Lenny White: Live and New York Hot with the Anomaly Band at Catalina's
West Coast jazz has traditionally been cool to the East Coast's hot. Dave Brubeck is always pictured in white linen slacks playing an open air concert-by-the-sea, while Charlie Parker is shown popping a Saturday night sweat in his sharkskin suit, squeezed onto a crowded nightclub stage.
The iconography extends to the West Coast audience. Like a glass of chablis, chilled, slow and laid back compared to an East Coaster's whiskey shot, feverish, fast and hard. The stereotypes are simplistic and a bit unkind, but contain a kernel of truth.
Which made the way in which the West Coast tradition was stood on its head all the more fun last Friday, Saturday and Sunday (August 20-22) when Lenny White took the stage with his Anomaly Band at Hollywood's Catalina Bar & Grill.
Catalina's lazy Blue Note-style dinner club atmosphere that has set the tone for the L.A. scene along with Vitello's, the Baked Potato, Jazz Bakery and Herb Alpert's new Vibrato Grill, filling the void created by the disappearance of 50's West Coast club institutions like Shelly's Manne Hole and the Lighthouse, was about to get loud.
Minutes before the first set guitarist Jimmy Herring, the jazz/rock-blues shredder of jam band Widespread Panic fame who regularly plays at 110+ dB in large arenas, voiced his concern for the cocktail-sipping diners seated at the tables in front of the stage. He said he had been fussing with positioning his monitor before the show, trying to find a way to angle or baffle it to save their ears. Then he smiled. The boss had just said it was time to go on.
White smartly started the set with the same high- energy track he uses to open his new Anomaly CD (Abstract Logix, 2010), Drum Boogie," a funky, full tilt New Orleans- flavored bouncer that started simply with bassist Richie Goods playing a smoothly articulated but hard- plucked line that jolted the song to life like a pair of defibrillator paddles and gave it a hard push that kept it going to the end. When Vince Evans came in, leaning hard on the organ keys and goosing the amperage, the band jumped enthusiastically and exploded into this great set-opener like a vigorous heartbeat.
Before anyone in the band could cool off, the rhythm section of White, Goods and Evans lowered the gear into a range where I've never heard a jazz" band go. We Know" is hard, hard, fat-bottomed rock and roll bravura like what Cream and the James Gang did in the 1970's, a song of such auditory impact that Herring's earlier concerns made immediate sense. In truth, the monitors were not revved that high, but the sheer neural impact on the small room of a couple hundred people was of a similar magnitude as stacks of Marshall amps in a baseball stadium. The sound filled every molecule of matter in every corner of the building. And when the guitar solos started flying from Tom Guarna and Jimmy Herring. the deal was sealed. No one would ever confuse what these guys were doing with any jazz they'd ever heard before. This wasn't just jazz/rock, it was jazz/ROCK. This was new.
When the music ended, the stunned audience of Angelenos sat and quivered for a minute. As they did, White grabbed a microphone and stepped out from his kit into the lights and deadpanned, Welcome to a quiet night of jazz at Catalina's."
After a beautifully serene Dark Moon," written by guitarist David Gilmore, the band tore into White's magnificently deconstructed and re- arranged composition Door #3" from his Present Tense (Hip Bop, 1995) which, among other things, showcased the individual talents of the players by letting each take a solo. White's arrangements don't always do this. Gratuitous soloing has overtaken much of mainstream jazz, live or recorded, for reasons of fashion and crowd-titillating commerce as much as anything else, but not White's (asked why, White simply said, It's boring.") So until Evans opened Door #3" with a growling, sweetly bluesy Jimmy Smith- like organ solo, his sturdily sensitive comping had not drawn any attention to itself... in many ways, the test of true artistry. But then, did he ever pull the ripcord on his parachute. With a sizzling foundation rumbling under the floor, the guitarists stepped in and began the kind of weaving of rhythm and lead guitar that is only possible with accomplished players (Dicky Betts and Duane Allman come to mind) playing so seamlessly that it sounded like one eight-handed guitarist playing two guitars.
