Elliot Caine at the York

Caught the last set of Elliott Caine’s Quintet on Sunday night. Was an eerie ninety nine degrees at 8 pm, though a bone dry ninety nine and I dug it. The York, though, was plenty air conditioned and Elliott’s band swung like crazy in all that cool. The jazz got really intense toward the end, with drummer Kenny Elliott and a wild pianist from Portland named Sam Hirsch in one of those crazy drum and piano vortexes, driving and driving each other to crashing, spinning frenzies. Tim Emmons on electric bass was there between them, perfect, while Elliott blew these weirdly melodic lines from off stage and Scott Gilman his trademark staccato runs on the tenor. Then Elliott took the melody and soared with it, Gilman took it back and drive notes like a nail gun through the rhythmic blast and all came back in on the head for an explosive finish. The audience just about screamed its appreciation, and that was it. We paid our check and made our goodbyes and ventured out into the heat. People walked by in a Mojave Desert daze and talked of distant fires.

Eye doctor

(2010, from a Brick’s Picks column in the LA Weekly)

Listen, man, Dr. Elliot Caine is up front explaining  astigmatism to a Highland Park hipster mom when Cannonball just starts burning on alto for a zillion choruses, then Hank Mobley comes in, takes it back to the head and in comes Miles again. A little while later it’s a funky Lou Donaldson session, then an even funkier Lonnie Smith with a groovin’ George Benson before he got so damn rich. And look around….half these cats are up on the walls, no waterfalls and floral scenes in Dr. Caine’s office, just classic jazz photography. As we’re about to step back out onto York Boulevard we hear the opening strains of Search For the New Land. Dr. Caine looks up from the scrip he’s writing, says ya gotta have some Lee Morgan, man, then goes back to optometry. It’s pretty damn hip office for an eye doctor. He’s got a pretty hip band, too, at Alva’s this Friday. Tenor Carl Randall, bassist Bill Markus and drummer Kenny Elliott are solid players and veterans of the jazz grind, earning and learning the craft the hard way in the joints and bars along Central Avenue or on Chicago’s South Side or in just whatever dive was booking for a while before turning into a disco.  The experience shows, when they do a blues it’s down and dirty, when they launch into one of Caine’s exciting post bop things it smacks of the street and a zillion worn out Blue Note LP’s, not of art school. Caine’s trumpet reflects decades of long nites doing casuals or blowing high notes in funk and Latin and ska bands while learning every Lee Morgan and Miles solo just to see just what made them tick. Sitting in again is astonishing young pianist Mahesh Balasooriya, who in a town awash in ridiculous keyboard skills stands out for the visceral power of his playing, a virtuosity stripped of frill and niceties, just stunning jazz power. And brilliant Nick Mancini returns for this live session too, bursting with ideas that no matter how arcane or out or gorgeous he never lacks the vibes chops to pull off. (Nick also writes a great gig announcement—get on his list.) It’s an evening well worth your ten bucks, especially when you can bring your own drinks and eats and there ain’t a bad seat in the house. Plus LeRoy Downs in emceeing, and he don’t do no bogus gigs.

Gravitational waves

The problem with jazz at artwalks is that it is background music. Nice and quiet, subdued, like Kind of Blue without the edges. But it’s jazz, man, jazz isn’t supposed to be nice. It’s not supposed to be pretty. It’s not even supposed to be art. It’s supposed to be jazz. Jazz is jazz. Thank gawd Elliot Caine and his quartet know that. There was some gorgeous art on the walls, fauvist almost, huge vibrating colors, but that was inside, where people sipped wine and murmured. Outside Elliot and band swung their asses off. Kenny Elliot (no relation, really) lit into two extended solos on the traps that were brilliant. He was pushing it. Elliott Caine stepped out front to watch and listen, digging it all. Einstein was right, he laughed, I can feel his gravitational waves washing over me, and then he lit into a solo and was gone, taking his brand new horn places it had never been. Rick Olson was marvelous on his electric keyboard, dancing across the keys on In Walked Bud or flipping a switch and digging deep into Jimmy Smith. Bassman Joe Pernicano, new to me, settled in right down center and by that third set–third sets are the magic sets in jazz–the band was in the zone, in the groove, in the pocket, in that place where jazz critics hurl clichés at the memory trying to nail it and failing. The night was warm, the wine was free, the art was groovy, and the inevitable food truck was out front, selling overpriced (if tasty) fish and chips instead of tacos for a buck. Somehow that seemed so wrong. But still, in this little island of bourgeoisie gentrification on a Highland Park calle tucked into the hills, the jazz was real like real jazz should be. And the people, the hip people, the people with ears open and syncopation in their bones, those people dug it in intense, focused silence, interrupted by hard clapping and yeah baby’s. Ten o’clock and the music had to stop. There was a time when jazz musicians didn’t even get out of bed before ten. Oh well, but we walked down the street to the car, past old Highland Park and nouveaux Highland Park, feeling renewed.

(Elliott has a quintet or sextet at the York on York next Sunday, February 21, no cover, no minimum, no nothing, actually. Jazz is the music of the unemployed. Dig it. Great room, great energy, great suds, great crowd, great tunes. Always highly recommended, this one, as Elliott Caine–who eye doctors all the jazzers, bohos and freaks at his optometrist office next door–never fails to slay at the York.)

Elliott Caine with Highland Park bricks.

Elliott Caine with ancient, but cool, Highland Park bricks.