Taking Chances

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The unexpected--that’s just what you’ll get in a performance by exuberant timbales player Bobby Matos, one of Los Angeles’ most acclaimed Latin jazz artists.

“We take chances,” said New York native Matos of his long-standing band. “We expand the parameters of Afro-Cuban jazz, trying to change it all the time, looking for something spontaneous, trying to stretch. There’s a heavy respect for tradition, but we’re always updating and pushing that tradition.”

Matos plays tonight (and Aug. 20) at Rocco in Bel-Air as part of the room’s new Friday Latin jazz series. He talked about one tune, “Barbara Milagrosa,” a danzon/mambo, which was written in the ‘30s but given a ‘90s spin by Matos’ band.


“We changed the instrumentation from how it’s usually done, changed the feel, added some things,” he said. “We take it and put our unique thing on it, which involves everything we have heard or experienced, from Horace Silver to Tito Puente.”

A jazz tune, such as Bobby Hutcherson’s “Highway One,” which is on Matos’ new CD, “Live at MOCA,” can get worked over too.

“We’ve opened it up at the end so that it took on a life of its own, became almost another song,” he said. “There’s so much more that happens from just playing a tune than you can plan for.”

At Rocco, Matos will be joined by saxophonist Michael Turre (brother of renowned trombonist Steve Turre), pianist Victor Cegarra, bassist Rene Camacho and conga drummer Robertito Melendez, an ensemble that has, save newcomer Camacho, been together for more than seven years. That longevity aids the group’s ability to shift directions.

“We’ve developed a trust, so if we change things, we just let it go, we don’t worry,” he said. “We let it be spontaneous, let it be jazz.”

BRIEFLY: John Pisano’s weekly Guitar night, formerly at Papashon in Encino, is now ensconced at Rocco on Mondays, 8:30 to midnight. This Monday, hear Pisano, blues-jazz maestro Phil Upchurch and bass ace Dave Carpenter.


Persuasive singer Jelsa Palao and sly, bop-based pianist Jane Getz make a dynamic duo. Enjoy them Wednesday, 7 to 11:30 p.m., at Monteleone’s West, 19337 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana. No cover. Without dinner, $9.95 food/drink minimum. (818) 996-0662).


Bobby Matos plays tonight, 10 p.m.-1 a.m., at Rocco, 2930 Beverly Glen Circle, Bel-Air. No cover, $8 minimum. Call (310) 475-9807.

Zan Stewart writes about jazz for the Valley Edition. He can be reached at