Went to the Desert Rose tonite to see saxophonist John Altman with the Mark Z Stevens Trio (Mark on drums, Chris Conner on bass and Jon Mayer on piano.) Alto Kim Richmond sat in for a stretch, always a joy, and the superb Mike Lang sat in for a pair of tunes on piano at the beginning of the second set, playing beautifully as always. While Lang played, Jon paced the room like a mountain lion smelling blood. He wanted to be back up there. After his second tune Mike Lang returned to the bar as the crowd applauded warmly. Jon sat down at the bench, an evil gleam in his eye, like it’s the 1930’s and it’s a cutting contest and it’s his turn now. Altman counts down and Jon went instantly mad on the piano, crazy comping, big fat angry chords with all kinds of Monkish space in between, and when it was his turn to solo he did so with a vengeance, grabbing the melody with both hands and whirling it into submission…building and building, each run more intense and impressive than the one before, beautiful figures and shards of melody and turning the old chestnut–damn I can’t remember the tune right now, but you’ve heard it before–turning it into something stunning, muscular, and intensely creative, just absolutely fearless improvisation. When he resolved it and dropped back into the head the crowd burst into loud, sustained applause, the kid behind me whooping like it was a rock concert. What an absolute treasure this cat is. Learned his art in NYC in the crucible of the fifties, brilliance and self destruction going hand in hand. He dropped out for a couple decades, wound up in L.A. No one here plays like Jon Mayer, and yet somehow he remains in the shadows. No one said jazz was fair.
John Altman is back at the Desert Rose (on Hillhurst at Prospect) wth the same stellar trio (the house trio, in fact) next Saturday. And if the crowd is lucky someone will sit in on the piano for a couple tunes, and then Jon will explode with pure creativity again. The purest.