SEAL BEACH — Saxophonist Gordon Brisker is like the circus juggler who makes even the most difficult stunt look easy. No matter how long or fast the line, no matter how difficult the passage, Brisker makes it seem like it's no great shakes at all.
At Spaghettini on Sunday, the cool airs of his easygoing first set belied the detail and assertiveness in his play. The tunes, standards all, were familiarly cozy. If Brisker and his sidemen--Jon Mayer on piano, Paul Kreibich on drums and Jeff D'Angelo on bass--hadn't injected a lot of their own personality into each number, this well might have been just another lounge show.
Best known as musical director for singer Anita O'Day, a post he has held for 10 years, Brisker only occasionally steps out on his own to play in quartet or quintet sessions. Based on the strength of Sunday's show, club bookers looking for no-nonsense, straight-ahead jazzmen would do well to enlist him.
Take his tenor work on "Like Someone in Love." He fashioned the theme with just enough twist and embellishment to keep it from sounding like the same old thing. Working in warm, somewhat airy tones, he began his solo in unhurried fashion, stringing together short melodic lines that segued smoothly one into another.
Then the lines began to lengthen and increase in complexity, with one stretching well beyond what a single breath conceivably could power. Through it all, only the tiniest bit of strain showed on Brisker's face.
He found good complement in pianist Mayer, whose emotions are as visible from his facial expressions as from what he plays. Mayer's sound has a solid, modern substance, more reminiscent of Kenny Barron or acoustic Herbie Hancock than, say, Art Tatum or Bud Powell. Displaying his emotions freely, he shifted from dead-serious dissonance and minor-key feel to assertive, swinging passages, sometimes within moments of each other. The brisk pace of his solo on "You Stepped Out of a Dream" gave him the opportunity to express a nonstop fountainhead of ideas.
Bassist D'Angelo counterpointed accents with Mayer and drummer Kreibich and delivered lyrical, easily followed improvisations. Kreibich, who seems to pop up on some bandstand every night of the week, was his usual tasteful self, adding punch to the upbeat numbers and shading the ballads with fine brush work.
The group opened the second set with an up-tempo version of "Yesterdays" that featured an aggressive yet attractive statement from Brisker that was notable for its economy.