When it comes to the music scene, pre-pandemic normalcy is still elusive, as the virus’ toll on venues, artists and gigs continues to disrupt the playing field. But one sign that long-suppressed creative impulses are busting out again is the sudden ubiquity of Berkeley-reared trumpeter Erik Jekabson, who’s finishing 2021 with a brilliant run of collaborations.
Mild mannered and not given to blowing his own horn, Jekabson is the Bay Area jazz scene’s Clark Kent, a triple threat as an arranger, composer and improviser who reveals his superpowers whenever he picks up his horn. He celebrates the release of The Silver Fox, a double album by the Arterik Quartet recorded live at the Hillside Club in 2012, with a series of gigs, playing Friday at San Jose’s Art Boutiki, Saturday at Piedmont Piano Company in Oakland, and Monday at San Francisco’s Bird & Beckett Books and Records.
Co-led by piano great Art Lande, an underground jazz giant long based in Boulder who ran a pioneering jazz school in Berkeley in the 1970s, the group features bassist Peter Barshay and drummer Alan Hall. Jekabson connected with Lande at Jazz Camp West the year before they recorded the album, and was thrilled when Lande invited him to join the longstanding ensemble with Barshay and Hall.
With the first disc focusing on Jekabson’s tunes and Lande rounding up the material for the second set, the album is consistently engaging, marked by Lande’s puckish sense of humor and Jekabson’s thick, bronzed tone and quick-witted reactions. Barshay and Hall’s supple pulse keeps the narratives flowing while suggesting other plot lines.
“We can play anything,” Lande said. “It’s fun and relaxed and things can go any direction.”
“It was our first concert we did together, ever,” said Jekabson, who graduated from Berkeley High in 1991. “I really felt a lot of confidence that Art was making me co-leader. I’m bringing in my tunes in, too. I’m totally happy this music is out there, with all the excitement and energy. I’m really proud of it.”
The founder and guiding director of the 17-piece Electric Squeezebox Orchestra, Jekabson won’t be joining that group when it returns to the California Jazz Conservatory on Sunday afternoon for the CJC’s first concert that’s also available via livestream. Baritone saxophonist Charlie Gurke will be running the show in his place, as Jekabson is playing saxophonist Michael O’Neill’s quintet at the SFJAZZ Center’s Joe Henderson Lab for two shows Nov. 14 with vocalist Tony Lindsay (a confident R&B-inflected crooner who spent more than two decades performing in Santana).
Jekabson will be back at the ESO’s helm when the group performs the music Remy LeBoeuf at the Sound Room Nov. 20, a rare opportunity for the Santa Cruz-raised, Brooklyn-based saxophonist/composer to present his orchestral Assembly of Shadows. After earning two Grammy nominations with the band’s eponymous 2019 debut release, LeBoeuf recently followed up with the gorgeous Architecture of Storms, a project that will likely earn another bout of attention from Grammy voters.
“It’s super well written and he’s got the very best young players in New York,” Jekabson said. “It’s going to be really inspiring and challenging for us. It’s like the big band writing I’d like to do — subtle, intricate and very melodic, challenging and fun music with classical and minimalist influences.”
Jekabson also plays a four-night run of holiday shows with his New Orleans Sextet featuring Kenny Washington at the SFJAZZ Center’s Joe Henderson Lab Dec. 16-19. The group is designed to showcase Washington, the sensational vocalist described by the San Francisco Chronicle as “the Superman of the Bay Area jazz scene,” which raises the intriguing scenario of Clark Kent and the Man of Steel playing the same gig. They’re joined by a world-class cast of players, including veteran trombonist Danny Armstrong, Rob Barics on clarinet and tenor sax, Rob Reich on piano and accordion, bassist Josh Thurston-Milgrom, and inveterately funky drummer Deszon Claiborne.
Widely revered by his peers, Washington finally started gaining recognition outside the Bay Area last year with his first studio album under his own name, What’s the Hurry?, which earned him a Grammy nomination. Jekabson lived in New Orleans for four years in the latter half of the 1990s after he graduated from Oberlin, and he’s found a kindred spirit in Washington, “who’s from New Orleans and really knows that whole tradition,” Jekabson said.
“I’ve been doing that New Orleans thing with Kenny for almost 10 years and the band is continuously evolving. Rob Barics is so great on clarinet and Rob Reich knows that older style really well. Both guys help me do arrangements, and I’m thinking we’ll do some Christmas tunes with some tight ensemble stuff. But we like to have some pieces that are really loose too, in that free-wheeling New Orleans style.”
Art Lande’s cult following
Free-wheeling is a good way to describe the Arterik Quartet with Art Lande, an artist who deserves an alcove in the Berkeley Hall of Fame. A New York City native who never felt suited to big city life, he lit out for the West after studying music at Williams College, arriving in the Bay Area in the summer of 1969. “I remember crossing the Bay Bridge for the first time and I was heaven,” he said.
Lande and his wife settled in Fremont, near her job, and he set about breaking into the Bay Area jazz scene. Drum maestro Eddie Marshall took a shine to him and helped get him established. Within a couple of years he was playing with post-bop masters such as tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson and trumpeter Woody Shaw.
He first made a mark as a bandleader with his Quintet, a band that featured electric bassist Steve Swallow, trumpeter Tom Harrell, saxophonist Mel Martin and drummer Eliot Zigmund (who left to join the Bill Evans Trio after the pianist came out to hear Lande’s group several times). “That was cool, I was really happy for Eliot,” Lande said. “Bill loved hearing me, and we used to open for him all the time at the Great American Music Hall.”
He established a strong presence in Europe on his first trip there when he recorded his debut album for ECM, the 1973 duo project Red Lanta with Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek. It was the same year that he moved to Berkeley, and while based in the East Bay he continued to record for ECM, earning a cult following with his mid-1970s quartet Rubisa Patrol featuring bassist Bill Douglass and trumpeter Mark Isham (now a prolific Hollywood composer). Always ready to form new musical friendships, he went on to collaborate with pioneering artists like bassist Gary Peacock and Oregon’s oboist, bass clarinetist and soprano saxophonist Paul McCandless (with whom Lande performs in Healdsburg at the Paul Mahder Gallery Nov. 20-21).
Teaching out of his Berkeley house, he attracted a dedicated core of students and eventually a staff of 15 teachers. “We charged five dollars a class,” Lande said. But by 1981 he was looking for a steadier income, and took a job at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. A few years later he was recruited to teach at a jazz school in St. Gallen, Switzerland, and by 1987 he’d joined the faculty at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, where he’s lived ever since.
Lande shared many of his thoughts on music and creativity in a book he co-wrote with saxophonist/flutist Mark Miller, Being Music: The Art of Open Improvisation. Always ready for a musical adventure, “I live the same I play,” he said. “The book is about how music connects to how we live. I talk a lot about sports and teamwork. Mark talks about Buddhism. It’s a really sweet book that describes how we approach music and how we approach life.”