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Jazz Review

Jazz Spot's New Orchestra Shows Talent in the Rough

March 13, 2001|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Starting a big jazz band from scratch is not an easy task. Sure, one can gather experienced, established players, sit them down in front of arrangements by big-name orchestrators and expect to get impressive results. But organizing an ensemble with young, talented but still-developing musicians is an entirely different task.

But that's the route being taken at the Jazz Spot in Los Feliz, which has opened a late Sunday afternoon slot for the newly organized Jazz Spot Orchestra. The ensemble, which was assembled by the Thelonious Monk Institute's J.B. Dyas, is led by alto saxophonist Jason Goldman and trumpeter Justin Ray. Inspired by the Village Vanguard's Monday Night Jazz Orchestra, the Jazz Spot aggregation aims to offer a menu of music ranging from familiar classics to new compositions.

Sunday's opening performance revealed the promises and the problems that lie along what is planned to be a continuing path.

On the plus side, there was a sense of high, youthful energy and sheer joy in the art of big-band playing that was present in every number. Players listened enthusiastically to one another's soloing, often offering cheers of encouragement. There was also a nascent willingness to take chances--in several cases, for example, by the spontaneous invention of backup riff patterns in individual sections. And there were times when the collective sound--the sense of an aural personality that may be the most difficult of all big-band achievements--showed signs of slowly beginning to surface.

Finally, although there were indications of nervousness during the first set, the soloing revealed some potential as the evening continued, and the collective playing improved dramatically.

On the still-needs-work side, the group was clearly rough around the edges in many areas, including some shaky ensemble articulation and a not particularly well-integrated rhythm section flow. There was also a tendency, perhaps because of an early paucity of rehearsed pieces, to extend the soloing far too long, and often well beyond the limits of productivity.

The decision to include a vocalist--initially a different singer each month--adds another perspective to the music. In this case, Gretchen Parlato's musically thoughtful improvising was a distinct plus. But singers' arrangements will be needed, since it seems strange to go out to hear a big band, then watch as 14 or 15 players sit holding their horns.

That said, the promise of the ensemble is very much present and--even at this early stage--looking good. For big jazz band buffs, the group's performances offer the opportunity to hear a talented young outfit as it grows, matures and finds its musical way.

*

* The Jazz Spot Orchestra, Sundays at the Jazz Spot, 2138 Hillhurst Ave., Los Feliz. 5 to 7:30 p.m. $5 cover. (323) 666-8666.

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