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Jazz Review : A Playful James Moody Swings Into High Gear

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

How’s this for a quick way to start a jazz set: Kick off a high- speed version of “Anthropology,” then dig into the fast lane for, oh, say 14 or 15 nonstop choruses.

No, it’s not the kind of risk that very many jazz players--young or old--care to take. But it didn’t intimidate James Moody at all in his opening set at the Jazz Bakery on Wednesday night. The audience had barely gotten settled in their seats before the veteran saxophonist was unleashing a dazzling display of imaginative improvisation.

At 69, Moody may be a jazz senior citizen, but his technique, his ideas and, above all, his irresistible sense of swing are as good as ever. And, in Moody’s case, that is very good, indeed.

Add to that the fact that he is very funny.

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Yes, some of his jokes were groaners (like the one about the ants who expressed regret for having bitten Charlie Parker, so he wrote a tune for them called--ta-dum--"Anthropology”). But combine Moody’s whimsical, off-center humor with his captivating solos, and the result is that rarest of rare--an entertaining jazz evening.

(Anyone who thinks we don’t need a few more of those is advised to spend an evening with players who think it’s an imposition on their creativity to have to announce the name of a tune.)

*

Moody’s band was pretty much a hasty assemblage. But John Beasley on piano, Kenny Wild on bass and Tootie Heath on drums are not exactly chopped liver, and each seemed stimulated by the sheer vigor of Moody’s playing.

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Heath’s masterful soloing was an object lesson in the subtle timbres that can be produced by a simple jazz drum kit. Beasley moved easily and comfortably into his be-bop mode, and Wild provided a solidly supportive low register foundation.

* The James Moody Quartet at the Jazz Bakery, 3233 Helms Ave . , Culver City. (310) 271-9039. $20. 8:30 and 10:30 p.m., through Saturday.


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