist Mitch Forman--who, along with Gottlieb and Bill Evans, was a member of McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra from 1984-86--joins Elements for this engagement. "Mark and I figured it was a good time to have a reunion with Mitch," says Gottlieb, who adds that playing with McLaughlin was "one of the greatest learning experiences. It put me into another plateau."

Gottlieb is no stranger to the recording studio. He makes a good deal of his living recording commercial jingles in Manhattan, and he's on three current releases: Elements' "Liberal Arts" (RCA/Novus), "The New Age of Christmas" (Atlantic)--a duo record of seasonal favorites done in a contemporary manner with synthesist Pete Levin--and "Whirlwind" (Atlantic), under his name.

The drummer describes the latter effort as having "a little more of a pop influence, as compared to Elements, though one track, "Hold On," is just me, guitarist John Abercrombie and bassist Chip Jackson just bashing, six minutes of free playing. But, overall, I wanted to take the listener on a journey, through a lot of different phases, a lot of different sides that I haven't shown before."

Spotlighting the debut of pianist/composer Milcho Leviev's "Orpheus Rhapsody," the New American Orchestra begins its 1989-90 season with a free concert at Royce Hall, Sunday, 8 p.m. The Bulgarian-born Leviev's opus, which was commissioned by the NAO's parent organization, the Foundation for New American Music, is based on "thematic material that has a strong Eastern European feel," says Jack Elliott, the 60-piece NAO's conductor and musical director.

"It's very well written, and makes a good combination with Michel Colombier's 'Nightbird,' " says Elliott, referring to the work featuring tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts that is also on the program. "Nightbird," another FNAM commission that was premiered at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in March, 1983, will be somewhat altered for this performance.

"Michel had done a version of it for jazz band, in which he used a rhythm section, so we decided to try that," Elliott says. "I think the trio--Tom Garvin, piano, John Clayton, bass and Peter Erskine, drums--will add a great deal to the piece."

Ray Pizzi's woodwind trio, the Wind Syndicate, and marimba player Julie Spencer round out the lineup for the first-come-first-seated affair. Information: (213) 204-2670.

Terry Gibbs' Dream Band will enliven things for both listeners and hoofers at KLON's third annual Holiday Jazz Party, tonight at 9 in the Grand Salon Ballroom of the Queen Mary, Pier J, Long Beach. Among the all-stars on the vibist's crew will be saxophonists Bob Cooper, Pete Christlieb and Lanny Morgan; trumpeters Conte Candoli and Snooky Young; and pianist Lou Levy.

The Long Beach-based KLON-FM (88.1) is hosting a series of "Jazz in the '80s" retrospectives during December. Coming shows include "Rebirth of the Big Bands," Saturday, noon; "Rebirth of Traditional Jazz in Europe," Sunday, 5 p.m.; and "The Mainstreaming of the Avant Garde," next Wednesday, 9:30 a.m. Information: (213) 985-5566.

*** 1/2 "Waiting in the Wings" (Sunnyside) is the impressive recorded debut of 19-year-old pianist Geoff Keezer, who's in town with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers at Birdland West, Thursday through Saturday. Revealing influences from McCoy Tyner to Sonny Clark and Oscar Peterson, Keezer offers an array of modern mainstream points of view, from the turbulent title track--a sextet take with well-crafted solos from vibist Steve Nelson and trumpeter Bill Mobley--to the funk with spine of "Babes in McCoyland," a trio ditty. The leader's a tad florid on "Who Cares" but redeems himself with an in-the-pocket look at Monk's "Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are." The gentle "Pierce on Earth," with tenorist Billy Pierce in the limelight, is a balm-filled ballad.

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