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Juggernaut keeps it big and intimate

Frank Capp's band, with 15 musicians playing in a small setting, brings passion to Charlie O's.

January 31, 2007|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

Does a Juggernaut in your living room sound a little over the top? Maybe so. But the performance Monday night by drummer Frank Capp's roaring Juggernaut big band at Charlie O's in Valley Glen came pretty close to that experience, with 15 musicians wailing away in similarly close proximity. And every minute of it was thrilling.

The Juggernaut was loaded with some of the Southland's best jazz players, and Capp's choice of material provided plenty of solo opportunities. Many of the pieces traced to the band's album "In a Hefti Bag," celebrating the music of composer-arranger Neal Hefti, highlighting the swinging groove of "Splanky" and the rapid-fire, briskly spinning lines of "Whirly Bird."

And there was more, much more: the Count Basie version of "April in Paris," with its lush saxophone section opening and Carl Saunders' fluid trumpet lines (although Capp unfortunately elected to omit the famous "One more time" false endings); a spirited romp through Frank Foster's "Shiny Stockings"; a gorgeous setting for "Lover Man," with alto saxophonist Lanny Morgan's bebop-rich improvisation taking the lead; trombonist Alan Kaplan's raunchy rendering of "Things Ain't What They Used to Be"; and Saunders, again displaying his extraordinarily facile inventiveness on "It Might as Well Be Spring."

Other soloists were equally impressive. Tenor saxophonists Pete Christlieb and Doug Webb, sitting side by side and occasionally exchanging wisecracks with each other and with Capp, played a series of back and forth solos recalling some of the great jazz tenor battles. Trumpeter Bob Summers and trombonist Bob McChesney offered lyrical, smooth-toned variations, and the team of Capp, bassist Chuck Berghofer and pianist John Proulx supercharged the rhythm.

The Juggernaut appeared at Charlie O's as part of a recently initiated Monday night big-band series. The programming is a worthy decision on several counts.

First, it keeps alive the tradition of using Mondays, generally an off-night in the club world, to present the stirring music of large jazz ensembles. Second, it presents the bands in an up-close setting (the front row tables were literally pressed against the sax section's music stands). And third, it keeps alive an extraordinary repertoire of classic music, while providing a showcase for newly composed big band charts.

The only thing missing from this otherwise marvelous evening was a larger contingent of youthful listeners in the overflow crowd.

Sadly, big jazz bands may seem dated to a younger demographic, and that's a shame and a misconception. The music played by Capp's Juggernaut was alive, vital, timely and significant, filled with the potential for cross-generational appeal.

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