By Don Heckman
Sherman Oaks, CA. Call it a welcome double value for jazz fans Wednesday night at Jazz at the Cap.
Why? First of all because it offered a performance by a group of the Southland’s prime jazz artists. And second, because they were appearing at an attractive new jazz venue.
Let’s start with the music. Cat & Cip – perhaps better known as singer Cat Conner and multi-woodwind artist Gene “Cip” Cipriano – have become one of L.A.’s most appealing musical duos. Their performances are usually enhanced by the presence of such fine veteran players as pianist Tom Ranier, guitarist John Chiodini and bassist Chuck Berghofer. All of whom were present Thursday night. And, with the solid support of drummer Sinclair Lott (more on him later) they delivered another of their memorable evenings of music.
A good part of the program was devoted to standards – “Indiana,” “After You’ve Gone,” “What Is This Thing Called Love?” “Body and Soul” and “How Deep Is The Ocean?” among them.
But there was a lot more, in a program of songs that was enhanced by a blending of less familiar, but equally engaging material such as Peggy Lee’s “Sans Souci,” Dave Frishberg and Alan Broadbent’s “Heart’s Desire,” Cole Porter’s rarely heard “Everything I Love,” a version of “Pretty Girl” rewritten by Cat and Chiodini as “Handsome Man” and more.
Cat cruised through everything she sang with the soaring vocals, interpretive magic and enthusiastic musicality that are essential aspects of her vocal art.
Add to that such high points of the evening as a briskly swinging, two clarinet instrumental romp through “After You’ve Gone” featuring Cip and Ranier (taking a break from the piano to display his licorice stick chops), a guest appearance by trombonist Dick Nash in a high spirited “What Is This Thing Called Love?” more solid clarinet from Ranier on “Body and Soul,” the unexpected sounds of a bass oboe from Cip. And, among Cat’s many offbeat selections, her welcome decision to offer stellar versions of “Baltimore Oriole” and a driving “What A Little Moonlight Can Do.” Between musical numbers, Cip added his hilarious stories about life as a professional musician,.
And I can’t overlook another vocal highpoint – the unexpected, delightfully whimsical “The Three Bears,” wittily sung by bassist Berghofer.
In sum, it was one of the most rich and varied, beautifully performed collection of songs I’ve heard in recent memory. Would that more jazz artists planned their sets this well.
But I can’t overlook part 2 of the evening’s double value. At a time when jazz clubs in L.A. have come and gone in the past years, it was a distinct pleasure to spend an evening in a new room – Jazz at the Cap — with its large, theatrical stage and up close seating. And the credit for bringing the room to life goes to the drummer I mentioned above – Sinclair Lott – who brings his musician’s knowledge and skill to the challenging task of making a new jazz room happen.
Jazz at the Cap’s programming, at the moment, is limited to only a few nights (or less) a week. But the bookings have been well chosen.
And it’s up to us, as fans of live jazz and beyond, to give Jazz at the Cap the support and the turnout that it deserves. Tonight (Sat.), Jazz at the Cap features Brazilian star Katia Moraes & Brazilian Hearts in a celebration of renowned Brazilian artist Maria Bethania. Next Tuesday, percussionist Ignacio Berroa showcases “Afro-Cuban Jazz and Beyond.”
Jazz at the Cap is in the Cap Studio Theatre at 13752 Ventura Blvd. (818) 990-2001.