Alto and tenor saxophonist, clarinetist and flutist Anthony Ortego's international career seldom allows him to play within driving distance of his Encinitas home. So, it was a rare treat for La Jollans to catch his trio at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library.
In complete contrast, some may be so familiar with Mike Wofford's appearance on local stages they overlook his status as a fine pianist of great influence as far afield as Japan.
Along with the late Bill Evans's former sideman, the smoothly swinging drummer Joe LaBarbera, Wofford and Ortega took the bandstand at the Athenaeum on June 30, the first in a series of four trios to appear there through July.
From their latest CD, "Scattered Clouds," they played the title track and also "Body and Soul," "Night and Day", "Island of Trolls" and "All or Nothing at All."
Ortega said the title, "Scattered Clouds," was inspired by the reflection of clouds on the surface of a water tank when he was trying to come up with a title. He said the mixture of old standards and new compositions was redolent of scattered clouds.
Ortega turned 73 last month, but this seems to take no toll on his fine tone and his capacity for improvisation. Having total mastery of his own instruments, he seems happy to take his right hand off the keys and conduct his colleagues, possibly to the point of micro management considering they worked together on the CD.
He put down his sax twice to sing vocals, firstly "I Can't Get Started With You" and later, "Easy Street," after promising he'd only give himself one chorus.
He played "The Dove" beautifully on a flute and "Tyler" on soprano sax. After the latter, he admitted many of his recordings are hard to find now.
"No they're not," Wofford joked. "They're in the lobby."
Ortega and Wofford are veterans of Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse Allstars ‹ a group famously based at the Lighthouse Club in Hermosa Beach, a crucible from which West-Coast jazz was forged in the 1950s and '60s. This might be one reason why the evening was something of a reunion.
Rumsey himself was in the audience, clearly enraptured by the quality of the music. "This is so good, I want to go out and pay again," he intimated during the interval.
From the stage, Ortega acknowledged Rumsey as his former boss who had always asked him to cut back his long solos. "You were right," Ortega said. "Later on I shortened them."
Also present was a large contingent from Ortega's family: his grandson, Tyler; daughters Mona-Lisa and Kathy (herself a vocalist in the local band, The MarDels); and wife Mona Ørbeck Ortega , who wrote "The Dove," "Tyler" and "Island of Trolls."
During "All or Nothing At All" Ortega was gesticulating to LaBarbera indicating which drums whould be played in what order. LaBarbera seemed to take this with good humor.
The length of choruses played by either member of the rhythm section also seemed to be dictated by the number of fingers Ortega held up.
"We'll do a fast version of 'I Remember April'", he said on the dot of 9:50 p.m. "You remember that one, don't you?"
He snapped his fingers at a fast tempo to count in LaBarbera and Wofford. "I won a chili company, man. I don't need to do this," he joked.
The series continues on July 7 with the Billy Childs Trio and July 14 with the Jeff Hamilton Trio.
These concerts begin at 7:30 p.m. at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, 1008 Wall St. Tickets are $17 ($15 for members). For further information call (858) 545-5872.