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L.A.6 - A Bright Future for West Coast Jazz

There is something about West Coast-based jazz that has always struck a chord with me. The golden period for jazz based on the West Coast was in the 1950s and 1960s, but there has continued to be a place for studio musicians based in Los Angeles, who can do TV and movie studio work during the day time, and have their evenings free to play the music they love. It has often been an amalgam of a swinging mix of tight ensemble playing, musical “heat” when needed, but with a relaxed groove that combines “cool” playing with a less frenetic hard bop edge. It’s not really from the soul jazz found in the gospel church, but capable of the same feelgood mood that its East Coast counterparts brought during their heyday. Hard to describe and pin down, but you know it when you hear it. It’s the reason that Benny Carter, Gerald Wilson, and the Jazz Crusaders found that the LA sunshine could cause them to put up roots when they reached the City of Angels.

Bill Holman, and the Clayton Brother bands have continued to keep the flame burning bright, and smaller ensembles, when given the opportunity to record, show their mettle as well. Such is the case with the L.A. 6, a sextet of  mostly West Coast musicians, who have knocked it out of the park on their new Jazzed Media release, Frame of Mind. Interestingly enough, their true genesis was through the Wenatchee Jazz Workshop in Washington some 15 years ago and stabilizing around 2009, when the present aggregation began to perform. The present group is made up of “Left Coasters,” with the exception of trumpeter, Clay Jenkins, who is now based out of New York.

Playing a mixture of band member compositions combined with tracks from Sonny Stitt, Oliver Nelson, Harry Warren, and Frank Strazzeri, the sextet boasts tight arrangements, warm ensemble playing and insightful solos. Not a weak track in the bunch, this group of veterans comes prepared to swing.

Highlights are numerous, and immediately on the opening track, Sonny Stitt’s “The Eternal Triangle,” they make a strong opening statement with a  sax solo, and Rich Eames’ sparkling piano choruses backed by Dick Weller’s propulsive drumming and some simpatico ensemble work. Jeff D’Angelo’s bass intro and mid track plucking, and Ira Nepus’ low register trombone blowing set “Sight Seen at Twilight” off into a strong jazz comfort zone.

“Wonder Where You Are” shows lyrical prowess and a sensitive touch that opens up the sound stage for the feel of a much larger group. Written by Dick Weller, it is simply sublime. Clay Jenkins’ burnished trumpet is featured on his tune, “Love is Kind.” The standard, “How About You” gets a swinging arrangement by Rich Eames, and once again Jenkins rises to the occasion.

“The Elms” lets the sextet’s ensemble mix glow. The LA-based veteran pianist, Frank Strazzeri, who has never received the acclaim he deserves, is honored by the group with the title cut, arranged by saxophonist, Tom Peterson. “Yearnin” from the pen of Oliver Nelson closes out Frame of Mind in soulful mood, and the horn section brings to mind the Jazz Crusaders, with Ira Nepus channeling Wayne Henderson.

Big time kudos go out to Jazzed Media’s Graham Carter for issuing this great CD, and his mastering  engineer, Rod Nicas, who along with band members Tom Peterson and Rich Eames, recorded and engineered this issue at Eames’ studio in Mar Vista, California.

Let’s hope that the L.A. 6 does at least a West coast tour to share their brilliance in some live settings. I’m at least looking forward to another CD from this super sextet…

TrackList: The Eternal Triangle, Sight Seen at Twilight, Wonder Where You Are, I Wish I Knew, Love is Kind, How About You, The Elms, You’re My Thrill, Frame of Mind, I Should Lose You, Yearnin’

—Jeff Krow

L.A. 6 – Frame of Mind – Jazzed Media JM 1066, 65:46 [01/09/14] ****½:



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