A 'Cauldron' of Sounds From Pianist Beasley

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A lot of jazz artists who want to reach a wide audience often have to water down their music to do it. But not John Beasley.

The pianist's blend of world beat sounds and jazz soloing on his just-out Windham Hill Jazz Records debut, "Cauldron," makes for just the kind of collection that attracts fans from more than one genre.

On the album, which recalls such classic '60s albums as Herbie Hancock's remarkable "Inventions and Dimensions," Beasley sets up steaming grooves that are underpinned by a variety of rhythmic elements--among them African, Brazilian, R&B; and Latin.

"I wanted tunes that didn't have a lot of notes, that concentrated on melody and rhythm, but that evoked a lot of feeling," says the 32-year-old Beasley, who appears Sunday at Le Cafe in Sherman Oaks.

And though there's no be-bop per se on the album, there's still no shortage of invigorating, appealing improvisations from the leader. "'I wanted to play with a jazz attitude," he says. Other soloists include saxophonists Bob Sheppard and Steve Tavaglione.

Though electronic sounds filter in and out of the album, Beasley, who toured with Miles Davis in 1991 and who was Freddie Hubbard's pianist for six years, solos only on acoustic piano. "I can't find a synthesizer sound that I like enough, or that I can relate to as far as soloing," he says.

At Le Cafe, Beasley will offer tunes from the new album, and some jazz tunes, too, such as the Davis-Gil Evans collaboration, "Petits Machins" and Wayne Shorter's "Yes and No."

Eckstine Redux: Singer Billy Eckstine, who was arrested on Feb. 12 while arriving for a performance at the Vine St. Bar & Grill in Hollywood and missed two nights of his scheduled six-night engagement, is returning to the intimate nightspot. Eckstine, 77, will appear Wednesday through next Sunday with a trio featuring pianist Bobby Tucker. Anita O'Day, who was scheduled for those days, has relinquished her spot so Eckstine can work, said Alan Eichler, a Vine St. spokesman.

Eckstine was arrested on a warrant for contempt of court, which was issued when he missed a California court date in 1989. He spent two nights in Los Angeles County Jail--Herb Jefferies, Barbara McNair and the Cunninghams filled in for him--was released on his own recognizance and returned to Vine St. on Feb 14. "We were packed and he told the crowd, 'A bird in jail doesn't sing very well,' and then went on to give a wonderful performance," said Antonio Ruggieri, manager of the room.

Rim Shot: Branford Marsalis has still not completed negotiations regarding his becoming the bandleader on "The Tonight Show" when Jay Leno takes over for Johnny Carson on May 25. But the saxophonist has made known his choices for band members, should he take the post. These include trumpeter Sal Marquez, trombonist Matt Finders, pianist Kenny Kirkland, guitarist Kevin Eubanks, bassist Bob Hurst, drummer Jeff (Tain) Watts and percussionist Vicki Randall.

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