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Jazz review: Todd Sickafoose's Tiny Resistors at the Hammer

August 5, 2011 |  2:12 pm

Just as there are punk fans who swear the music isn't the same outside of a sweaty club, there's a fleeting pang of concern that comes with considering a free outdoor jazz concert. Musical nuances can be swallowed by wide-open spaces if the mix isn't right, audience attentions can wander (even more so if there's a bar) and a performance can quickly and unfairly drift into background music.

Which is why the Hammer Museum deserves ample credit for its JazzPOP series, which kicked off its sixth year Thursday night with Todd Sickafoose's Tiny Resistors. Not only does the Hammer's courtyard offer an ideal setting on a cool Southern California night with its scattering of trees and multimedia displays along the periphery, but the evening's sound had every bit of the punch and subtlety of a club or theater show.

Of course, none of this matters if the music doesn't measure up, and eclectic bassist Sickafoose certainly delivered. Keeping with the series' forward-looking philosophy that has previously counted Mary Halvorson and Bennie Maupin among its bookings, Sickafoose delivered a taut mix of jazz, lush Americana and Eastern textures drawn from his band's excellent 2008 album, released on the local label Cryptogramophone.

Following the bawdy lead of trumpeter Ara Anderson, the group swerved through the bluesy "Paper Trombones," which featured violinist Jenny Scheinman sawing through a biting, lyrical solo at the song's climax. With guitarist Jonathan Goldberger capturing a chiming tone that pointed to the influence of Bill Frisell's countrypolitan jazz, the group frequently tapped into a breezy sort of chamber-jazz drive that seemed built for wide-open summer spaces.

Conversely, the sprawling "Everyone Is Going" aimed directly for the outer limits. Ebbing and flowing in a way that meshed with Jennifer Steinkamp's animation of a tree endlessly cycling through four seasons just over Sickafoose's shoulder, the band tangled through a maze of unconventional patterns underscored by woozy keyboard splashes from Erik Deutsch, who teamed with Scheinman for a single-note refrain at the song's cathartic peak that sounded like a distant satellite's call. Later Sickafoose slapped out a rhythm atop his strings and the body of his bass during "Bye Bye Bees," which rose out of bent guitar drive from Goldberger into a spacious sort of funk.

Gesturing to a place he lived nearby with hard-hitting drummer Mark Ferber, Sickafoose said near the night's close how thrilled he was to be back in his former home with a great band in tow. Luckily for jazz fans, he'll be back next month as part of the Angel City Jazz Festival at REDCAT. Chances are it will sound just as good inside as out.


JazzPOP brings new sounds to the Hammer

Jazz icons to play for free at Irvine's Great Park

Critic's Notebook: Adding some edge to the Hollywood Bowl jazz season

-- Chris Barton

Photo: Todd Sickafoose's Tiny Resistors onstage at the Hammer with (from left) Erik Deutsch, Jonathan Goldberger, Ara Anderson, Mark Ferber, Jenny Scheinman and Todd Sickafoose.  Credit: Chris Barton.