Saxophone Players

[c. 2008, from a Brick’s Picks in the LA Weekly]

There are a pair of saxophonists bookending the weekend at Charles O’s that absolutely slay us every time. On Friday we got Charles Owens, fresh from a big LACMA appearance. A masterful player (and orchestra leader…the Luckman has done brilliantly under his direction), Owens plays just about every reed and woodwind ever made (just dig him on English horn) and plays a mean dirty flute; but it’s on tenor that he is on fire. At the World Stage we’ve seen him go what looked like utterly out of his mind, all Dolphy and Roland Kirk and late period Trane or a way gone Sonny running down East Broadway, you know, crazy clusters and Fulani scales and notes flying so fast, damn…. And at Charlie O’s we’ve heard the most soulful A Love Supreme, the crowd utterly silent, not a whisper or a stir till it fades on that final bass thrum…then hot damn it’s Charlie getting down with Eddie Harris, music so funky people are actually dancing at Charlie O’s, and so greasy they’re getting drunk. That’s Charlie Owens, delivering. And that’s part one. Part two is Benn Clatworthy, same stage on Sunday. You’d never think a foul mouthed Michael Cain-as-Alfie-sounding Brit would play saxophone as good as any Yank, even better than most. He’s got a voice on that thing, steeped in mid period Trane, in Booker Ervin, in lots of Sonny Rollins when Sonny was the greatest of them all. But that’s just the sound. But the ideas, the vision, the places he goes, pushing, daring…god damn. Nobody in LA does this. Maybe nobody nowhere. It can be the most radical. It can be the most hard bopping. It can be so gorgeous you will not draw a breath till that horn has expended his. His is an intense, radical, beautiful jazz playing and still completely in the tradition. So there ya go, two of LA’s most exciting saxophonists, just waiting for your ears. Oh…and who’s got the floor on the Saturday between them? Tenor Don Menza is who, and he can kick anybody’s ass. Don’t let no one tell you this town ain’t got great saxophone players.

Charles Owens at the World Stage

(from an LA Weekly article–2005. My editor Greg Burk and I went down to Leimert Park and wandered about. Talked to a bunch of the local jazzers. He wrote it all up in a piece and then added part of this account of a gig at the World Stage. Space limitations let him use only about half of it, but here it is in all its raging glory.  To this day, I look on this Charles Owens performance–if that’s the word, it seemed more than that–as one of the most spectacular nights of saxophonery I’ve ever witnessed.)

Went down to Leimert Park on Saturday night to check out sax player Charles Owens and trumpeter Richard Grant at the World Stage. Inside, the place is just a tiny storefront with folding chairs, really, and it was stifling. Nedra Wheeler was squeezing her double bass behind an unused drum kit. Derf Reklaw, up front by his three congas, was tearing the folks up with an outrageous story about some nearby African gig where he was yelled at by the bandleader for not dressing African enough. “What you mean, man? These clothes are from Senegal! I bought ‘em there!” Owens walked in decked out in matching powder-green shirt and slacks and a big white Stetson. Absolutely incongruous; someone cracked wise about the hat. A guitar player, whom I did not know (it was a very young Steve Cotter) took one edge of the stage as Owens busied himself taking away that unused house kit a piece at a time, giving the band some breathing room. A local loony took a seat in back, chortling a little too intensely, and the doorman hushed her — for the first of several times. Outside on the street, a trumpeter was blowing loud, flat, cracked notes. Someone went out and shushed him too. Owens was doing mostly Joe Henderson tunes. Reklaw laid out some Elvin Jones rhythms that kicked up the energy — certainly got the loony going; she was squirming in her seat and shouting like Moms Mabley on bad acid. In the second set, Owens’ “Shake Your Booty” was genuinely funky; he took his solo from the back of the room, and the whole place seemed filled with the music; the loon was going even more nuts. Owens took his solo outside—literally, out onto the sidewalk, playing for all the folks out there–came back in, dropped out and Wheeler took over, laying down a swimmy groove. The encore on Joe Henderson’s “Jinrikisha” was the best, Grant blowing like Freddie Hubbard, Owens filling the air with flurries and screams, Wheeler and Reklaw locked in a monster groove, the guitar player darting around all of them. After most of the folks had wandered out, it still wasn’t over. Don Littleton came up, started messing around on the congas, Reklaw picked up his bongos, and suddenly there was a new jam, with Owens playing “Cherokee” at bop tempo over the manic hand drumming, crazier and crazier till, just like that, it ended. Reklaw, shaking has stinging hands, sat down. Littleton started up again, and Owens jumped in even madder, freer than before. When it stopped, the dozen people remaining burst into applause. They’d seen the most dangerous jazz created anywhere in L.A.that night.

Charles Owens

Charles Owens

(Photo is by Rick Loomis from Greg Burk’s fine piece “Charles Owens, spreading the jazz faith worldwide” in the Los Angeles Times Sept. 17, 2011. Make sure to follow the link to the full profile.)