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Autumn Leaves and all that jazz
Expect the exceptional at Athenaeum's fall series
By MICHAEL C. BURGESS
Village News October 13, 1999

One of the remarkable aspects of the fall series of jazz concerts organized by the Athenaeum Music and Arts Library is that some seats are still available for two out of the three dates to be played at the Neurisciences Institute. The Athenaeum has a strong reputation for lining up the most distinguished artists for La Jollans' enjoyment, and usually every seat is sold weeks in advance.

According to Daniel Atkinson, the Athenaeum's program director, this may be because he was so successful in bringing in some top musicians who are relatively unknown to southern California. On Sunday, Oct. 24, Kenny Wheeler will make an extremely rare West Coast appearance, possibly his debut in the San Diego area.

"I think this is a rare opportunity for Americans to experience Wheeler's work," Atkinson said.

Perhaps one reason why the 69-year-old trumpet virtuoso is not better known here is that he is difficult to categorize. "He's got a lyrical style that's very abstract which sounds like a contradiction in terms but, in his case, there's something very very distinctive about his playing that combines those two things," Atkinson said. "He's got an amazing tone, and the ability to build a long line improvisationally, so that you get these very long intricate phrases."

Wheeler's 1997 CD "Angel Song" [BMG/ECM] has been referred to as one of the most important jazz recordings of the '90s. A quartet composed of Wheeler, as leader, with Lee Konitz, Dave Holland and Bill Frisell, "It's four top players collaborating on a very introspective, richly textured music," Atkinson said.

Canadian-born Wheeler has been drawn away from his U.K. home by ten members of a 30-strong nonprofit organisation called the Western Jazz Presenters Network, at the suggestion of the Athenaeum's Atkinson during their meeting last January. The resulting tour include3s dates in British Columbia and Colorado.

In all ten venues Wheeler is only appearing with pianist Kenny Werner as a duo, with the exception of the Athenaeum gig in La Jolla, where Atkinson arranged to augment the set by bringing in bassist Dave Carpenter and drummer Peter Erskine for a new incarnation of the Kenny Werner Trio. "This is actually the only date which is being done with all four of them," Atkinson said.

It happened to be last January that Werner was playing in San Diego before leaving to work at the Monterey Festival with a trio that Atkinson heard was "really fabulous." He said he read somewhere that Peter Erskine's name was connected to Wheeler as a former band member. "So it seemed like it was meant to be, that we should reunite Erskine and Wheeler," Atkinson said.

The second date of the Athenaeum's fall series brings the Gonzalo Rubalcaba Trio to the Neurosciences Institute on Tuesday, Nov. 2. Rubalcaba is a Cuban pianist in his mid thirties who will appear with Jeff Chambers on bass, and Ignacio Berroa playing drums.

Chambers and Berroa played on the CD Rubalcaba recorded recently with Michael Brecker. Berroa is a former Dizzy Gillespie sideman and the Latin drummer of choice for a lot of major artists.

Rubalcaba works at the highest level of the international circuit and yet, rather like Wheeler, the Athenaeum concert series will be his San Diego debut. His music draws on Latin rhythms, but it is subtly done. This is not dance music nor some kind of salsa groove. "It's very refined," Atkinson said. "He's an amazing keyboard technician in addition to having a really compelling musical sense."

The third star of the series is by no means unknown to San Diegans, being one of the top bassists in jazz for 60 years. Ray Brown is a bass player who participated in the very conception of bebop, being a member of Dizzy Gillespie's 1946 band and playing alongside Charlie Parker, Bud Powell and Max Roach. He was Ella Fitzgerald's musical director for some time, and her husband from 1948 to '52. He worked with pianist Oscar Peterson from 1951 through '66. Although this elder statesman has a massive repertoire of standards, he retains a reputation for remaining contemporary.

Brown's pianist, Geoff Keezer, has long been building a reputation for himself. There was a lot of local buzz about him two years ago when he was the opening act for Diana Krall at Humphrey's by the Bay. Every seat for the Ray Brown Trio's date on Saturday Nov. 20 (Keezer's 29th birthday) is already sold.

Tickets to the three-concert series would have been $60, but remaining seats for the first two concerts are $22 each and may be reserved by calling the Athenaeum, 454-5872. The Neurosciences Institute, 10640 John Jay Hopkins Drive, is easily accessible from Interstate-5 via Genessee Avenue. There is ample free parking.