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WEEKEND REVIEWS / Jazz

Muldrow and Co. Christen Old New Venue

January 26, 1998|BILL KOHLHAASE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

5th Street Dick's is the classic jazz hangout, a no-frills coffeehouse populated with musicians and fans where the music often goes until 4 a.m. Its cramped loft has served as a proving ground for both individual musicians and bands, including Columbia and Impulse recording artists Black Note, who have gone on to larger stages.

Since the first of January, Dick's has been silent, shuttered behind a sign that announced a pending move. In the difficult world of jazz clubs, such notice is often the last thing to be seen or heard from a place.

But Dick's was jumpin' again Friday, reopening just a few doors south of its original location across the street from Leimert Park. This slightly larger abode, former home of the Great Negrus performance space, provides some sorely needed elbow room. Upstairs, the music loft is still tiny, with only 40 chairs set out. But sight lines to the band, unlike in the previous, cluttered space, are wide open.

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Guitarist Ron Muldrow's quartet christened the new room with a smart, driving first set that capitalized on the blend between Muldrow's Gibson and the vibraphone of Miller Pertum. Muldrow's band has carried on for more than two years at Dick's, and that experience showed in the group's range and execution. Not only was the playing first-rate, but Muldrow's recasting of ballads and hard-bop tunes brought new meaning and motion to some old favorites.

Muldrow, though one of Los Angeles' best-kept secrets, is not unknown in the jazz community at large, having recorded albums for both Kokopelli and the German-based Enja label in the last several years. Out of the Wes Montgomery school of guitarists (his last album is called "Facing Wes"), Muldrow brings his own well-crafted edge and an ear for R&B touches to his play. The sound he develops in tandem with Pertum's vibraphone has a deep resonance that at times can ring like a church organ.

Backed by astute bassist Bill Markus and emerging young drummer Lorca Hart (son of drummer Billy Hart), Muldrow steamed through Eddie Harris' "Ambidextrous," Thelonious Monk's "In Walked Bud" and a version of "What Is This Thing Called Love" that Muldrow titles "This Thing Is Called What?"

The intimacy of the room brought extra weight to the performance. It was jazz at its grass-roots best.

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* Ron Muldrow Quartet plays 5th Street Dick's, 3335 W. 43rd Place, Leimert Park, every Friday through Sunday, 9 p.m. $7. Trumpeter Dan Bagasoul appears every Wednesday and saxophonist Dale Fielder every Thursday, 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday morning jam sessions begin at 1 a.m. (213) 296-3970.

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