It could be a scene culled from a classic detective picture: Masked by shadows, a tall man, clad in a trench coat and a tough-guy fedora, strides down a dark alley. Bouncy jazz plays in the background. Our hard-boiled hero finds a door and pushes.
Inside, he passes his hat and coat to the bartender, steps onto a brightly lit stage, nods to the band, grabs a saxophone, and announces in a slow, low, velvety voice, "And now we go into the land of the sun. And the sand. And the sand dunes. And the heat. And the hush. And the quiet. And the sssh. And it's night in Tunisia." He pauses and says "Tunisia" again, elongating each syllable: "Tooo-kneee-shaah." After a spurt of applause, the snaky bass riff to the bop classic "A Night in Tunisia" starts. Dexter Gordon begins to blow.
And I was riveted. I spent the weekend watching the rest of Dexter Gordon Live in '63 and '64 and the other six DVDs in the current batch of the Jazz Icons series, which collects live performances by Dexter Gordon, Wes Montgomery, Sarah Vaughan, Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, and Dave Brubeck.
Filmed in Belgium, Sweden, Norway, and other European countries during the late 1950s and mid-1960s, the sound quality is surprisingly fine and technical glitches (slipped frames, striated drop outs) rare. Many of the black-and-white videos, especially in Wes Montgomery Live in '65 and Charles Mingus Live in '64 look pristine, easily rendering the grainy bootlegs that crop up on YouTube and Google video obsolete. My only complaint is that the first chapter of every disc starts with a brief blip of the Jazz Icons logo, something viewers only need to see once. Nonetheless, there's not a dud in this amazing series—highly recommended.
Not just another jam band, this trio updates the old grits 'n' soul organ combo by coupling moody atmospheres reminiscent of In a Silent Way—era Miles Davis with the drum 'n' bass—inspired chattering of percussionist KJ Sawka. Oh, and they've backed longtime compadre and American Idol finalist Blake Lewis, too. Moist Cupcake, the improv comedy project of YouTube cult darling Ethan Newberry, opens. The Triple Door, 216 Union St, 838-4333, 8 pm, $12/$15.
PONY BOY RECORDS JAZZ PICNIC
A boon for jazz fans with early bedtimes, this all-day minifestival boasts a winning roster, including the Monk tribute outfit Monkstone Theocracy, the Jim Cutler Jazz Orchestra, and Vern Sielert's Dektett. Singers Carolyn Graye and Karen Shivers as well as the excellent Susan Pascal on vibraphone, bassist Buddy Catlett, pianist Dawn Clement, and a dozen or so other musicians also join in the fun. Don't fear the sprawl of Sand Point; listen for the music, the picnic is easy to find. Sand Point Magnuson Park Garden Amphitheatre, 7400 Sand Point Way NE, noon—5 pm, free.
PUGH & GOLD MOLINA
Composer Chris Pugh, a guitarist blessed with a questing ear for prickly sonorities and a breathtaking knowledge of the European avant-garde, duets with pugnacious out-jazz drummer Jack Gold Molina. Despite seemingly disparate backgrounds, both seek to play orchestrally, treating their respective instruments as instigators of melodic, rhythmic, timbral, and harmonic turbulence. Sureshot Espresso, 4505 University Way NE, 632-3100, 2—4 pm, free.
NORTHWEST MAHLER ORCHESTRA
Can this truly be the Seattle premiere of Olivier Messiaen's monumental Turangalîla Symphony? In any case, this is yet another reminder that the Seattle Symphony's Gerry Schwarz has avoided symphonic works by many top-drawer "difficult" composers of the 20th century such as Lachenmann, Ligeti, Xenakis, and Boulez as well as relative newcomers like Olga Neuwirth and Matthias Pintscher. With the Seattle Creative Orchestra in hibernation, our burg needs an orchestra—and a wealthy patron—devoted to orchestral music that other bands won't touch or even try. Anyway, don't miss this performance. Composed in the late 1940s, the Gershwin-gone-gamelan of Turangalîla combines chugging jazzy harmonies, glittery orchestral textures, and the eerie wail of a seldom-seen electronic instrument, the ondes Martenot, into a massive 10-movement meditation on time, love, and rhythm. Thomas Bloch is the soloist on the ondes Martenot, which sounds like a lush, thicker theremin due to its specially designed speaker resonators. Benaroya Hall, 200 University St, 800-838-3006, 7 pm, $18—$45.
DAVE PECK TRIO
This fine straight-ahead jazz pianist plans to roll tape at this gig for a forthcoming live album. Also Wed Sept 12. Jazz Alley, 2033 Sixth Ave, 441-9729, sets at 7:30 and 9 pm, $20.50.
A straightforward singer, Pettis doesn't inscribe her phrases with tricky wordplay. Instead, she sings her repertory of standards and R&B favorites with an open, often tender simplicity. Here, she celebrates the release of her CD May I Come In? (Origin). Tula's, 2214 Second Ave, 443-4221, 8 pm—midnight, $10.