BROAD IN THE BEAT : Not All the Acts Fusing Into the Festival in Irvine Are Easy to Categorize

Bill Kohlhaase is a free-lance writer who regularly covers jazz for the The Times Orange County Edition

There's a decidedly contemporary slant to the first Southern California Jazz Festival, set for this Friday through Sunday at the Koll Center in Irvine. The majority of the 25 acts scheduled to appear on the fest's dual stages have an affinity for big beats and lots of electricity.

"We tried to center our music around the Jazz FM format," says festival director Rich Sherman of Ritz entertainment. "But we didn't try to exclude anything." (Jazz FM--representing KBJZ Newport Beach and KAJZ Santa Monica--is the official radio sponsor of the event.)

Indeed, each day's schedule includes at least a couple of acts that stretch the contemporary designation or stand completely outside it. But overall the emphasis is on fusion sounds, especially among the headliners: saxophonist Everette Harp on Friday, tenor man and one-time Tower of Power member Richard Elliot on Saturday and keyboardist Keiko Matsui on Sunday.

Acts that don't easily fit into the fusion category include Stan Getz-inspired saxophonist Nino Tempo on Friday. Also in this category are young blues and boogie pianist A.J. Croce (son of the late singer-songwriter Jim Croce), and drummer Ralph Penland's Penland Polygon with "Tonight Show" bassist Robert Hurst, both on Saturday. Sunday's lineup carries bassist Nedra Wheeler's acoustic quintet that fuses a number of world-beat styles into its jazz-based mix.

Wheeler's band is one of the fest's highlights. Others include Croce, whose rollicking style on his recent eponymously titled Private Music CD mines the New Orleans barrelhouse tradition, and guitarist Richard Smith, who has a respected solo career in addition to being a longtime member of headliner Elliot's band.

Also worth noting are Saturday's appearances by Brian Bromberg, a bassist of amazing facility on both electric and acoustic instruments who's worked with such well-known crossover artists as guitarist Lee Ritenour and keyboardist Jeff Lorber, and the lush, tropical-flavored sounds of keyboardist Daniel Ho's band Kilauea.

On Sunday, search out bassist John Patitucci, a fixture in keyboardist Chick Corea's various bands during the past several years, and the team of percussionist Ndugu Chancler and keyboardist Patrice Rushen, who work as a duo dubbed 1 + One.

"I wanted the program to reflect the energy level of the music today," says radio personality and SCJF talent agent Bubba Jackson, who booked the festival's entertainment. "Groups like 1 + One, with Ndugu Chancler, who played with Miles Davis, have ties to the straight-ahead tradition but are part of the crossover music of today. And I also wanted to focus on Orange county-based musicians, like Tony Guerrero, who's an outstanding player deserving of worldwide recognition."

In addition to music on two stages, the festival will host food vendors from 17 restaurants--ranging from McCormick & Schmick's to Burrell's Barbecue--and displays from some 60 arts vendors. Child care will be available for $4 an hour.

The festival is organized by Ritz Entertainment, the same group that marketed last summer's financially troubled Orange County Blues Festival in Dana Point. "We had almost 30,000 people attend that event, and we still lost money," Rich says. "But this year we're taking the time to do things right."

What: The Southern California Jazz Festival.

When: Friday, May 6 from 5 to 11:15 p.m.; Saturday, May 7 from 12:30 to 11:15 p.m.; and Sunday, May 8 from 11 a.m. to 9:15 p.m.

Where: Koll Center, MacArthur Boulevard at Main Street, Irvine.

Whereabouts: San Diego (405) Freeway to MacArthur Boulevard exit north.

Wherewithal: Three-day pass $20 in advance, $25 at the gate; any one-day pass $10 in advance, $12 at the gate. Part of the proceeds will go to the Laguna Beach Community Clinic and Counseling Center, to assist victims of recent fires and mudslides.

Where to call: (714) 645-1999; (714) 740-2000 (Ticketmaster).

Schedule

FRIDAY, MAY 6

* 5 p.m., El Toro Marine Band, Stage B

* 6 p.m., Pocket Change featuring David Patt, Stage A

* 7 p.m., Itzafunkthang with Randell Young, Stage B

* 8 p.m., Nino Tempo, Stage A

* 9 p.m., Rob Mullins Group, Stage A

* 10 p.m., Everette Harp, Stage A

SATURDAY, MAY 7

* 12:30 p.m., Blue Moon Jazz Trio, Stage B

* 1:15 p.m., The Jennifer York Quartet, Stage B

* 2 p.m., Sonya Jason, Stage A

* 3 p.m., Departure, Stage B

* 4 p.m., Richard Smith, Stage A

* 5 p.m., Penland Polygon, Stage B

* 6 p.m., Brian Bromberg, Stage A

* 7:15 p.m., A.J. Croce, Stage A

* 8:30 p.m., Kilauea, Stage A

* 10 p.m., Richard Elliot, Stage A

SUNDAY, MAY 8

* 11 a.m., Insight, Stage B

* Noon, The Tyrone Anthony Group, Stage B

* 1 p.m., Tony Guerrero's Swing Fest, Stage A

* 2 p.m., Evan Stone, Stage B

* 3 p.m., Birds of a Feather with Dan Siegel and Boney James, Stage A

* 4 p.m., Nedra Wheeler Quintet, Stage B

* 5 p.m., John Patitucci, Stage A

* 6:30 p.m., 1+One with Patrice Rushen and Ndugu Chancler, Stage A

* 8 p.m., Keiko Matsui, Stage A

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