The Joel Martin Quintet touched down at Lucy's 51 in Toluca Lake recently with their loose, pleasurable jazz, but they were nearly upstaged by an energetic group of a cappella upstarts.
The crowd is normally too loud and tipsy by 11 p.m. to appreciate any genre of music, much less jazz, but the majority stood at attention for a vocals-only sextet called Simply Put. Wedged in between two languid yet listenable sets by Joel Martin's elastic ensemble, the ragtag crooners made old standards new again. Their somewhat obvious song choices are transformed into walls of sound especially appealing to aficionados of intricate harmonies.
Simply Put's versions of show tunes like "Seasons of Love" (better known as the "525,600 minutes" song from "Rent") and "Put on a Happy Face" were incongruous, but mixed well with modern a capella reworkings like Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror." But classics like "Route 66" and "Blue Skies" were far more appealing converted to their formula than a shrill 1980s medley that included songs that should have stayed forgotten like "Push it to the Limit" from the movie "Scarface."
Simply Put were best when sticking with Andrews Sisters boogie-woogie-type harmonies that showcased smooth vocal soundscapes instead of loud, annoying belting without nuance.
As for the Joel Martin Quintet, the star of the night I caught them at Lucy's 51 was sax-man Zack Hexum. The sleepy upright bass of Erik Kertes and the rumbling percussion of Dave Johnstone were nice complements to Kelly Jane's subtle vocals and the accomplished pedal steel of leader Martin. But Hexum's tenor saxophone was often the only instrument to cut through the rude din of the uninterested patrons.
What singer Kelly Jane lacks in range she makes up for with spunk and verve in numbers like "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "I'll Remember April." The highlight of their set was a furious take on Nina Simone's "Forbidden Fruit." That tune had some of the nuance missing from the crowd-pleasing and brisk tunes by Simply Put that the Gleek-y crowd simply ate up.
If you're interested, Lucy's 51 features live music every Monday night starting at 9:30. Blues, jazz and acoustic soul from singer-songwriters and local artists are featured there every week, but Martin and his talented quintet return every third Monday.
James Petrillo is an actor and screenwriter from Los Angeles.
What: Joel Martin Quintet
Where: Lucy's 51,10149 Riverside Drive, Burbank
When: Live music every Monday starting at 9 p.m. (Joel Martin Quintet every third Monday)
Tickets: $5 cover
Contact: (818) 763-5200 or http://www.lucys-51.com