Miles ahead at happy hour

As documentary kingpin Ken Burns is currently explaining in his all-out marketing tour-de-force this month, jazz is individually epiphanic and freeing, yet communal and binding in its ensemble nature. And, importantly, it was birthed down south in New Orleans, up from the “cradle of the blues.” So it is logical and timely that Sacramento’s best blues joint, the Torch Club at 904 15th St., offers up essential entrée to a wilder weekend life with its open-ended “Jazz on the Happy Hour” every Friday from 4–7 p.m.

Leading the ever-growing second line to good music (and cheaper drinks and free appetizers) is Sacramento’s newest jazz trio, 31 Fingers, fronted by Gerry Pineda, the well-known local gem of a bassist. (Do any of you musicians from the late 1970s out there remember the Pineda Institute of Psycho-Musicology?) Pineda schooled heavily in both jazz and classical ("Hey, Bach swings like a @%*!%!*#!!") while living in Ohio and later in California, first on piano, then bass. As in many households, the mid-'60s Beatles invasion put the sexier lead guitar in the hands of the older brother, who then pushed the bass guitar to the kid brother. The sibling one-upmanship was all Pineda needed. “I figured if that was going to be my instrument, I would get as good as I could get.” It shows—his playing on the fretless bass is nuanced, powerful and very melodic.

Pineda’s musical cohorts—Larry Burkhart on guitar and Eric Crownover on drums—are truly tasteful players, balancing lyrical Coltrane and Miles styles, slinky samba and bossa nova with standards where all three improvise (it’s great to be able to call out “ Body and Soul” or “Waltz for Debby” from your seat at the bar and get the wink). They also deliver on some intelligent Burkhart originals that reveal his allegiance and affection for Bill Evans and Jim Hall.

Burkhart, originally from the jazz mecca of Chicago, is well-known among Sacramento musicians; he grew up in jazz digs with both parents in music and the music business. Crownover is a smooth and fast study under these two; his early background is in rock and fusion. (He’s currently in Mind X with Pineda and is an ex-member of Rhythm School, the Earwigs and Head Go Boom.) Tenor saxophonist Aaron Thurman occasionally jumps in, and the overall result is something all live music clubs should take note of—people on both sides of the stage having a swingin’ good time.

31 Fingers—so who’s got the extra digit? Crownover explains in Zen-like jazzspeak, “It is the finger within all of us, or at least some of us. Anyway, it’s ideal finger, the image of fingerness, you see. Wait, OK, it’s like there’s this finger and it’s not a real finger like it belongs to anybody but so like it could be a real finger but that wouldn’t be the same … “ Pineda, channeling his childhood, sings, “Six finger, six finger, man alive, how did I ever get along with five!!”

Sounds like perfect Sun Ra to me.