AFTERGLOW: For “normal” music lovers in the pop cultural swim, the capper of last week’s Grammy shindig may have seemed anti-climactic, as this vaguely familiar character named Herbie Hancock fumbled for his notes and (deservedly) took the Best Album prize for his masterful Joni Mitchell tribute, The River. But for jazz fans everywhere, it was a remarkable, rare, and affirming moment in public. Too few people acknowledge that jazz is America’s greatest art form, with both a grit and sophistication that put jazz’s overrated and overpaid pop music peers to shame. Here, for the first time since the Getz/Gilberto coup in 1964, the top Grammy kudo went in a jazz direction. Kudos, too, go to NARAS.
WORKING UP FROM BELOW AND OUT WEST: Some of the more exciting and surprising jazz moments in Santa Barbara occur beyond the high-profile concert series at the Lobero and Campbell Hall, during what are sometimes modestly attended shows at SOhO. Memorable recent SOhO encounters, usually in the Monday night jazz slot, have included Jean Michel-Pilc (with Ari Hoenig), the Moutin Reunion, and Dafnis Prieto. To that list we need add Morrie Louden.
With a powerhouse quartet of Los Angeles-based players, bassist/composer/bandleader Louden passed through town recently, touring on the heels of his dazzling new CD, Time Piece. A late-blooming jazz artist struggling for wider recognition, Louden has spent most of his life on the West Coast, in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, before making the move to New York City a few years ago. He joins the ranks of westerners, such as renowned bassist Scott Colley, who are now establishing themselves in Gotham.
Louden’s CD, which earned an unabashed hosanna from one of his heroes, Chick Corea, features many noted East Coast players, including Edward Simon, Lionel Lueke, Seamus Blake, and arranger Gil Goldstein. But Louden is also well-connected with West Coast players who defy the stereotype of L.A. players lacking artistic integrity and intensity. Joining him on the bandstand on Monday were the bold saxophonist Walter Smith III-mostly on tenor, with a detour on soprano-and fiery-clean pianist Mahesh Balasooriya (SOhO’s piano was almost in tune). Drummer Joel Taylor has played in fusion and straighter jazz settings, and the latter persona was in the house this night.
As heard on his album, Louden embraces a diverse range of musical impulses, from heady mod-bop tunes to melodic Latin-tinged numbers, and a general spirit of having listened closely to Corea’s example, as player and writer. Framing the first set were the driving yet simmering boppish tunes “Verbatim” and “624 Main St.” The playing all around was heated and focused. This band is not about left turns or deviations from the structure at hand.
Louden’s “No Resolve”-so named because it cleverly avoids the root chord of its key-alternated between slow and fast iterations of three-quarter time. Another tune, on which drummer Taylor laid out and allowed Louden to inject percussive sounds on the bass, sported flavors of Brazilian and flamenco, again with a Corea-esque flair.
With a strong album as a calling card, Louden seems poised for upward motion in the jazz world. But, for anyone beneath the highly visible upper echelon, that’s a fickle world, especially west of the Mississippi. Suffice to say, when Louden returns, local jazz fans would do well to update their “to do” list accordingly.
TO-DOINGS: The deliciously hard-to-pigeonhole Portland band Three Legged Torso was one of the highlights of last June’s Live Oak Festival and also one of its most genre-tweaking. Built around the rapport between founder-leaders and former buskers Bela Balogh (violin, trumpet) and Courtney Von Drehle (accordion), the group freely mixes up Eastern European street music, traces of Gypsy and classical music, and other exotica delivered with a unique and dizzy flair. There’s no doubt that the act’s gig in the intimate quarters of Muddy Waters on Saturday is one of this weekend’s hottest tickets for listeners with both party hats and thinking caps on.