Musicians' Exercise in Versatility : Sax Man Riney and Trombonist Martin, While Stretching in Other Ways, Say Jazz Brings Out Their Best


Saxophonist Sam Riney and trombonist Andy Martin go about the same thing in different ways.

On "Talk to Me," Riney's latest album that's currently No. 16 on Billboard's contemporary jazz charts, the horn man with the bold sound solos fervently in a modern, electronically assisted setting enlivened by propulsive rock-based rhythms. Yet Riney says his early influences were such mainstream sax giants as Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderly and Joe Henderson.

Martin is perhaps best known for his fluent, tasteful appearances in straight-ahead, acoustic jazz environments, such as with drummer Dick Berk's Jazz Adoption Agency, or as a soloist on vibist Charlie Shoemake's new "Strollin' " album. But the Long Beach resident will tell you that rock was as much a part of his upbringing as jazz--that's why he finds no shortage of rewards in stretching out in a plugged-in musical climate.

Versatile musicians with an ear and feeling for jazz improvisation--that's Riney, 40, and Martin, 31, who play tonight and Saturday with bassist Luther Hughes and his band, Cahoots, at El Matador in Huntington Beach. Martin is a regular with the group, Riney a returning special guest.

Both men, who will be working together this weekend for the first time, find Hughes' sonic blend of jazz, funk, Brazilian and other genres alluring for several reasons.

One is enjoyment, pure and simple.

"It's fun," said Riney, who has played with Cahoots on a handful of occasions, in a phone interview from his home in Van Nuys.

Another reason is that time-honored value--the camaraderie of musicians.

"Luther likes the band to have a good time," said Martin, who also works steadily with Les Brown's Band of Renown and pop singer Paul Anka, in a phoner from his home.

And finally there's the repertoire that Cahoots offers.

Riney, who plays alto, soprano and tenor saxophones, likes Hughes' music because it represents what he calls "the basics of jazz."

"It's soulful and melodic," said the native of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, who has lived in Los Angeles since 1975. "It's got that Crusaders feeling, with a strong element of the blues."

The fact that all the music Cahoots plays is original, and almost all of it by Hughes, intrigues Martin, who hails from Provo, Utah, and has resided in Long Beach since he was 8.

"The tunes are fun to play on, they're refreshing to the ear and they're challenging," Martin said. He exhibits his spherical, incandescent tone on Hughes' most recent release, "Perfect Partners."

Hughes seeks out musicians like Riney and Martin because they embrace a similar musical conception.

"These are the kind of players I respect, guys who have roots in mainstream and be-bop yet also like the contemporary groove kind of music my band plays," the bassist said in another separate interview.

Riney, who will return to El Matador next Saturday to perform his own tunes as well as jazz standards with two members of his band as well as Hughes, started playing clarinet in the third grade. He switched to saxophone in high school.

"Music was all around the house," he said. "My parents played big band records by Benny Goodman, Count Basie and Duke Ellington. Then when I was in the eighth grade, they took me to Cleveland to see Duke. He wore a green velvet suit with orange suede shoes. It may sound strange, but he looked great."

Two late '50s-early '60s Miles Davis albums--"Kind of Blue" and "Four and More"--persuaded Riney, still a teen-ager, to pursue a career in music. "That stuff was the greatest," he said. "I knew I wanted to find out more about it."

Saxophone studies with Joe Schiavone prepped Riney for the rigorous regimen he encountered at North Texas State University, where he graduated with a degree in professional performance. After graduating, Riney and his wife, Shelly, moved to Los Angeles. For a while it was tough--"I played in salsa and R & B bands for a few years." Eventually he met such musicians as pianist David Benoit and bassist Max Bennett, found his way into the studio session scene and began to record albums. He's since done four albums--his last, "Playing With Fire," sold more than 50,000 copies and received solid national radio airplay--has played with the likes of Bennett, Benoit and singer Ray Charles, and has led his own ensemble for three years.

Martin, like Riney, heard music at home, mainly because his father, David, was a musician. "My dad is a swing/be-bop trumpeter, and my older brothers--Stan, now 33, and Scott, now 35--also play, so we'd have jam sessions at home," he said. To this day, he performs occasionally in a band with his siblings called--that's right--the Martin Brothers.

Drawn to jazz--"It was so interesting to the ear," Martin said--the trombonist began playing when he was 10. He also listened to Aretha Franklin, the Beatles and first played in rock bands.

In his late teens, Martin started studying jazz improvisation with Shoemake, who had a teaching studio in Van Nuys from 1973 to 1990. The trombonist's horizons expanded. "Charlie uses transcriptions of recorded solos by various greats and working with those really helped my ear, and enabled me to play challenging material," said Martin.

Martin dropped out of studies at Cal State Long Beach after a semester because he was working steadily--at Disneyland with a Dixieland band and with rock and jazz units. Among the latter was Dick Berk's combo, which has included, from time to time, Orange County-based performers, including trombonist Mike Fahn. Martin has recorded three albums with the drummer, including one completed in September that is due out soon.

"Dick has been a major influence," Martin said. "He's a great groove player, terrific to solo on top of because he's so logical."

Both Martin and Riney find that jazz playing, while not all they do, brings out their best.

"Jazz is so emotional, yet it's also intellectual," Martin said. "You're always drawing on what you've learned and how you've lived. Somehow you have to put aside your thinking, though, and just be with the music being played."

"When you're playing and everything is right--there's no feeling that you can compare to that," Riney said. "In a solo, you can get into that zone and your inner voice opens up, and you can really communicate. People tell me, 'I know what you were talking about.' "

Trombonist Andy Martin and saxophonist Sam Riney join Luther Hughes & Cahoots for jazz today and Saturday at 9 and 10:45 p.m. at El Matador, 16903 Algonquin St., Huntington Beach. Admission: free. Information: (714) 846-5337.

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