Weekend jazz picks: The Bad Plus, 'Feed the Blue Whale' and more
In 10 years of existence, the Bad Plus has somehow become easy to take for granted. Since breaking out with "These Are the Vistas" back in 2003, the group has specialized in a tough-to-categorize and tougher-to-resist brand of acrobatic jazz that reinvented the piano trio for the new millennium. Characterized by intricate interplay between pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and heavy-hitting drummer Dave King, the trio's profile has undoubtedly been raised by its often slyly witty cover choices (Aphex Twin's "Flim," Blondie's "Heart of Glass" and Pixies' "Velouria," to name a few). However, the Bad Plus' latest album, "Never Stop," sets all that aside to showcase the band's deft compositional skills, and the results are what might be the group's strongest recording yet. The Mint, 6010 W. Pico Blvd., L.A. (323) 954-9400, www.themintla.com.
Having backed an array of artists including Peter Gabriel and Ani DiFranco, jazz drummer Allison Miller isn't exactly a new face, but her second album as a bandleader, "Boom Tic Boom," was one of the year's most pleasant surprises. Featuring remarkable interplay between a lineup of New York heavyweights that includes inventive pianist Myra Melford, bassist Todd Sickafoose and violinist Jenny Scheinman, the group's splashes of country, pop and funk keep the mix adventurous but never less than approachable. Given that the particulars are crack bandleaders in their own right, cross-country tours can't come together easily, and this is not one to be missed (though here's hoping the stars align for a follow-up record). Royal/T, 8910 Washington Blvd., Culver City, 8 p.m. $12, 310-559-6300. www.royal-t.org.
Celebrating its first anniversary, Little Tokyo's the Blue Whale deserves a category of its own in any L.A. jazz fan's list of year-end favorites. A cozily unconventional space presenting top-flight local and touring talent with recession-friendly $10 covers and far-better-than-you'd-expect food and drink, Joon Lee's labor of love needs to be part of the city's musical fabric for years to come. Hence, Saturday's all-day festival-fundraiser, which starts at noon and rolls on through midnight with an art auction featuring more than 30 local artists and, of course, lots of live jazz. With a day full of acts including members of the L.A. Jazz Collective, Gary Fukushima and Joe Bagg; recent Grammy nominee John Beasley, and other club favorites, it's worthwhile to dip in for a few hours or even make a day of it. Stick around for headliners Endangered Blood, a three-headed monster of avant-garde alchemy featuring Claudia Quintet saxophonist Chris Speed, bassist Trevor Dunn and wild-hearted drummer Jim Black, who burned up the Angel City Jazz Festival this year in a trio with Tim Berne and Nels Cline. 123 Astronaut E.S. Onizuka St., L.A. (213) 620-0908, www.bluewhalemusic.com.
Having backed Billy Cobham, Jaco Pastorious and Miles Davis early in his career, guitarist Mike Stern specializes in stretching the boundaries of jazz. His 2009 album "Big Neighborhood" earned a Grammy nomination last year and an eclectic range of collaborations that included this year's Grammy nominee Esperanza Spalding, Medeski Martin and Wood, and shredder extraordinaire Steve Vai. This weekend's lineup finds him leading a quartet that reteams him with longtime collaborator Randy Brecker on trumpet. Catalina Bar and Grill, 6725 W. Sunset Blvd., L.A. Thu.-Sun., $22-$30. (323) 466-9217.
There are two approaches to holiday music: avoid it like fruitcake until you're good and ready, or just embrace your inner caroler for all it's worth (somebody must be listening to KOST right now, right?). Those in the latter camp would do well to check out the Baked Potato this weekend for Icelandic singer Anna Mjöll, who is celebrating the release of "Christmas Jazzmaz," a collection of lightly tweaked holiday classics featuring the breathy-voiced Mjöll backed by musicians that include percussion great Vinnie Coliauta (Gerry Brown fills in on drums for this performance, but good cheer should result regardless). The Baked Potato, 3787 W. Cahuenga Blvd., Studio City. 9:30 p.m. $20, (818) 980-1615. www.thebakedpotato.com (Also performing at Charlie O's in Van Nuys on Friday.)
-- Chris Barton
Photo: Interior near the bar of the Blue Whale, including a drawing. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times.