USC's Jazz '99 is described by the university as the largest free jazz festival in Los Angeles. Reasonable as that price of admission may seem, it didn't draw much of a crowd to Monday's opening night performances by the David Sanchez Quintet and the Phil Ranelin Jazz Ensemble at Bovard Auditorium.
And that was a shame, because both groups offered impressive music. Sanchez has come into his own as a tenor saxophonist and a leader in the last year or so, his accomplishments slowly raising him above a crowded field of contenders on his instrument.
A good portion of his program was dedicated to long, extended pieces, filled with epic soloing from Sanchez, pianist Edsel Gomez and bassist Hans Glawischnig and passionate percussion work from drummer Adam Cruz and the amazing Pernell Saturnino.
For some players, improvising on the scale chosen by Sanchez would be intimidating, but the Puerto Rican-born saxophonist was consistently compelling. Blessed with a big, hearty sound and stunning technical fluency, he produced one or two extended improvisations that were reminiscent of some of John Coltrane's more exploratory efforts--and that's high praise indeed.