Christian McBride, Yoshi's, 4/11: disappointing. I've heard him mostly play (really excellently) in straightahead situations, and was curious to hear what he'd do with his own band. It was mostly electric fusiony stuff--the Bitches Brew cover was cool, but much of the rest of it was boring 1-chord jams, and a couple of tunes (including a cover of Sting's "Walking on the Moon") bordered on smooth jazz fuzak. Part of the problem was the cheesy sax player. The keyboardist (Geoffrey Keezer) was the only consistently interesting player in the ensemble--from fun, spacey pads to Herbie-style mile-a-minute soloing.
Scott Amendola, Jazzschool, 4/12: much more interesting. Amendola is one of those drummers who can play pretty much any style and sound unique without being gimmicky. His band's tunes range from simple and soulful to free jazz, but even at their most free and out (which is pretty often), they always hold it together rhythmically without relying on cliche'd grooves. I think it's largely because Amendola and his bassist (Todd Sickafoose) are such great communicators, instantly picking up on each other's rhythmic ideas, and the rest of the ensemble can rely on them to establish the foundation. Even when they're playing more straightahead, both Amendola and Sickafoose also have the rare accompanist's skill of playing melodically, contrapuntally to whatever the soloist is doing, without stomping on him (and without falling into standard comping/walking bass patterns). If you have any taste for non-straightahead jazz at all, check out any of his groups when you get a chance--he plays regularly at Bacar in the city. (Art Hirahara, a great young pianist who used to play regularly with Amendola and Sickafoose before he moved to New York, may be coming out to play with them there in a couple of weeks.)
Elvin Jones Jazz Machine, Yoshi's, 4/15: I was awed by Elvin's gig last year at SFJAZZ--at 75, he can still play circles around younger cats, his band was solid, and they played some interesting and unconventional stuff. (Plus, they were on the same bill as McCoy Tyner, so they got to do "Afro Blue" with him as an encore, which was a beautiful reunion.) This time around, Elvin's band stuck to standards, and I have to admit I wasn't as impressed. It might have been an off night, but I felt the band wasn't quite as tight, and they played everything, well, really standardly. (I think the bassist was different last year, which may account for part of it.) There were a couple of standouts, though--pianist Anthony Wonsey's energetic solo on Tunisia, and saxophonist Pat LaBarbera's overall sound (heavily influenced by Coltrane--maybe a bit too much so, but still more interesting than the other sax player, Mark Shim). It was the first night of a weeklong engagement at Yoshi's (I couldn't go any other night), so they may get into better form over the next few days.
(No, I'm not usually this good about going out to see live music. It just happened to be a good weekend for it.)