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Moveable Music Feast Friday Night in LA

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As we sit and chat over pie and coffee at House of Pies, let me tell you about Friday night...

We started with the Ahmad Jamal concert at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center in the Washington Boulevard District. Holden was there, still raising hell. Angela Basset was there, still raising men’s testosterone levels.

And Jamal was there in great form, with drummer Kenny Washington, who is good even if he doesn’t seem to have the same chemistry with Jamal that Idris Muhammad seems to; rock solid bassist James Cammack, now with Jamal for 26 years; and percussionist Manolo Badrena, who uses bird calls, whirling noisemakers, tiny Chinese chimes, and a light touch on the tambourine to create an exotic soundscape that adds to the whole kind of the same way the bass does. If you close your eyes, you might not hear everything Badrena does, but if he stopped, there’d be something vital missing.

Badrena is also a kick to watch … pear shaped, a big white beard that juts out and balances the cockscomb tuft of hair atop his head.

Here's Jamal 50 (!) years ago:

Jamal is almost eighty but hasn’t lost it. He was up and down on the bench (is his back bothering him?), and more talkative for this audience than I remember from the Bakery or Catalina’s. The first half of the set featured his typical exploded tunes, with melodies I find hard to follow, but easy enough to let wash over me. The second half of the set started with Jamal’s signature “Poinciana...”

... and continued to swing with “But Not For Me” and “Sing a Song” (which I remember from either Electric Company or Sesame Street – “Sing of good things, not bad. Sing of happy, not sad … Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear, just sing, sing a song.”)

If you haven’t been to the Nate Holden (4718 West Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90016), it’s a very nice space with no bad seats, and you can still get tickets for tonite’s (SAT 9-26) shows.

Badrena’s soundscape made me want South American food, so we went to Carlitos Gardel, the Argentine joint on Melrose. Everything seemed normal until coffee when a lovely woman started singing. A couple ballads, then some song that seemed to be about a bullfighter, in which, on cue, a bullet shaped man played some mean maracas, but with two spoons and a fork. Then, she sang what might have been a Greek or Armenian song, and he pulled out a drum and accompanied brilliantly. Then, a woman danced in Middle Eastern style, and he joined her and belly danced impressively. Then, both the headwaiter and sommelier sang songs, including a lovely version of “Something” featuring a whistled chorus.

It reminded me of a night in Istanbul when we wandered into a café at random and wound up drinking Raki and witnessing an oud (?) duel between student and teacher. Turns out, this happens every weekend night at Carlitos Gardel, and it’s a family affair. (Maybe everyone else in LA knows this already; please skip ahead if you do.) These are the Bozoghlian’s, of Argentine/Armenian/Greek/French stock, in which every family member, apparently, does everything. If they had also performed surgery and floated plaster, I wouldn't have been surprised.

Gerard told us about his family outside the restaurant:

But there’s more!

Gerard has a gig at the Viper Room this Sunday (9-27) with his group The Cause, which he described as Doors-y political music. And K’Noup, a handsome Greek who was sitting behind us, and who was finally convinced to sing and dance, is part of a group called Visa. Gerard described Visa’s music as “Mediterranean Progressive Funk Rock.”

Of course they had a CD and driving home popped it into the player, expecting nothing, since you never know whether someone’s group is great or sucks or is just alright. It was pretty good and very different from anything I’d heard. (Granted, I hardly ever listen to Mediterranean Progressive Funk Rock.)

Visa, by the way, includes Jivan Gasparyan, Jr. on the duduk. He is the grandson of Jivan Gasparyan , the legendary dudak artist. Here he is in 1968.

The moral of this story: get your butt out there, keep your eyes and ears open, and stay late.