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MUSIC : All That Jazz : Pianist and composer Rob Mullins combines elements from mainstream, fusion, funk and world music.

April 02, 1993|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Zan Stewart writes regularly about jazz for The Times

Pianist and composer Rob Mullins says that before he reached his teens, he fell in love with jazz when he heard a version of "West Side Story" played by drummer Buddy Rich's big band.

For a while, Mullins felt there was only one style of jazz: that pulsing, forward-surging genre known as mainstream, or straight-ahead, typified by the late Rich's often explosive renditions.

These days, Mullins, who leads his All-Stars tonight and Saturday at Le Cafe in Sherman Oaks, takes a broader view of what jazz is, or is not.

"It's a wide genre," said Mullins, 32, from his home in Huntington Beach. "I like combining different elements, from straight-ahead, fusion, funk and world music. I don't consider myself a purist; I have a short attention span, and I get bored doing just one thing. The whole point is that it's all music, if it says something to you. I don't care if somebody's playing a big stick of wood, if you're getting a message, then it's music."

Mullins, who is known for his upbeat, extroverted improvisations, plans to focus on three styles of selections--funky, R & B-ish groove tunes, fast jazz-fusion pieces and swinging, straight-ahead numbers--when he performs at Le Cafe with his All-Stars, which include saxophonist Wilton Felder of Crusaders fame, drummer Ndugu and bassist Larry Kimpel.

One of the straight-ahead songs is "Plus Three," which Mullins described as "playful and dark." Referring to two of the top jazz piano artists performing today, he added, "It's like McCoy Tyner meets Chick Corea.' Another Mullins original is called "Very Blue," a medium-tempo tune that the pianist composed while playing in Japan with trombonist Wayne Henderson's Next Crusade. "This tune was written as I was thinking about Miles Davis' death, and how important his 1957 'Kind of Blue' album was to me," Mullins said.

On the more manic side of the spectrum comes "Quick, Call the Note Police," a selection that Mullins said is "way too fast," and then he laughed. "I try to count it off even faster."

It's a special thrill for Mullins to get together with Felder (with whom he's been playing for four years), Ndugu and Kimpel. "Like everyone else, I play with a lot of bands, but this band has a chemistry. It's magical and exciting," he said.

This year is looking to be a very good year, said Mullins, who's particularly pleased that he'll soon be releasing a new recording on his own RME label, "Music for Lovers."

"It's mainly just some nice piano stuff. You know, romantic music," he said, laughing.

WHERE AND WHEN

What: Rob Mullins' All-Stars play at the Room Upstairs at Le Cafe, 14633 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.

Hours: 9 and 11 tonight and Saturday.

Price: $12 cover, two-drink minimum.

Call: (818) 986-2662.

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