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Rating the Pasadena, Long Beach Fests


It's hot, it's muggy, it's summertime. Want some musical relief? Try the midsummer jazz festivals: the third annual Pasadena Jazz Festival, set for Saturday and Sunday at Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena; and Long Beach Jazz, in its sixth year, being held Aug. 13-15 at Rainbow Lagoon in Long Beach.

To give an idea of who's who and what's up, here's a tipsheet on the artists who are performing at these two events. As with the Playboy festival in June, we're assigning letter grades, from A to C+--once more, there are no rotten apples in this barrel of jazz stars.

The Pasadena event leans more toward the mainstream side of jazz. Here's the lineup for Saturday's 8:45 p.m. show, "Brazil Spectacular":

Dori Caymmi: The singer-songwriter-guitarist concocts enthralling, seductive pieces, their lone drawback being their resemblance to one another. B+

Ivan Lins: Incredibly gifted, Lins is arguably the king of contemporary Brazilian songwriters, responsible for such classics as "Velas." A-

Ricardo Silveira: The guitarist's steely sound is magnetic, but his jazz-rock approach to Brazilian vehicles doesn't always wear well. B

Sunday's 2 p.m. show looks like this:

Diane Schuur: The svelte singer, who sometimes stomps her foot on the gas and zooms into overkill, is capable of telling, swinging versions of standards and originals. B+

Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra: John Clayton's arrangements, the succulently musical drumming of Jeff Hamilton and a crew of L.A.'s best jazzmen makes this band, which accents the blues, a definite smile-maker. A

Here's the roster for Sunday's 6 p.m. concert:

Dave and Don Grusin: The sibling pianists sway back and forth between light contemporary fare and equally pleasant, though hardly earthshaking, mainstream numbers. B-

Ken Peplowski: The clarinetist and tenorman delivers persuasively in a swing-to-be-bop mode. B+

Overall rating: B+.

Two free concerts take place Sunday outside on the auditorium's mall: harmonica player-vibraphonist Hendrik Meurkens, 4:30 p.m., and the zealous post-hard-bop of Black/Note, 7 p.m. Information: (800) 266-2378.

In Long Beach, contemporary jazz is accented. The lineup for the opening show Friday at 7 p.m. shapes up like this:

Randy Crawford: Would this pop singer be included in the jazz ranks if it weren't for her vocalizing on the Crusader's smash hit "Street Life"? Probably not. C+

Stanley Turrentine: Listen to the tenorman's recent "More Than a Mood" CD and you hear a veteran at the top of his game. A-

Gil Scott-Heron: The singer-pianist's politically pointed selections always seem to have a contemporary currency. B+

Here's the roster for the Aug. 14, 2 p.m. concert:

Chaka Kahn: The gutsy, eclectic singer has lots of energy and, for someone who usually resides in the R&B world, evidences a pretty good feel for jazz material. B+

Freddie Hubbard: When the trumpeter is in the mood to really go for it, there is simply not a better jazz artist anywhere. A

The Yellowjackets: The foursome --keyboardist Russell Ferrante, bassist Jimmy Haslip, saxman Bob Mintzer and drummer Will Kennedy--take jazz/fusion to new creative levels. B+

Patrice Rushen, Jeff Lorber and Ndugu Chancler: The two formidable keyboardists and snappy drummer, Though they work mostly in the pop-jazz-R&B arena, all have excellent musical sensibilities. B

Birdland All-Stars with Ernie Andrews, Lorez Alexandria, Teddy Edwards, Art Hillery and others: These veteran performers could turn out gritty, blues-based performances in their sleep. A-

Barbara Morrison: A blues shouter of the highest order, and a balladeer as well, this singer is nothing short of captivating. A

The show for Aug. 15, 2 p.m., stacks up like this:

Lou Rawls: Rawls can swing and he can belt the blues, but most of his material leans toward unctuous pop swill. B-

Poncho Sanchez: The conga drummer who leads a superlative crew, makes no bones about his affection for driving, energetic numbers in the salsa and be-bop-tinged-with-Latin vein. A-

Hugh Masekela: The South African trumpeter plays pretty but he has never evidenced a sophisticated jazz feel. B-

Wayne Henderson's Next Crusade: The ex-Crusader trombonist abetted by current Crusader saxman Wilton Felder, investigates tunes that fall mostly in the deep-funk arena that characterized his former band. B

Roy Ayers: You have to hand it to the vibist--he can make anything from R&B-rooted stuff to be-bop come alive. A-

Fattburger: Pleasant, not particularly original funk jazz from the San Diego-based unit. B-

Al Williams' Jazz Society: The drummer's band, featuring Charles Owens and Nolan Smith, plays no-holds-barred hard bop. A-

Overall rating: B+.

Tickets: (213) 480-3232, information: (310) 436-7794.

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