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MUSIC | JAZZ REVIEW

Genre-crossing and generous too

Guitarist Jeff Richman, whose tastes encompass Coltrane and Santana, assembles a top-flight ensemble at the Vic.

July 28, 2006|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

Successful jazz artists always surround themselves with first-rate musical associates. At least they try to do so, and even a quick glance at examples reaching from Duke Ellington to Dave Brubeck reveals the importance of a challenging creative environment.

Guitarist Jeff Richman's appearance at the Vic in Santa Monica on Wednesday night took the concept even further via a performance in which the high-level contributions of the supporting players created a completely interactive musical collective. Pianist/keyboardist Mitch Forman, bassist Jimmy Haslip and drummer Joel Taylor matched Richman's every musical move, sometimes supporting, sometimes countering, frequently taking off on their own improvisational flights.

Although the rhythm often leaned toward a fusion/funk emphasis, the propulsive thrust of the music was mainstream and swinging. And a set list that included pieces such as Thelonious Monk's "Straight, No Chaser," Miles Davis' "So What," John Coltrane's "Equinox" and Carlos Santana's "Europa" opened an extraordinarily wide arena for adventurous soloing.

Richman has specialized in interpretive music via a series of recordings dedicated to the music of Davis, Coltrane, the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Steely Dan, with a Santana album in the works. He's an articulate, facile player with a genre-crossing style, and his solos at the Vic -- like his arrangements -- roved in search of new perspectives on familiar material. And he was at his best when he served as musical facilitator, setting the patterns and opening the way for his talented associates.

Forman's playing was first-rate, especially in pieces such as "Straight, No Chaser," in which his bebop sensibilities blended well with climactic, two-handed chording. The left-handed Haslip, a regular with the Yellowjackets for decades, was fast, fiery and intensely rhythmic, both as a soloist and as the foundation element in the rhythm section. And Joel Taylor's high-energy drumming added a rare combination of percussive intensity and subtle open spaces.

It was a winning combination. And Richman deserves credit for having the conceptual imagination and the creative modesty to assemble an ensemble in which the fullest expression of the music took center stage.

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