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Black Note to Reacquaint Itself With Roots

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Black Note, the young, swing-minded quintet that rose out of the fertile Leimert Park jazz scene of the early ‘90s and went on to record well-received albums for both the Columbia and Impulse! labels, hasn’t been seen lately in its hometown. The reason?

Many of the players in the band have moved on. Trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos headed south to San Diego in 1995, shortly after the group finished its Columbia-sponsored European tour opposite Wynton Marsalis. Bassist Mark Shelby relocated to San Francisco last summer. Saxophonist James Mahone is now in New York, studying music at the city’s New School for Social Research. That leaves only drummer Willie Jones III and pianist Ark Sano here in town. And Jones is frequently on the road touring with trumpeter Arturo Sandoval.

Does this mean the end of the band, frequently labeled as “L.A.'s own,” that once held so much youthful promise?

Not at all according to Shelby, who says the group’s activities are still centered in and around Los Angeles. The group plays three nights at the Club Brasserie in the Bel Age Hotel beginning Thursday, as well as a free evening concert the next night at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

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“Of course we’re still an L.A. band,” says the 31-year-old bassist, who now maintains apartments in Los Angeles and San Francisco. “No matter where we are, our home base will always be at the World Stage [performance space] and 5th St. Dick’s and with people like [drummer and World Stage impresario] Billy Higgins. That’s where our roots are.”

When the band was first formed in 1991, Higgins and its other mentors stressed the importance of working together and developing as a unit. But now, according to both Shelby and 24-year-old trumpeter Castellanos, it’s time for individual development.

“It’s been good for me to be out on my own and working on my own direction,” Castellanos says. “I’ve been focusing on my approach and my writing. Everyone’s now out finding themselves. And that’s going to be good for Black Note when it comes back together.”

“The band’s groove has been [as] a cooperative for six years,” Shelby adds. “We’re still in contact, still very close, even though we haven’t worked together much in the last six months. But we needed an opportunity to grow on our own. All these individual sojourns will only make the band better when we bring our different experiences back to the group.”

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Shelby’s sojourn has included an appearance with saxophonist Joe Henderson and regular work with a variety of San Francisco-based musicians ranging from saxophonist Robert Stewart to guitarist Bruce Forman, as well as a regular Monday night stint at Pearl’s in North Beach with the club’s Thad Jones/Mel Lewis-inspired big band. The amount of activity in the San Francisco jazz community, Shelby says, is what lured him out of Southern California.

“I wanted a change of scene, and this was the perfect place. It’s been real fruitful as far as music goes. Here I have the opportunity to work seven nights a week, something I didn’t have in L.A.”

Castellanos, who has regular appearances at the San Diego club Croce’s and at the El Campo Ruse Cultural Center (where he leads a tribute to Art Blakey tonight), is equally enthused about the musical opportunities in San Diego.

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“There’s a serious scene here now. There are groups playing all over the [downtown] Gas Lamp area. L.A. is too spread out, too disjointed,” the trumpeter says. “There’s a lot of great players there, but it’s just so hard to get them all together.”

For proof that the band still considers L.A. its spiritual home, one need look no further than its plans for its next recording. “We want to include some of the Los Angeles musicians that influenced us,” Shelby says, “people like Harold Land Sr. and Buddy Collette and Teddy Edwards, the cats that have defined the scene here for the last 40 or 50 years.” The album is tentatively scheduled to be recorded this summer.

* Black Note plays the Club Brasserie at the Wyndham Bel Age Hotel, 1020 N. San Vicente Blvd., West Hollywood; Thursday-March 8, 9 and 11 p.m. No cover, (310) 854-1111; and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., March 7, 5:30 p.m. Free. (213) 857-6000.

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Also in March: Billboard Live hosts saxophonist Michael Brecker’s band March 7, and pianist Chick Corea with Roy Haynes, Kenny Garrett, Wallace Roney and Christian McBride on March 19. . . . Bassist McBride’s quartet splits the bill with saxophonist Joe Lovano’s quartet at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex at Cal State L.A., March 8 . . . The Yellowjackets plug in at Catalina Bar and Grill March 11 for a six-night stand . . . At the Jazz Bakery, drummer Jeff Hamilton’s trio appears Monday and Tuesday, followed by vocalist-pianist Charles Brown Wednesday-March 9; pianist Jon Mayer’s trio is in March 10, followed by the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine with Delfeayo Marsalis, Javon Jackson, Anthony Wonsey and Greg Williams, March 11-16.

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In the Bins: Albums released in the last months of 1996 deserving of a long shelf life, all excellent: Anthony Wonsey Trio, “Anthonyology” (Evidence). Joined by bassist Christian McBride and drummer Carl Allen, the 24-year-old pianist shows a deep understanding of the jazz piano tradition as well as a lot of individual character in a collection of originals and tunes from McCoy Tyner, Wynton Kelly and Clifford Brown, among others. . . . Gary Bartz, “The Blues Chronicles: Tales of Life” (Atlantic). Raps, chants and lots of earthy tenor playing from the saxophonist and guests including pianist Cyrus Chestnut and vocalist Jon Hendricks. . . . John Leitham, “Lefty Leaps In” (USA Music Group). The longtime Mel Torme bassist hosts a tasteful, straight-ahead group session that includes saxophonist Pete Christlieb and Rickey Woodard, pianist Tom Ranier as well as drummers Roy McCurdy and Jeff Hamilton.


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