The spirit of Trane

Jazz continues to be difficult to uncover in Sacramento. Despite the presence of the relatively new Northern California Modern Jazz Association and its events calendar (, audiences continue to be sparse at jazz shows. This problem is endemic for jazz in general. Jazz-oriented major labels such as EMI-owned Blue Note have cut all but their top-selling artists (Norah Jones has been that label’s savior this past year), and jazz shows seem to attract small audiences for all but the most famous performers. Can you name one new jazz artist from this year? Sadly, few can.

One of the reasons may be that the “popular” side of jazz has morphed into the god-awful new-age demons of Yanni and John Tesh on the one hand, and the equally abhorrent demon of smooth jazz, Kenny G, on the other. Given these choices, it is no wonder audiences have turned their heads in disgust.

At some level, this may be understandable, considering the heights to which jazz has come. Through the modal jazz of Miles Davis and John Coltrane and on to the free jazz of Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy and others, it sometimes seems jazz has gone just about as far as any one type of music can go.

Well, it is time that assumption was proved wrong. In spite of that kind of dour thinking, Ross Hammond, the guitarist for local jazz combo the Sardonics, has organized what appears to be Sacramento’s only free-jazz jam.

Grounded in a core rhythm section called the Ism Trio (composed of Hammond, Tom Monson on drums and Chris Fedosky on bass), the jam begins merely with a phrase or idea, sometimes begun by the bassist and sometimes by a visiting horn player or a sit-in drummer. From that moment of inception, the piece grows, changes, folds in on itself and morphs into something entirely new and improvised. The effect hearkens back to the free-jazz pioneers of the 1960s and is, when on the mark, a beautiful thing to behold.

At the last event, Tony Passarell (alto sax) and Scott Anderson (tenor sax) adeptly worked through a number of perplexing, interesting and completely improvised pieces. Another standout was Jack Stanfill, who sat in on the drum kit for an improvised tune that was akin to a free-jazz rendition of Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit.”

The evening’s only disappointment was in the turnout, which was negligible. More musicians (and musicians with more diverse instruments to draw from) and a larger, open-minded audience, could make these evenings truly memorable and would serve to raise Sacramento jazz to a new level. What we have here is an egg; given the right attention, perhaps a full-fledged free-jazz scene will hatch from it.

The event is held the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month at Luna’s Café, 1414 16th Street; note that the jam will not be held on February 12 because of a conflicting event, so the next jam is February 26. For the solid musicianship and because it is the only strictly free-jazz jam in the area, the event is certainly worth your attention.