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Carney Burns Midnight Oil at Rocco’s

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Late-night jazz clubs have always played an important role in the genre’s life. Often operating after hours, they offer musicians an opportunity to get together in an informal setting to stretch out, jam and do their own thing once the demands of more commercial gigs have been met.

In most metropolitan areas, 11 p.m. would not exactly be considered “late night” or “after hours”; in New York and Chicago clubs, some players would still be taking a break after delivering their first set.

Los Angeles, however, tends to operate on an earlier clock, which makes Rocco’s jazz club a potentially quixotic undertaking. The venue is the second room opened by Swiss Italian restaurateur Rocco Somazzi (the first, in Bel-Air, closed in December), and it opens for business at 10:30 p.m., with shows from 11 p.m. into the early-morning hours. Somazzi and his music director, Matt Piper, believe there is enough of a nocturnal audience in the Hollywood area and beyond to make the scheduling a viable course of action. (It’s dictated, in part, by the problems of acoustic interaction with a theater sharing the same building.)

Thursday, in the opening set of a three-night run, James Carney’s trio was greeted by a moderate-sized but enthusiastic crowd. The group, which plays frequently at Rocco’s, offered a set of Carney originals and performed with an attractively seamless blend among the leader’s piano, Dan Lutz’s bass and Dan Morris’ drums.

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The winner of a Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz composition award, Carney writes music with a distinctly atmospheric quality reflected in his choice of such titles as “La Guerra Nueva,” “Grassy Shoal Hoedown” and “Brand New Spurs.”

The numbers, largely derived from a soon-to-be-released album, positioned Carney’s smoothly articulate piano playing at the center, emphasizing his capacity to blur the line between improvised and composed passages. Supportive work from Lutz and Morris was informed by the former’s imaginative counter lines and the latter’s use of a colorful array of percussion sounds.

Will Rocco’s draw the dependable late-night (and early-morning) crowds that turn out to New York jazz spots such as Small’s in Manhattan? That’s probably too optimistic a thought to consider at the moment. But it’s good to know that Los Angeles now has at least one attractive destination for jazz night owls.

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The James Carney Trio at Rocco’s, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Tonight. Doors open at 10:30; shows from 11. $10. (323) 804-4146.


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