By Don Heckman
The music one expects to hear in the elegant night club at the top of Beverly Glen is up front and apparent in its lyrical name: Vibrato Grill, Jazz…etc.
Add the fact that the club has other significant jazz linkages. For one, it’s owned by the veteran jazz trumpeter, band leader (Tijuana Brass) and artist, Herb Alpert. And it is managed and booked by jazz bassist Pat Senatore, for years one of the Southland’s first call rhythm section artists.
So it’s no surprise that Vibrato, wth ifs fine acoustics, professional audio, open sight lines from every seat, and consistently appealing bookings of artists from L.A. and various parts of the jazz world is a favorite room for jazz fans.
There’s also an added appeal to an evening at Vibrato. One which reaches indirectly beyond the room’s musical offerings, an appeal that covers most of the club’s high-reaching walls. The vast, abstract paintings of Herb Alpert.
Visual arts are not my area of expertise. But I can report that all the many nights I’ve spent at Vibrato have been brilliantly illuminated by the many Alpert paintings. New canvases have arrived frequently, and each has offered another compelling visual experience. Like the improvisational jazz artist that he is, Alpert seems to paint with a stunning spontaneity in which his paintings are the recordings of his encounter with his visual imagination.
All this and more were present on Tuesday night at Vibrato during a program featuring singer and actress Susan Anton and the Pat Senatore Trio (with pianist Josh Nelson and drummer Dan Schnelle).
The evening opened with the Trio’s first set, playing at a level that started high and rose higher with each new selection. The selections ranged widely, touching everything from classic songbook tunes such as “Time After Time” and “Moonlight in Vermont” to bossa nova.
But this trio could have made musical magic with anything. Starting with the basic jazz piano trio, they each applied their unique skills to something that was a unique expression created by Nelson’s far ranging approach to the piano as a virtual orchestra in itself, Senatore’s melodically lyrical bass lines roving across the harmonies, and Schnell’s meticulous application of his percussion to trigger spontaneous arrangements. The results were extraordinary – when they were in the spotlight and when they were backing Anton.
A star in films, on television and the Broadway stage, Anton has also had a parallel singing career that has taken her from pop to country music and blues. An attractive, dynamic blonde presence on stage, Anton spent most of her set interacting with her listeners and occasionally joking with the musicians.
Concentrating on songbook standards, Anton occasionally slipped into the sort of room-filling belting appropriate for a musical theatre stage. She was at her best, however, when she used her warm, articulate voice to find the dramatic roots of a song.
Not exactly a classic jazz night. But the gripping inventiveness of the Senatore Trio and the enthusiasm of Anton, offered in the irresistible visual appeal of Herb Alpert’s paintings, and further enhanced by the kitchen’s superb cuisine, combined to produce another warm and pleasing experience that can only take place at Vibrato.