The tune which is probably the heart and soul of this band arrived the next night. Ushered in by an opening keyboard cascade, Election Day," no matter where it is placed in the set, is a warning of the storm that is always brewing on stage. Named simply for the day it was written, November 4, 2008, it is in many ways the signature anomaly of White's recently released CD. It is arranged by White in a way that opens it to what only these seasoned jazzers could have made it do. They made it swing. Ferociously. Not only did it thunder, it danced and shook. Each time Goods and the guitars pushed the bridge (reminiscent of the little cadenza at the end Led Zeppelin's Heartbreaker") White would push it a little harder from the drum kit, shifting the rhythmic emphasis just slightly until this all-out rocker was sliding and slamming like an anvil on the back of a flat bed truck.. This is energy and muscle not heard since the earliest days of rock and roll, when for brilliant moments the music rocked and rolled.
Properly warmed up, the band launched into a deftly-composed Tom Guarna piece called If U Dare," a deceptively simple- sounding piece of jazz/rock that utilizes a combination of Lenny White's vigorous drum corps/ rock and roll drumming to set the pace and ethereal jazz chording. His fluid soloing opened up enough room for Jimmy Herring to join in the fun, and was a perfect companion piece to the classic Joe Henderson piece Gazelle," which White had first performed and recorded with Henderson 40 years earlier at the legendary Lighthouse, along with Woody Shaw, George Cables and Ron McClure. In the sure hands of a jazz/rock composer/arranger (and aficionado) like White, Gazelle" was transformed by his band into the purest kind of jazz/rock, a description which undoubtedly rankles purists but which speaks a higher language for anyone who has been listening to jazz since Miles worked over James Brown's Cold Sweat" beat (whose composer, Pee Wee Ellis, ironically, was working over Miles' So What") on 1968's Filles de Kilimanjaro and has heard subsequent works like Emergency!, Bitches Brew, Sweetnighter, Red Clay, Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy, Birds of Fire or Head Hunters. Pure Jazz/Rock is such a delicately conceived blend that, like a perfect martini, it fills your head as nicely as it fills your senses. White's version of Gazelle" loped along, gracefully coiling and flexing before each jump but never exerting itself and sounding like it could run forever. In the tradition of Henderson's Milestone recording that produced Gazelle," In Pursuit of Blackness, White grabbed Guarna and Herring in the dressing room just before they were ready to go on stage Saturday night and excitedly explained a last-minute change in the tune's break. The two guitarists played it together incorrectly once, figured it out and practiced it right twice, then said as one, we got it." When the band finally played it as the final number of the set, Guarna and Herring ripped it up.
No question, it was the killer tune of the set.
For the most comprehensive interview ever done with Lenny White, check the article I wrote for AllAboutJazz.com, Lenny White: Jazz/Rock Collides Again:
And as for the big question... by the time you read this, there will be but one more chance to see this band of killer-virtuosi jazz/rockers: November 20-21, the Abstract Logix Music Festival, 2010, to be held at the Lincoln Theatre, 126 E. Cabarrus St. between Wilmington St. and Blount St. in the beautiful southern city of Raleigh, North Carolina. In addition to Lenny White and his Anomaly Band, Souvik Dutta, president/founder of Abstract Logix Records and event organizer, has already confirmed jazz/rock giant John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension, the Jimmy Herring Band, Wayne Krantz, Wayne Krantz (ex-STEELY DAN) with Anthony Jackson and Cliff Almond; Alex Machacek Trio with Jeff Sipe (APT Q258) and Neal Fountain; Human Element (Matt Garrison, Scott Kinsey, Arto Tuncboyaciyan); Introducing Ranjit Barot (India's Best Kept Secret on Drums); and an All Star Tribute to John McLaughlin as the Grand Finale.