Jazz seems to have a never-ending capacity to surprise. Whenever it shows signs of slipping into a predictable mode, something turns up to reveal yet another avenue of unexpected musical twists and turns.
Sometimes it can be as unanticipated as heading out to hear one thing and experiencing something completely different.
On Tuesday night, for example, a shift of schedule for a planned review opened the possibility of attending the weekly guitar night at Spazio's in Sherman Oaks. Usually supervised by veteran guitarist Johnny Pisano, the Tuesday events almost always produce musical benefits. But on this evening, Pisano was out of town, and the stage was taken by a pair of guitarists: Steve Cardenas and Tony do Rosario, performing with bassist Dave Carpenter and drummer Mark Ferber.
Carpenter and Ferber are known quantities, a first-rate rhythm duo bringing qualities of swing and spunk to every sort of musical circumstance. But Cardenas and Do Rosario are far less familiar.
Do Rosario has worked locally with musicians such as Pisano, trumpeter Sal Marquez and guitarists Howard Alden and Phil Upchurch. Playing a fast-fingered, straight-ahead style, he is a hard-core traditionalist, solidly tapped into his roots in the styles of guitarists such as Jim Hall and Joe Pass.
Do Rosario's lively, scale-oriented soloing was dramatically contrasted by the work of Cardenas, whose performance was the real ear-opener of the evening. New York-based and in Los Angeles for a few performances, he has playing experience ranging from gigs with Jay McShann and Claude "Fiddler" Williams to Mark Isham and his current association: drummer Paul Motian's Electric Bebop Band.
Cardenas' dark-toned, angular lines made it clear that he has listened carefully to such contemporaries as Pat Metheny and John Scofield. Kicking off the set in trio format with Carpenter and Ferber, he ambitiously took on the roving musical elements of Thelonious Monk's "Introspection," finishing with a flurry before going to the microphone to say, "Don't ask me to do that again."
Paired with Do Rosario, Cardenas played a particularly adventurous solo on "What Is This Thing Called Love?" and added similarly intriguing work on "Body and Soul," balancing lean, over-the-bar-line phrases with sudden, multi-note bursts of musical color. A final frolic through Charlie Parker's rawboned blues line "Big Foot" topped off a set in which all the musical elements fell into place.
Steve Cardenas also performs tonight with bassist Darek Oles, drummer Mark Ferber and saxophonist Bob Sheppard at the Westin Long Beach Hotel, 333 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. Shows from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. No cover. (562) 436-3000.