At The Blue Whale in downtown Los Angeles last Friday night I was reminded of the spirit of openness and musical invention I experienced as a music student in Boston. I was quite fortunate to stumble into a very inspiring, wide open, musical community. Gary Burton’s groups included groundbreaking guitarists Mick Goodrick and Pat Metheny and featured new composers like Carla Bley, Steve Swallow, and Michael Gibbs. The music was crossing boundaries, exploring approaches beyond the language of bebop and post-bebop traditions. Manfred Eicher’s ECM records was a rising force, bringing European classical harmony and a lush sonic palette to the mix, and ‘world music’ influences were making deep inroads into the American improvisational tradition. Some of the most influential guitarists in the last thirty years passed through Boston during this time; John Abercrombie, Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell, John Scofield, Mike Stern, and many others less well known. It was an exciting time when anything seemed possible.
Tom Rizzo (Maynard Ferguson, Doc Severinsen) guitar, Scott Breadman (Jose Feliciano, Lindsey Buckingham, The Rippingtons) percussion, and Darek Oles (Brad Mehldau, Billy Higgins, Pat Metheny) upright bass, brought their unique, collective sound to this intimate venue. After warming up with their take on a couple of classic tunes (including a beautiful version of Bill Evans’ “Time Remembered”), they dug into their own material, primarily composed by Rizzo.
Rizzo is a seasoned writer and his strong compositions focused the band’s identity and sound. His guitar playing has a playful, uplifting feel. He is a modern, straight-ahead guitarist with fluid single note and chordal chops. His lines are melodic and he builds his solos well, developing thematic ideas and directing the energy of the band. I enjoyed his use of harmonics and at one point he played a comping figure that sounded like a Brazilian berimbau. It was great. Rizzo’s “straight into the amp” tone was warm and present. His sound sat perfectly in the room between the bass and percussion.
Darek Oles is a powerful, emotive bass player. His time feel and intonation were dead on, laying down a solid foundation for the trio’s explorations. His solos were melodic and passionate. Rizzo’s light touch and sensitive, conversational accompaniment was the perfect compliment.
Breadman has mastered a multitude of percussion styles from around the world. He seamlessly integrates a variety of techniques across his unique setup: congas, tablas, cymbals, hand percussion and various miscellaneous noise makers including a frying pan. He is very sensitive to dynamics and at one point laid down a solid fatback groove with only a shaker and a few accents…Right in the pocket…Breadman moves effortlessly across his array of instruments, following the ebb and flow of the music.
I saw this group several weeks ago and they sound more comfortable and adventurous with each gig. I look forward to hearing this band develop and grow…Perhaps extended compositions, grooves, free improvisation..Who knows? With musicians of this caliber anything can happen.
The Blue Whale is a great new music room in downtown LA. It’s comfortable, hip, and has an excellent bar…see Mitch for his special concoctions. The proprietor, Joon Lee is committed to showcasing the best musicians in LA. They are continually expanding their music nights. Check the online calendar and Facebook page for updates. The club is a little off the beaten path, on the top floor of a mall in Little Tokyo, off of East 1st between Grand and South San Pedro. Drop in for a drink and enjoy the great music…then tell your friends!