JAZZ SPOTLIGHT : Reflecting City’s Split Personality : JAMES CARNEY, “Fables From the Aqueduct”; <i> Jacaranda Records</i> (***) : LOS ANGELES JAZZ QUARTET, “Astarte”; <i> Gowi Records</i> (** 1/2)
There’s more than a little local flavor in these two contrasting releases from Los Angeles-based performers. Carney’s “Fables” is an appropriately diverse collection of styles that borrows from zydeco, European classical, new music and Gamelan traditions, without neglecting blues, bop and swing. Opening with a brief four-horn fanfare, this suite of hometown-inspired themes reflects the city’s varied moods, ranging from the disciplined, yet bluesy march tempo of “Daryl & the God Squad” to the sinister, minor-key theme of “Zelzah” and the progressive chaos of “Walpurgis Night.”
Carney’s ear for orchestration makes for strong themes, as in “Disneyesque” with its gleaming trumpet, alto and soprano sax melody. And the composer’s flair for drama keeps the program in a constant state of tension. Meant to represent events during the 1992 riots that followed the verdict in the first Rodney G. King trial, “Walpurgis Night” features an edgy exchange between the three horns before dissolving into the kind of spirited, circular line that recalls Philip Glass.
Though the emphasis is on its leader’s compositions, “Fables” doesn’t neglect improvisational space. Occasionally, as on “Pocahontas,” the soloists aren’t as weighty as Carney’s themes. But there are fine efforts here, notably from saxophonists Ravi Coltrane, Chuck Manning and Scott Mayo. Carney adds inviting, if quirky, piano work while bassist Darek Oles brings a strong, irresistible propulsion to the up-tempo numbers.
Manning and Oles reappear on the Los Angeles Jazz Quartet’s initial release, a disc that reflects the city’s calmer, more glossy side. Reserved harmonic backing from guitarist Larry Koonse gives this date a casual fit into the West Coast, cool-school stereotype. Though Manning’s rough-edged tenor, which at times resembles the late John Coltrane’s attack, suggests the city’s hectic pace, this recordings is more a sunny-day soundtrack, a top-down cruise through the city’s more fashionable neighborhoods.
Koonse’s “Jazz Passacaglia” carries a dignified, adagio feel and Lennie Tristano’s involved “Abulation” comes off with a surfeit of polish. The cool airs of “Astarte” will reinforce the laid-back, Southern California cliche, while Carney’s “Fables” paints a more realistic picture.
* “Fables From the Aqueduct” is available at Tower Records, Virgin Megastore and selected record shops.
* “Astarte” is available from Darek Oles, 608 Orange Grove Blvd., Pasadena 91104, $13, and at selected record stores.
* Times Line: 808-8463
To hear excerpts from the albums reviewed, call TimesLine and press * and the artist’s corresponding four-digit code.
James Carney *5740
L.A. Jazz Quartet *5741
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