Culture Watch: Slumgum, Pear add new flavor to local jazz scene
Pear, "Extemp'ore" (PearStudio Records)
Released a month apart earlier this year, these albums showcase two relatively new arrivals on L.A.'s eclectic jazz landscape.
A piano-and-drums duo fleshed out by a variety of guests, Pear is inspired by the cut-and-paste songwriting from Miles Davis' electric period (the record opens with a raspy quote from Miles himself). Often mining a jazz-funk seam, bassist Jennifer Leitham provides a fleet-fingered, rubbery counterweight to Nick Pierone's piano, and session-hand guitarist Carl Verheyen throws sparks over an off-center groove in "Carl Session 2." Pear takes so many tangents -- kora by Prince Diabaté, a brief if endearingly clumsy stab at hip-hop and vocal turns in whispered French or mined from an answering machine message -- that it's hard to focus on where it's coming from, but where it's at remains intriguing.
A brightly twisted product of CalArts' music program, the quartet Slumgum has played off-center local incubators like the Blue Whale and the Steve Allen Theater's experimental showcase ResBox. Rising out of Rory Cowal's flickering Fender Rhodes keyboard, "Hancho Pancho" expands into a growling storm led by saxophonist Jon Armstrong, and the thoughtful "Afternoon" showcases the band's care with slow-burning acoustic atmosphere. The group dips into rougher waters with the knotty "Puce Over Pumpkin With a Hint of Lime" and an uneven six-pack of songs under the name "Big Fun," but the group's vivid sense of melody and relentless drive for exploration mark it as a quartet to watch.
-- Chris Barton