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ALL THAT JAZZ

Black/Note's Label Hop Not Just on Impulse

July 26, 1996|BILL KOHLHAASE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Los Angeles-based acoustic quintet Black/Note, whose major-label debut was 1994's "Jungle Music" on Columbia, has found a new home for its recordings. The group--bassist Mark Shelby, drummer Willie Jones III, saxophonist James Mahone, trumpeter Gilbert C. Castellanos and pianist Ark Sano--has just released "Nothin' but the Swing" on GRP's Impulse label.

"I'm real happy about being on the Impulse label," Shelby says. "The history of the people who've recorded for them--Coltrane, Ellington, Mingus--all the young people now listening to jazz know about them, have connected into their music through the label. And they've signed other young artists who we like: Eric Reed, Antonio Hart, Teodross Avery, Danilo Perez."

The 30-year-old Shelby says that Impulse's reputation as one of the premiere jazz labels will help the band's identity. "The difference between them and Columbia is that Impulse deals specifically with jazz. Columbia has a jazz division, but their main concern is with their giants, Wynton and Branford [Marsalis] and Harry Connick Jr. I'm not sure that developing a young group like us was really what they were interested in.

"But Impulse does just jazz and that's a benefit for us. Our style of music is exactly what they do. Their name will create opportunities for us, getting us into certain clubs and festivals."

With Shelby, Jones, Mahone and Castellanos all contributing numbers (the only non-Black/Note tune on the 13-track disc is Freddie Hubbard's "The Core"), "Nothin' but the Swing" picks up where "Jungle Music" left off, Shelby says. "Featuring originals has always been important to us. But individually we've all grown as musicians. And collectively our sound is much more defined."

Black/Note was formed in the fall of 1990 when Shelby and Jones, both students at CalArts in Valencia, began playing dates at the World Stage in Leimert Park. Drummer Billy Higgins, pianist Cedar Walton and others encouraged the group as they began to polish their craft at Atlas Bar & Grill, 5th St. Dick's and other area clubs. The band's first album, "43rd & Degnan" was recorded in 1991 for Higgins' World Stage Records label.

The group's vision, Shelby says, is firmly rooted in the history of the Los Angeles jazz scene. "We want to wave the West Coast flag and remain true to who we are geographically," he says. "We have a rich jazz history here that's as legitimate as that in New Orleans or New York. And we're proud of what's going on now."

That pride may well be reflected in Black/Note's second album for Impulse, to be recorded this fall. "We're hoping we can perhaps include [Los Angeles-based] musicians like Teddy Edwards, Harold Land, Eddie Harris, Buddy Collette and Gerald Wiggins. We want to find a way to somehow bridge what those cats who played Central Avenue did with what we do now. They've given us invaluable assistance in ways they probably don't even realize, just by being there."

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Jazz on Central Avenue: A panel discussion, "Central Avenue, the Real Thing" will kick off this weekend's free two-day Central Avenue Jazz Festival. Led by keyboardist Patrice Rushen, the discussion will include Los Angeles musical luminaries such as Melba Liston, Buddy Collette, Jackie Kelso, Clora Bryant, Roy Porter and Nellie Lutcher. It begins Saturday at 10 a.m. on Central Avenue between 42nd and 43rd streets. Information: (213) 485-0709.

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Jazz Pilgrimage '96: Some of New York's brightest emerging jazz stars journey to L.A. Aug. 3 to play Jazz Pilgrimage '96 at the John Anson Ford Theatre. Billed as the Blue Note All-Star Band, the group includes saxophonists Javon Jackson and Greg Osby, trumpeter Tim Hagans, pianist Kevin Hays, bassist Essiet Essiet and drummer Bill Stewart. The event, sponsored by the Hollywood Arts Council, will also feature appearances from the groups of saxophonist Ernie Watts and vocalist Carmen Lundy. Tickets are $20 and $15. Information: (213) 974-1396.

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