Zach Harmon

[from a Brick’s Picks in the LA Weekly circa 2009]

Zach Harmon is back on the drum kit at the Foundry on Melrose (between Vista and Gardner) every weekend. That’s a way cool thing, since we dig the way he plays. It’s different, for sure. His toms lay almost level, his cymbals are oddly placed way too close to each other and just a hair above the rims of those toms. He even sits different. He doesn’t sound like other jazz drummers. His rolls sound different and look different. He accents weird, he stomps the bass weird, his bombs drop in the oddest places. His solos—and man, can the kid solo—are like rolling, splattering waves of ferocious intensity that taper off into almost nothingness and then explode back into life so loud it scares people. We even heard a story about him using a samurai sword to sweep across the cymbals, making terrifying clangs and looking a Wisconsin farm boy gone berserk. Of course he can swing, of course he can be a beautiful accompanist on a vocal gig. He can do all that. But you really need to see him let loose, playing just the way he wants to play. On those warm nights when the Foundry leaves the French doors open you can literally hear him solo for blocks up and down Melrose. He drives those trios, drives them hard. Hell, he’s the only drummer we’ve ever seen give Tigran Hamasyan a run for his money. Of course it turns out he’s got another gig Friday (see below) so someone else will be on drums that night with the brilliant young pianist Mahesh Balasooriya, a cat whose feel for jazz at the roots—you should hear him on a blues—is so utterly natural he sounds like he’s played this stuff for fifty years. Harmon’s there Saturday, though, with pianist Otmaro Ruiz. They’ll be throwing ideas and riffs at each other at a pace that will test the strength and willpower of bassist Matt Cory. The Foundry can be noisy, but we love this place, there’s a bar three feet from the stage, amazing grilled cheese sandwiches, a young vibe, and dames like you don’t see in jazz joints ever. Free, too.

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.