Simply fantastic nite at Desert Rose, with Theo Saunders and Chuck Manning’s thrilling jazz improvisation within a stream of classic tunes–Trane, Newk, Wayne Shorter, lotsa Monk and at least one of Theo’s own compositions–as combo leader Mark Z Stevens wore Chuck Barris’s duds (really) before an exhuberant packed house. Fyl and I kept seeing all these old jazz pals, like we were back at Charlie O’s, me and George Herms lost in the be bop or laughing at the wrong times. Oh it was glorious.
Pete Christlieb was so goddam good at the Desert Rose tonite. The applause after every solo and every tune was loud and prolonged, impassioned even. I know I was transfixed…Christlieb has this huge sound, strong and muscular, and a tone you never really hear anymore. We caught the last set, and he owned that room, filled it with sound, danced around the melody like a boxer always on his toes, jabbing, pulling, throwing the sudden punch, or the slow motion sidewinder that lifts the tune right off its feet. And sometimes he was that fighter on a leisurely run down the beach, throwing jabs and dancing, one two, one two, one two three and pow. The band was so hot, Jon Mayer especially, playing like only he does, these brilliant solos like shards of blues and jazz strung out in perfect, crazy, beautiful forms. No sweeping arpeggios for Jon Mayer, rather he breaks them up and reassembles them, like you know jazz pianists did before they were all university trained. Chris Conner was in heaven on his 180 year old bass just out of the shop–repairing that thing took two years, and when he pulled out the bow and followed Christlieb’s fiery solo you can hear just why it takes two years to revive a 180 year old bass….the thing resonated like you can’t believe. This ancient, beautiful sound quality, so rich, a perfect match to Christlieb’s own rich tone. And drummer Mark Z Stevens–this is his trio, and his weekly gig–was so freaking tight, tighter than I’d ever heard him here, that in the pocket doesn’t do him justice. What a quartet this was. But it was really all about Pete Christlieb, that sound, that style, that presence. Maybe a dozen or so bars in I was thinking Dexter Gordon and suddenly he’s doing Dexter doing Good Bait and I nearly fell out of my chair…a bit further on he’s quoting Sonny Rollins. And why not? He’s in their class. That’s how good Pete Christlieb is, he’s one of the greats. One of the true greats. A hundred years from now they’ll be lining up all these tenor players like gods, and Pete Christlieb will be in that pantheon. Yet not even jazz fans in this town realize that, most of them. If they knew–if they’d seen what I just saw tonight, heard what I heard–they would know that, know what a lifetime of saxophone dominance the man has coming out of that horn, and they’d beg for the chance to sit four feet from the bell of his saxophone, eyes closed, sipping whiskey and wondering how it was that they happened to be in such a right place at such a right time. But that’s jazz, man, that’s the nature of improvisation. It just happens, and you have to be there. And I was. For that last set, I happened to be right there, in a perfect seat, with a perfect drink, in perfect company, hearing perfect jazz saxophone. Pure jazz it was, people, the purest, and it was beautiful.
The Mark Z. Stevens Trio (sometimes plus a horn, as tonight) is there every Saturday night from 7-11 p.m. at the Desert Rose, corner of Prospect and Hillhurst in Los Feliz, right across from the new Cap’n’Cork. In fact it stands on the grounds of the old Cap’n’Cork, where Ernie Kovacs bought whiskey and cigars and dreamed up his next crazy show on ABC, all proto-psychedelic and surreal and hysterically funny. I think about that every time I’m there eating one of their hamburgers or just drinking a whiskey (Irish, Kovacs preferred sour mash) and watching and listening. The food is good, the bar is full, the waitresses gorgeous, and the jazz is just fine.
(And in 2016 the Trio is still at the Desert Rose every Saturday night.)