Pianist-singer Loston Harris deserved a bigger reception than he got Tuesday night at Catalina Bar & Grill. With little advance notice, the unheralded young artist opened a six-night run before a crowd that can generously be described as sparse.
And that was a shame, since Harris is a talent on the verge of happening. A strong singer, an imaginative pianist and an engaging personality, he has the potential to become a breakout jazz presence.
The key word, however, is "potential," since Harris still has some work to do if he is going to reach the top level of his profession. His vocals, for example, in a set that included a long line of such standards as "Blue Skies," "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" and "They Can't Take That Away From Me," were articulated with confident musicality. But Harris needs to find a greater range of timbres in his voice and a better connection with the story lines of his songs. And, most important of all, he needs to break the habit of closing his eyes while he sings, a practice that effectively diminishes his connection with his audience.
Harris' piano playing was considerably more elevated. Adept and knowledgeable, he brought lighthearted traces of Erroll Garner and Fats Waller to some of his solo work. And the crisp sense of rhythmic timing he generated with bassist Neal Cane and drummer Tim Pratt was reminiscent of the propulsive drive of Ahmad Jamal.
In his better moments--especially an adroit left-hand solo on "Close Your Eyes"--he revealed a promising trace of improvisational originality.
It hasn't all come together yet for Harris, but the promise is clearly present. And now's the time to hear his work, before the crowds discover him.
* The Loston Harris Trio at Catalina Bar & Grill through Sunday. 1640 N. Cahuenga Blvd., (213) 466-2210. $14 cover tonight at 8:30 and 10:30; $16 cover Friday, Saturday at 8:30 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m.; $14 cover Friday, Saturday at 10:30 p.m. and Sunday at 9 p.m. Two drink minimum.