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Jazz Reviews

Jazz Fest a Perfect Fit at Leimert Park

September 22, 1997|BILL KOHLHAASE

Leimert Park in L.A.'s Crenshaw district is that increasingly rare neighborhood whose identity depends on cultural rather than commercial personality. Big-name department stores and fast-food franchises are over on the next block. In Leimert, everything is home-grown.

The music that powers this vibrant collection of galleries, restaurants, performance spaces and craft and coffee shops is jazz, a fact apparent every day of the year but never so visible as it was Saturday on the first day of the third annual Leimert Park Jazz Festival.

The day's lineup, ranging from internationally regarded musicians to those not yet recognized in the neighborhood, served to underscore the importance that music has in this fiercely proud community as well as the wealth of talent centered on the Leimert area.

Even as the day's opening act, Sweet Angel's Blues Revue, revved up on the bandstand in front of the park, examples of music's importance to the area could be found past the array of vendors set up outside the storefronts. In one, a chorus of drummers accompanied an African dance class. At the World Stage, the heart of Leimert's music scene, drummer Billy Higgins was conducting a jazz class that featured trumpeters and saxophonists of various ages waiting their turns to solo.

Higgins' later appearance on the festival stage before a crowd estimated at 1,000 symbolized the inclusive spirit of the community. Higgins, an innovator who has worked with everyone from Ornette Coleman to Cedar Walton, included other Los Angeles-based, world-class figures in his group: trumpeter Oscar Brashear, saxophonist Ralph Moore, trombonist George Bohanon and bassist Jeffrey Littleton.

But also on board were emerging pianist Danny Grissett, who has come out of the World Stage's Young All Stars band, and a pair of student musicians, flutist Sukari Reid and trumpeter Lorenzo Armstrong, pulled from Higgins' World Stage jazz class. All made strong contributions, with pianist Grissett's patient, insightful accompaniment a particular standout.

A sextet led by saxophonist Michael Session with trumpeter Steve Smith, trombonist Phil Ranelin and pianist Nate Morgan played strong, determined originals as well as Lee Morgan's "Mr. Kenyatta" in a style that emphasized individual expression. Bassist Nedra Wheeler showed melodic sense and rhythmic muscle in duets with percussionist Derf Reklaw. Poetry-meets-beat quartet Love Uprising used minimalist backing from bass and African drums to pace its socially conscious messages.

The festival was scheduled to continue Sunday with pianist Horace Tapscott, bassist Art Davis' group with Ravi Coltrane, the World Stage Young All Stars and others.

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