Secret Sunday jazz attack

It is a Sunday night in August and the summer will not yet release its hold on Sacramento. Cars move lazily down J Street. Insects fly in the streetlight glow.

You are thirsty and so it is you find yourself standing in front of a building you once new as Café Paris. The sign now reads “Café Mexicas.” The streets around you seem to be suddenly imbued with sound, a rolling, rattling sound that seems to be coming from inside.

Inside you order a beer and when it reaches your hand you turn and survey your new surroundings. The place is a small, dark Mexican restaurant. The chairs are all turned towards the small stage backed up against the front windows. The audience nods in appreciation. Many of them cradle horns on their laps, occasionally tonguing the reed in anticipation. From the stage: quick bursts of saxophone and the staccato rat-tat-tat of drums, the swish of a cymbal, the thump of the bass, a flurry of piano notes. The band begins an arrangement of Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia.” The drums bring in the song’s complex rhythmic structure. Several audience members rise and help with the melodic horn-line. Then the solos begin. The first is Clark Goodloe, longtime jazz veteran. Goodloe’s saxophone stays in the mid-range, running its lines between the higher piano and the lower bass, working out its own space. Piano next: Eric Tillman, the evening’s bandleader. A slow run, keeping the chordal structure of the piece intact, working through its rhythms. Pushing the song along.

Then comes Aaron Thurman, sax player for Sacramento-area jazz regulars the Sardonics. Thurman begins slow, moving his instrument into its own space in the rolling structure of the piece. Then something happens. It is as if something has become unhinged. A door. A wall. The ceiling. The notes begin to rise, begin to break apart the song’s structure, to reinvent it. The notes screech and circle and spiral and squeal. The piano falls silent. Bass continues to thump. Drums punch and swerve. The squeal of the saxophone is maddening and brilliant at all once. A crescendo. Then stop. The audience applauds. Thurman nods politely, and then sits at the edge of the stage. You are in awe.

The piece wraps. The audience is smiling. You are smiling. Tillman swings the microphone over to his mouth. “For those of you who don’t know,” he says, “this is the All Stars Jam, because we’re all stars here. We do this every Sunday night.” He flips through his chart book, looking for the next song.

Every Sunday night? You’ll be there. The beer is cold and the jazz is hot. What more can you ask for on a Sunday night? You find an empty chair and settle in for the next number. Wayne Shorter. Chick Corea. You are home.

Café Mexicas is located at 2326 K St. The “Jazz Jam” is held every Sunday night at 7 p.m. Admission is free. Bring your instrument.

Coming Up: The first anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks will be a heavy event by any standards. In the midst of media coverage and speeches will be a musical response that should be incredible: the Capital Jazz Project at Waterford Park (Front and L streets) in Old Sacramento. CJP will be performing two sets, the first a tribute to Clifford Brown and Max Roach, the second a performance of a piece commissioned by Capital Public Radio to commemorate 9/11. The show starts at 6 p.m.