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Mo' Strings

A few differences in model sideman Ron Eschete's own guitar trio add up to a signature sound.

January 29, 1998|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

I've called guitarist Ron Eschete a "model sideman" in these pages, and with good cause: He's backed so many fine artists, most recently the hard-swinging, blues-drenched pianist Gene Harris, with whom he's appeared off and on for 20 years.

But these days, the renowned Eschete, a Louisianian who moved to Southern California in 1970, has shifted his focus.

Long considered to be one of the finest guitarists in mainstream jazz by musicians and listeners alike, he has now taken over the reins, and "innovative leader" might be a better appellation.

No longer on the road with Harris, Eschete is now mostly the man in charge when he performs. He plays with his trio Friday at Papashon in Encino, and again on Feb. 14 at Chadney's in Burbank.

What makes Eschete's trio unique is that he plays a guitar with seven strings (instead of the usual six) while his bassist, Todd Johnson, plays an electric bass with six strings (up from the normal four).

These added strings--Eschete jokingly called their first album "Mo' Strings Attached"--give the musicians an amazing range of sounds and approaches. "We're the only group with this instrumentation, and we sound a lot bigger than a trio," said Eschete.

"Todd, who can sound like a second guitar player or even an organ or electric piano, can both play bass lines and chords for me, and I can do the same for him."

On Echete's latest album, "Soft Winds" (Concord Jazz Records), you'll hear his warm, luxuriant style, one with both solid jazz drive and easy-on-the-ear accessibility.

The leader, Johnson and drummer Paul Humphrey (at Papashon and Chadney's, drummer Tim McMahon is on hand) investigate a wealth of material.

The band instills rhythmic oomph into an evergreen such as "Where or When" and makes a pop hit like Santo and Johnny's "Sleepwalk" swing heartily.

They also wallow in the blues, be it the slow and down-home "I-5 Blues" or a standard like "Sweet and Lovely."

"I reharmonize a lot of the tunes, like 'Where or When,' but I didn't mess with any melody notes, because I don't believe I can compose something that outdoes Richard Rodgers," said Eschete, whose ability to play melodies in a chordal manner is his calling card.

"And I like the happiness of the blues. Usually the music swings hard, the audience gets into it, and we get into it. It's a nice situation."

* Ron Eschete's trio appears Friday, 8 and 10 p.m., at Papashon, 15910 Ventura Blvd., Encino; $10 cover, or dinner purchase. Call (818) 783-6664.

*

MORE PAPASHON: Eschete's trio is part of a special guitar weekend that's in conjunction with the annual National Assn. of Music Merchants (N.A.M.M.) show, being held this weekend at the L.A. Convention Center. Tonight catch the room's house band, Jeanne and John Pisano, who sing and play guitar, respectively, and work as the Flying Pisanos. They'll be joined by bassist Chuck Berghofer and other guests. Friday, in addition to Eschete's trio, hear guitarists Pisano and Phil Upchurch, the blues and jazz ace, backed by studio electric bassist legend Carole Kaye. Finally, on Saturday, it's another legend: the great George Van Eps, inventor of the seven-string guitar, plus bassist John Leitham. Shows each night at 8 and 10 p.m., with a $10 cover or dinner purchase.

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MONTY'S LIGHTS UP: Jazz is back at Monty's. Claude Williamson, the Bud Powell-based bebop whiz who at 71 still knocks out tightrope-walking, twist-and-turn improvisations, plays Thursdays and Saturdays, 8 to 11:30 p.m. The former Lighthouse All-Star, whose most recent recording, "Hallucinations," is packed with Powell classics, will be accompanied by a bassist and drummer, often Bob Maize and Paul Kreibich respectively. Monty's Steakhouse (5371 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills; no cover, no minimum; [818] 716-9736.

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PLUGGED IN: Emmett Chapman, the fellow who invented the Chapman Stick, an electronic stringed instrument that offers chords and melodies simultaneously, makes an infrequent appearance Monday, 7 p.m., at Common Grounds (9250 Reseda Blvd., Northridge; no cover, $2.50 minimum purchase; [818] 882-3666.) Stick player Jim Lampi also performs.

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