The best jazz concerts, in chronological order:
1. Wynton Marsalis at the Coach House, April 11. Though Marsalis' own playing seemed cold and distant in a program heavy with romantic ballads, the muscular work by alto saxophonist Wes Anderson, tenor man Todd Williams, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and Los Angeles-based keyboardist Eric Reed combined to keep the emotional level of the performance worthy of the Marsalis name.
2. Stix Hooper at El Matador, April 27. The drummer and founding member of the Crusaders swung through a jam session of standards and originals with saxophonist Jeff Kashiwa, keyboardist Mark Portman and bassist Luther Hughes. Using mallets, he brought Middle Eastern airs to Ellington's "Caravan" and applied a loping, in-the-saddle beat to Miles Davis' "All Blues." Runner-up in the one-time Crusader category goes to tenor saxophonist Wilton Felder for his appearance at El Matador in June with keyboardist Rob Mullins.
3. Rob Pronk at the "Taste of Orange County" KLON Jazz Festival, June 22. The composer, arranger and conductor of the Dutch Metropole Orchestra may be a big name among jazz musicians but is little known among the listening public outside of Europe. Here, he led a 51-piece ensemble and a parade of top-drawer soloists--trumpeter Art Farmer, singer Dianne Schuur, clarinetist Buddy DeFranco and trombonist Carl Fontana--in a concert of his arrangements that were full of color, texture and occasionally ticklish rhythms.
4. Mose Allison at Cafe Lido, July 21. Not only did the lyricist-composer bring his blues-based social commentary to this afternoon engagement but he also showed off his keyboard skills with persistent, gutsy drive and involved harmonic textures. We came out of this one feeling good.
5. Abraham Laboriel at the San Juan Capistrano Regional Library, Oct. 5. Most familiar as an electric bassist, Laboriel took up the guitar to play Mexican folk and popular music, some written by his father, in what probably was the most emotion-laden concert of the year. Wonderfully warm flute and soprano sax work from Justo Almario and inventive percussion backing from Alex Acuna contributed to the passion.
6. Art Davis at Orange Coast College, Oct. 12. The bassist's annual recital covered blues, ballads and boogie before moving into the avant-garde with his extended piece "Go On," an outward-bound excursion that mirrored the spirit of John Coltrane's landmark "Ascension" recording (which Davis anchored for the late saxophonist some 25 years ago). The inclusion of internationally recognized flute great James Newton added a particularly dangerous edge to the proceedings. Davis' August date at El Matador, a looser, more intimate gig that included drummer Larance Marable, keyboardist Cecilia Coleman and Orange County jazzters Peggy Duquesnel and Dave Murdy, ran a close second.
7. Freddie Hubbard and the Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, Oct. 21. The sometimes-uneven trumpeter came to play. The conga-toting Sanchez and his octet always come to play. Together, they gave us an evening full of warmth and fire.
Honorable mention goes to the Wednesday night big band sessions at El Matador, which brought in such satisfying ensembles as Dave Wells' Trombone City, Tony Rizzi's "Wire Choir" Guitar Orchestra, trombonist Joey Seller's Jazz Aggregation and the 16-piece ensemble of trombonist Dave Slonaker and pianist Mike Patterson.
Other notable appearances included the Chick Corea Akoustic Band at the Coach House; T Lavitz and Bad Habitz at the Hyatt Regency Alicante Hotel in Garden Grove during its short-lived jazz series, and various appearances of drummer Wally Stryk's trio with keyboardists that included Miles Davis alum Kei Akagi, Wynton Marsalis veteran Eric Reed and Frank Zappa associate and film scorer Don Preston.
Best concert series of the year was the Friday summer sessions at the Hyatt Newporter sponsored by the hotel and KLON-FM radio, which brought in such mainstreamers as Tal Farlow, Pete Jolly and Buddy DeFranco with Terry Gibbs.