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New Year's Eve Can Be a Jazzy Celebration

December 27, 1991|ZAN STEWART

As that old Frank Loesser song goes, "What Are You Doing New Year's . . . New Year's Eve?"

The holiday may not have changed over the years--it's still held on Dec. 31, isn't it?--but people's reaction to it certainly has. A lot of folks these days like to stay home. Others, if they go out, want something low-key, without a lot of fanfare.

If you're in the latter group, the Mitch Forman trio, which is playing contemporary jazz at Le Cafe in Sherman Oaks, might be just what you've been looking for. The 56-seat Room Upstairs at the restaurant is a cozy, intimate spot that is ideal for listening to small ensembles, and at press time, reservations were still available.

Forman, a 35-year-old New York native who has been working with saxophonist Wayne Shorter since the mid-1980s, is bringing along a first-rate unit for the evening's festivities.

The threesome includes bassist Brian Bromberg, whom Forman met when the two were with the late saxophonist Stan Getz in the early '80s, and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, who first played with Forman when she was also with Shorter in the late 1980s and whose debut album is "Real Life Story" on Verve Records.

As a performing unit, Forman, Bromberg and Carrington have been together off-and-on for three years, and that experience has paid musical dividends, said Forman, who appears on Bromberg's latest Nova Records release, "It's About Time: The Acoustic Project."

"We have a very high level of interaction," said the keyboardist, who will play mostly acoustic piano at Le Cafe, plus a bit of synthesizer for color. "Brian's very supportive. That's so important in a trio. And Terry Lyne's a little dynamo who can play very strong and be sensitive at the same time."

Forman, whose debut release was "Trains of Thought" on Magenta Records in the mid-1980s and who will have a new Novus album out by late spring, said the trio will play mostly his originals. "Most of the tunes are melodic, as opposed to being angular, but there are some that are quirky," said the keyboardist of his compositions, which have been recorded by vibist Gary Burton and others.

"I try to make the music accessible and interesting at the same time," Forman said. "I don't want to lose listeners by being too intellectual."

If your idea of New Year's Eve fun is dining and dancing rather than just sitting and listening, then you might want to head for the Sportsmen's Lodge in Studio City. There, violinist Susie Hansen's Latin jazz and salsa band is sharing the bill with Conjunto Costazul, a band led by Johnny and Freddy Crespo that plays Cuban charanga style, the predecessor of modern salsa.

Hansen, a Chicago native whose father was a violinist with the Chicago Symphony and was her first teacher, said her band mixes jazz improvisation with danceable Latin elements, a combination that can be tricky to pull off.

"If you put too much jazz in with the Latin, then it's not very danceable, and I always wanted a dance band because they work the most," said Hansen, who graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a master's degree in electrical engineering but opted for a career in music.

"So I keep the jazz integrity by having solos on each tune, and the hard-driving Latin rhythms and the vocals--most of my tunes are sung--keeps the dancers comfortable," explained Hansen, who has lived in Los Angeles since the late 1980s and has led her nine-piece band for two years.

The violinist, who has a book of more than 90 tunes and has yet to record her band, was recently invited to make some guest appearances in New York, which included engagements with Orquestra Broadway, a charanga band, and a jam session with the renowned Tito Puente. "That was really exciting," she said. "We traded phrases back and forth--he was playing timbales--and the crowd response was warm. They really loved it."

That party atmosphere is one of the reasons Hansen likes playing New Year's Eve. "There's always a lot of people and everybody's out to have a good time," she said.

The Mitch Forman Trio performs at Le Cafe, The Room Upstairs, 14633 Ventura Blvd . , Sherman Oaks, at 9:15 and 11:15 p.m. Dinner and music packages, which include a four-course meal in the downstairs dining room, admission to the show and two drinks, are $75 per person. Show and two drinks are $35 per person. Call (818) 986-2662.

Susie Hansen and Conjunto Costazul perform from 8:30 p.m. until 2 a.m. in the Empire Ballroom of Sportsmen's Lodge, 4234 Coldwater Canyon Ave., at Ventura Boulevard, Studio City. Admission to the show, which includes appetizer buffet, champagne at midnight, party favors and a breakfast buffet, is $50 per person. Call (818) 984-0202.

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