In the lobby of Shutters, a hotel on the beach in Santa Monica, I walked passed an empty drum set and grand piano and entered the dining room without too much of a second thought. Someone had recommended this spot to enjoy a special meal in a great atmosphere with some jazz as a plus. I didn’t have high hopes for the music. Too often “hotel lobby jazz” gigs are recipes for musical disasters, nonmythic in proportion yet quite annoying One can hear musicians from the burnt out to the simply uninterested. Touristy flat interpretations of well-worn jazz standards are what one can usually find in hotel lobbies and even some jazz clubs, unfortunately. What a knockout to find something hot and creative.
The group that took the makeshift bandstand comprised pianist Ron Avant and the aptly named “Supa Lowery Brothers,” trumpeter Chris on trumpet and his twin brother Wes on drums. Together the trio pressed out an acoustic set so enjoyable that I stayed until they quit. Their refreshing take on a broad range of unlikely songs from pop, hip hop, R&B, New Jack Swing, neo-soul, and jazz standards by the Isley Brothers, Jay-Z, R. Kelley, Freddie Hubbard, the Jackson 5, Digital Underground, and others satisfied the soul. I could never have dreamed that some of their chosen repertoire would work as vehicles for dynamic improvised interpretations. But these gentlemen twisted and turned their song list inside out and upside-down with buoyant spirit and thoughtfulness.
Wes played brushes the entire evening (this was the lobby, after all, and well, you know the complaint department) but you could still feel the rhythmic fire. Chris carried front line duties with ample dexterity, playing familiar melodies with just enough discipline for ease of recognition but with improvisations that explored just how far one could take things within idiomatic stability. Ron Avant’s piano approach infused jazz, gospel, hip-hop, and R&B gestures with ease. His left-hand was so amply charged with rock solid bass lines and flush accompanying harmonies, the Lowery brothers informed me that Avant had actually named it. (Forgive me, I’m better with faces than names but it sounded like a kid’s imaginary friend). Their first recordings are available on iTunes—sly and polished original compositions sweeping across the same stylistic spectrum of their live set. Musicians of this generation from their hometown of Philadelphia are known for this kind of musical code switching. Indeed, the land of hard bop, neo soul, spoken word, and conscious rap continues to produce gifted musicians who dare to ignore the jazz cops’ yellow tape so diligently policed by record labels and pundits. They were excited to announce their upcoming CD release. I’d love to write the liner notes. It’s easy to discuss quality.