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CLUB REVIEW : Bakery Looks Good, but Sound Needs Work

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

“We were still washing the windows this morning, but just look at us now,” said Ruth Price, artistic director of the Jazz Bakery, as she happily surveyed the opening of L.A.'s newest jazz venue Wednesday night.

And there was no arguing that the bright banners, large performance area and friendly, gallery-style entryway, complete with full service refreshments, have made the Bakery--now in an expanded location a block away from its former site--into a warm and appealing place. The colorful lobby, whose vivid hues were drawn from Mondrian’s “Jazz,” included an intriguing collection of jazz photographs. Plenty of free parking was available directly outside the Bakery as well as in an adjoining, guarded indoor parking garage.

“We’re still working on refining the sound,” Price added, “but at least the air conditioner’s working.” In a preview performance on Tuesday, the automatic air conditioning, with great precision, had switched off at 8 p.m.

The air was cool and comfortable for the room’s official debut act, the Buddy DeFranco/Terry Gibbs quintet. Although the sight lines in the 215-seat listening area were peerless, Price was correct about the audio, which clearly will continue to require adjustments for the next few weeks. DeFranco’s clarinet and Gibbs’ vibes came across just fine, but the rhythm section--especially Andy Simpkins’ bass--produced a murky, unfocused sound that bounced errantly off the high ceiling and hard, untextured walls. Price promised that an audio presentation that matches the clean, acoustic sound of the original Jazz Bakery will be a primary, and immediate, goal.

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Listening to DeFranco and Gibbs in action was, as always, a bit like examining the craftsmanship in an elaborate astronomical clock. Everything was meticulous, well-ordered and to the point. No group that includes Gibbs can ever be completely predictable, and there were one or two moments--notably a briskly interactive, rhythmically charged rendering of “Airmail Special” and ballad features by Gibbs and DeFranco--in which the leaders’ be-bop lines broke through the group’s structured music. But there were few real surprises from an ensemble (Tom Rainer played piano and Gerry Gibbs was the drummer) whose music defines one of jazz’s most classical styles.

Appropriately, the true star of the evening was the sparkling new venue. Price has created a musically harmonious, much-needed location for the appearance of major jazz acts in the Southland. The next month will see performances by, among others, Dick Hyman, Joe Lovano, McCoy Tyner, Dave Frishberg and James Moody.

“If I can continue to book acts like that,” Price concluded, “I’ll be happy to come out here every morning to wash the windows.”

* Buddy DeFranco/Terry Gibbs Quintet at the Jazz Bakery, 3233 Helms Ave., Culver City. (310) 271-9039. $20 admission. 8 p.m. Through Saturday.

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