MacArthur Park

This is just a Facebook post from 6/27/15,nd while not exactly Pulitzer worthy, for completeness sake I’m posting it here….

Jose Rizo’s Jazz on the Latin Side All Stars and fireworks last nite at the Levitt Pavilion in MacArthur Park…what a perfect Saturday night. Damn those guys are good…Justo Almario going nuts on tenor. Andy Langham getting some room to move on the piano. Smitty Smith his usual bonkers self on the drums. Wonderful band, every time I’ve seen ’em…which is dozens of time by now going waaaaaaaay back. And then the fireworks. Fyl and I loved it. The band are at Hollywood & Highland this Tuesday June 30 from 7-9. That one is free too.

That was our second trip to MacArthur Park in three days since we saw Mexico 68 there on the same stage on Thursday and that was incredible…what a monster grooving band, playing AfroBeat for real. They could have played for hours. Mix of Fela and originals. They have a terrific four saxophone section. Very tight horn arrangements and a lock groove rhythm section, drummer doing the Tony Allen thing. Seung Park took a great tenor sax solo on that last tune, the cat can play. Certainly one of the very best bands in LA. Opening act was a surprise–all the shows we go to and a stoney cumbia band like Buye Pongo are somehow new to me. Dug them a lot too.

And I was tripping on MacArthur Park, man…there was a time when you wouldn’t have been able to have such a splendid scene down there, all was craziness. Killings, gangs, drugs. I knew guys who went down there to die. There was even a police riot. And now it’s one of my favorite venues. Oh yeah, summer in the city, baby. LA has so much free music all summer long it’s heaven.

And I guess the god of fools (well, goddess of fools, if I get a choice) was looking after me tonite. Left the house in Silver Lake at 8:05 and hit a streak of green lights from Temple to Wilshire. Every one a beautiful emerald green. Luck of the Irish. Turned right onto Wilshire and there was a parking space. Looked at the clock. 8:15. We got from Silver Lake to MacArthur Park on a Friday night in ten minutes. It was pleasantly surreal. Or a time portal. Beam me up.

Oscar Hernandez

(March, 2012)


Pianist Oscar Hernandez played the Blue Whale last nite…the joint’s first ever Latin anything show. This one was pure Latin jazz with a helluva band, including a righteously fired up Justo Almario on tenor and bassist Carlitos Del Puerto, who has the coolest hair this side of Esperanza Spalding. Good crowd, loud and drinking and taking up every seat, a few danced in the back, and the response was ecstatic. Not a lot of Latin jazz in LA between summers. People were jonesin’ for some. Hernandez poured it on. amazing virtuosity, I mean the cat can play a mean piano, aggressive runs and crazy fingered dances all across the keyboard…piano both melodic and powerfully percussive…the drummer and conguero got caught up in it and wailed, laying out crazy latin polyrhythms that Hernandez would plunge through. That is when he wasn’t all grace, Justo and he doing the danzon thing, very old style Cuba, all ballrooms and ladies in white chiffon dresses. Then back into a rumba, the drums laying out that montuno rhythm from way back in the forest there where the slave drivers can’t reach, that ancient african sound at the heart of Cuban music. That’s a wild sound, an alien sound, we have nothing like it here in the States, something so unadulteratedly African. But when the congas begin you can feel the whole room tense up in anticipation, waiting for Hernandez to unleash it on piano, that driving, staccato piano line that means were in for several minutes of serious business. It was too…descargas, Cachao style, heavy Cuban jam sessions, players taking turns with burning solos, and Carlitos right there in the middle, laying down one helluva mean bass line. Me and the whole room were digging every second of it, every note, and it’s a shame it had to end but it was a Thursday and Friday morning beckoned early, sleepy mornings at work hearing Oscar Hernandez’s piano still in our heads. Latin jazz done right is soooo good, that mix of virtuosity and jazz skills that doesn’t lose the fundamentally Cuban and Puerto Rican rhythm and vibe that pumps it forward. Oscar Hernandez could write a book on that. Maybe he has.