Jazz thunder at the Stockmarket

LeGrand Rogers, salad slinger extraordinaire

LeGrand Rogers, salad slinger extraordinaire

Dealing with audience sizes in Sacramento is an ongoing challenge for many local venues as well as for local musicians. Nowhere has this issue been so visible than in Sacramento’s jazz scene, where, time and again, great shows are met with mediocre audiences.

But the tide may be turning at last, in large part because of a handful of visionary people and an environment that has proven conducive both to audiences and to musicians. Typical of such visions, this one occurs in a seemingly unlikely place: a steak restaurant off Highway 50 east of Watt Avenue.

The Stockmarket Lounge and Grill, at 8887 Folsom Boulevard, has begun a Sunday evening “Jazz at the Stockmarket” series presenting some of the area’s most successful and talented jazz players, a schedule that includes upcoming shows by the Bruce Kelly Quartet, the Beth Duncan Quintet, the Jim Martinez Trio and the Vivian Lee Quintet. The surprising element, though, is not the venue but the audiences, for the Stockmarket jazz series essentially sells out each Sunday.

So it was last weekend as New Dimensions took the stage, a quintet that brought to the Stockmarket a sound akin to the mid- to late-1960s work of John Coltrane. The source of the thunder could be found in the rhythm section. In a town that boasts several famous jazz drummers (including Mat Marucci, who will be performing with Kelly this Sunday as part of the same series), New Dimensions’ LeGrand Rogers is one of the very best. Rogers performs as if in slow motion, with his arms and hands moving slowly, as though he were doing something as mundane as stirring a salad. But what comes from that stirring is pure crash and thunder—the sound of rocks sliding down a mountainside or of a train rolling down tracks that lead to the edge of a precipice. It is a dirty sound, but it’s perfect for the music, reminding the listener that the smooth, crisp sound of modern jazz is often counter to the feeling of the music, that the swing of jazz ultimately arose from the squalor of urban life.

Freddie “Big Thunder” Williams is the bass player who must follow the mad salad man, and he may very well be the best jazz bassist I have ever heard onstage. The key here is in the delivery: the bass lines walk but are interspersed with tempos that change within tempos, creating lightning-fast runs that remain somehow intelligible, so much so that his bass work is reminiscent of Cannonball Adderley’s sax work, where snippets of melody miraculously find their way into longer, searching sections.

Out front were legendary alto- and tenor-sax man Steve Gundhi, one of the most well-known local performers, and keyboardist John Groves. Gundhi’s alto work was particularly noteworthy, bringing to mind Coltrane’s last recordings, 1967’s Interstellar Space.

The Stockmarket series is a remarkable opportunity to see great jazz in a comfortable dinner environment. Make a reservation, though, because the place tends to fill up quickly. For news on this series, readers should check www.norcaljazz.org or call the Stockmarket at (916) 361-0707.