The horn trio is beginning to become as popular a jazz staple as the piano trio. The difference, of course, is that the horn trio consists of a horn player--most often a saxophonist in recent recordings and appearances--with bass and drums. That is, with no chording instrument, such as a piano or guitar.
In the case of the whimsically titled Lounge Art Trio, however, the harmony gap is amply filled by the remarkable bass playing of Dave Carpenter. The group's performance at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's weekly free concert on Friday was vividly energized by Carpenter's articulate ability to juxtapose chordal clusters in, around and as part of his surging rhythm lines. Equally important, his playing--even when he wasn't laying down chords--sketched out the framework of the harmonies so clearly that there was never a sense that anything was missing.
And that was only one of the attractive qualities of the ensemble, which includes saxophonist-flutist Bob Sheppard and drummer Peter Erskine (now also the drummer for the Yellowjackets). The inside joke involved with many of the trio's pieces (and notably so on their album "Lava Jazz," on the Fuzzy Music label) is to build new melodies over the chords to standard tunes, and then rename the tunes with appropriate puns, asides, jokes, etc. A couple of examples from their performance: Carpenter's "I Hear a Rap CD" ("I Hear a Rhapsody"), and Sheppard's "It Already Happened" ("It Could Happen to You").
Jokes aside, the trio components had a particularly nice fit. Carpenter's multileveled bass playing both supported and countered Sheppard's virtuosic tenor and soprano saxophone playing. Erskine's drumming, as always, was immensely versatile; his work virtually defines the concept of drummer as musician rather than mere rhythmic timekeeper. And, on a straightforward rendering of "Getting Sentimental Over You," Sheppard's less frantic, more emotionally rich flute playing added yet another element to the ensemble's eclectic style.
Although threatening weather moved the performance to an inside venue rather than the usual plaza setting, the event was greeted by an overflow crowd. And why not? The Friday LACMA jazz events continue to be one of the Southland's best musical bargains.
* Admission Free Jazz at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Fridays at 5:30 p.m. in the plaza. On Friday, the Dave Ellis Quartet. On April 16, the Dave Scott/Tony Malaby Quartet. 1991 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.