Thinking about the upcoming Angel City Jazz Festival feels like a logical paradox. Is it possible to grow both bigger and smaller at the same time?
After stretching to two days at the John Anson Ford Amphitheater last year with a lineup offering nods to West Coast jazz past and present, the festival has this year scaled back its multi-act “festival” component to one night at the Ford. But in a move that points to the eclectic nature of L.A. jazz, the festival in its third year spans six nights that encompass a range of artists and merge boundary-pushing jazz with elements from the worlds of art, film, dance and even dining.
Again organized by longtime L.A. jazz promoter Rocco Somazzi and violinist Jeff Gauthier, founder of the forward-thinking local label Cryptogramophone, the festival offers such an array of treats that it’s daunting to consider where to begin. But with a festival pass covering four nights of music for only $75, there’s plenty of reason to sample what Angel City has to offer. Here’s a rundown of what’s not to be missed, the challenging hybrids and hidden gems that should again prove that for all the concerns about the economics of jazz in 2010, the music’s pulse in the City of Angels remains strong.
Saturday, REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd St., L.A. 8:30 p.m. $30
Don’t miss: Henry Grimes. Think of Grimes as jazz’s answer to Skip Spence, except with less madness and a far happier ending. After an early career playing bass with musical royalty ranging from Benny Goodman to the fiery Andrew Ayler, Grimes vanished from the scene in 1967, not playing in public again until discovered living in a downtown hotel in 2002. Back in the city where his celebrated comeback began, Grimes joins an all-star ensemble that includes trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and drummer Alex Cline. Freedom and rebirth will be in the air.
Arrive early for: Opener Dwight Trible, whose elastic, frequently nonverbal vocals carry an operatic expressiveness that borders on spiritual.
Sunday, John Anson Ford Amphitheater, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. E., L.A. 5 p.m. $40
Don’t Miss: Wadada Leo Smith’s Golden Quartet. Earlier this year the veteran musician and CalArts instructor led his charges through an electric survey of post-Miles Davis jazz so freewheeling that the group’s 2009 double album, “Spiritual Dimensions,” felt like a mere introduction. In addition to Smith, keep a close eye on keyboardist Vijay Iyer, one of the top figures in modern jazz who expertly drops into the fold here, particularly on electric piano.
The returning wildcards: It wasn’t that long ago that the genre-splicing jazz group Kneebody was blowing minds in a residency at Santa Monica’s Temple Bar. These days the band is scattered on both coasts, but its new album, “You Can Have Your Moment,” proves that funky, anything-goes interplay remains timeless.
Sounds of scion: It can’t be easy taking up saxophone as son of Alice and John Coltrane, but the L.A.-raised Ravi Coltrane has proved he has an identity all his own, particularly on last year’s “Blending Times.” Recently signed to Blue Note, Coltrane is teamed here with a quartet that includes frequent collaborator Ralph Alessi on trumpet, which should close the night with a sense of history blended with possibility.
Monday, Royal /T, 8910 Washington Blvd., Culver City, 7 p.m., $65
What’s cooking: Considered a fundraiser for Somazzi’s Angel City Arts and not part of its festival pass, this pairing of music and food might force anyone who dismisses jazz as “dinner music” to redefine their terms. The expressive pianist Myra Melford’s album “Whole Tree Gone” is one of this year’s finest, and hearing her play off a host of crack improvisers from Cryptogramophone’s roster should build up an appetite. Tastings of Italian fare will be provided by chef and pork enthusiast Paul Canales from Oakland’s acclaimed Oliveto, and butoh dancer Oguri will also be on hand to further push the evening beyond categorization.
Questionable for: Strictly “straight-ahead” tastes, vegans.
Oct. 7, LACMA’s Bing Theater, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. 7:30 p.m., free (reservations recommended)
‘Baby’s’ first steps: Possibly the festival’s marquee event after Sunday night, “Dirty Baby” is an ambitious, multi-discipline reimagining of artist Ed Ruscha’s “censor strip” paintings from the ‘80s and ‘90s. Masterminded by local guitar explorer and Wilco sideman Nels Cline and writer-producer David Breskin, the project features Cline and a galaxy of collaborators who include Largo’s mischievous maestro Jon Brion cutting a swath through intricate compositions inspired by Ruscha and the West that touch on the widescreen groove of ‘70s Miles Davis as well as superheated blasts of metallic fury. Ruscha’s hazy, brooding images will be projected onscreen with Cline’s music, along with Breskin’s readings of 66 Eastern-inspired poems called ghazals, and as those worlds collide a vibrant, only-in-L.A. creation will be come to life. (A four-disc, hard-bound package is out now, with a music-only set due Oct. 12.)
Questionable for: Preconceptions, the faint of heart.
Oct. 8, Barnsdall Gallery Theater, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., 8 p.m. $20
Opening credits: Co-presented by L.A. Film Forum, the premiere screening of the documentary “The Reach of Resonance” offers a look at eclectic musicians following unconventional muses, including John Luther Adams’ fusing of sound and Alaska geophysics and a man who mines the hidden melodies in barbed-wire fences. A Q&A with director Steven Elkins follows.
Don’t miss: A solo performance from local keyboard alchemist Motoko Honda, whose mix of piano and electronics is a sonic adventure all her own.
Oct. 9, Musicians Institute Theater, 1655 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood, 8 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. $25
Angel’s ‘Feast’: Presented in partnership with the Jazz Bakery at one of its frequent homes for the still-itinerant club’s “Moveable Feast” series, guitarist John Abercrombie splits the difference between Angel City’s thirst for the avant-garde and the Bakery’s ever-tasteful ear. Trafficking in an evocative sort of chamber-jazz with a violin-augmented ensemble, Abercrombie’s tone on his latest album, “Wait Till You See Her,” is often gentle but never less than sharp.