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Los Angeles has its share of jazz musicians deserving wider recognition, many of whom were denied the high profile more readily available in Gotham’s jazz epicenter. Horace Tapscott, John Carter and Bobby Bradford spring to mind. Add to that list the sleek, understated pianist Bobby West, as evidenced by the jazz veteran’s ear-friendly new trio album Leimert Park After Dark.
West — who spent 30 years living and performing abroad and continues to do so when he’s not on his home turf — is a proud product of the historic Leimert Park area of inner-city Los Angeles, a haven for black arts and culture. The jazz nucleus of the neighborhood was the small but mighty World Stage. Drummer Billy Higgins, an L.A. native, presided over the venue for years, and it nurtured young, now-famed lions such as Kamasi Washington, Thundercat and Terrace Martin.
Yet the Leimert Park scene and sound isn’t necessarily congruent with West’s clean-burning approach and light, easily propulsive touch. Serving its documentary function, the album — recorded in fellow L.A. keyboardist Wayne Peet’s KillZone studio — includes false starts and an organically flowing energy in the studio. In his cohesive piano trio, his allies are longtime L.A. bassist of choice Jeffrey Littleton and drummer Daniel Bejarano. West also stretches out solo and in a wistful, reverberant space on “Lullaby of the Leaves.” On the title cut, a driving swing evokes the intimate atmosphere of a good night at The World Stage.
West brings his alternately elegant, witty and sometimes wily approach to a variety of tunes, from the amiable urgency of “Get Set” to the quirky, Monk-ish “Do Do’s Revenge/Einbahnstrasse.” He nods to the influence of Abdullah Ibrahim on “Song for Abdullah,” and on “I Used To Be Loose,” a blues with punches pulled and angles plotted, West breezes gently-but-firmly atop the changes. He’s in no hurry to blow or impress, which is partly what makes him so unpretentiously impressive. — Josef Woodard