JAZZ REVIEW : No Minor Aggregation : Joey Sellers and Band, Among the Area’s Finest but Overlooked Large Ensembles, Sizzle at El Matador


What is it going to take for Joey Sellers to get the recognition he so richly deserves? The gifted trombonist-composer brought his 11-piece Jazz Aggregation to the pleasant ambience of Huntington Beach’s El Matador on Wednesday night for one of its too-rare engagements. And, as it almost always does, the group played a sizzling program before an enthusiastic but somewhat less-than-capacity crowd.

Sellers was relatively stoic about the low-level employment he’s managed to generate for a group that arguably is one of the finest large jazz ensembles in the Southland.

“I just want this band to play the hippest music I can write,” he said after the opening set.


And that’s exactly what the group did with a collection of Sellers compositions bearing titles such as “Canadian Bacon,” “Pastels, Ashes” and “Jay-Gale.”

Each piece was an object demonstration in Seller’s ability to draw colorful textures and complex harmonies from his five-brass, three-woodwind, three-rhythm ensemble. Timbres were constantly shifting--clarinets blending with fluegelhorns; saxophones densities stacked up with trombones; string bass moving with bass trombone and baritone sax.

Harmonies ranged between avant-garde-like dissonances and warm, Gil Evans-esque romanticisms, and whimsical bits of humor surfaced in and around his infectious melodies.

But Sellers’ works were not rigidly confined structures. Despite their compositional sophistication, wide-open, free-flight improvisation was an essential element, and the band’s talented array of soloists made the most of their many opportunities.

Kei Akagi, most recently heard on keyboards with Miles Davis, played with more swing and less overpowering technique than he has on other occasions.

On trumpets, Clay Jenkins came up with a series of inventive choruses, and lead trumpeter Ron King, subbing with very little rehearsal time, roared through Sellers’ difficult parts without a misstep.

Trombonist Bruce Fowler confirmed that he is one of his instrument’s least-appreciated practitioners, and saxophonists Kim Richmond and Jerry Pinter performed with dependable excellence.

The star of the Jazz Aggregation, however, was clearly Sellers himself. Like Duke Ellington, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Thad Jones, he conceives of his compositions as blueprints for the actions of a group of individual musicians.

Sounds and textures are assembled using the unique sounds of unique players, and the resulting performances are rich examples of the intricate interaction that can take place between predetermined design and sudden spontaneity.

All of which simply underscores the question of why Sellers has had so little recognition. The answer may lie in the hazards of jazz’s currently overemphasized star system; or maybe it’s just a reflection of a deflated economy. Either way, Sellers deserves more attention. His Jazz Aggregation is one of the most exciting new surprises of the decade.