Six-thirty p.m. is both an unusual and auspicious time to play live music that doesn’t involve a church or a county fair. It is the proscribed conventional wisdom that night time is the right time for jazz, rock and anything else that could potentially upset the balance of modern life and of quiet digestion. It’s a blatantly nonsensical tradition because free expression doesn’t keep the hours that everyone expects it to. Why shove the music to the shadows when having it framed by the daylight streaming through the windows of a concert hall is infinitely more invigorating?
And so it is on this early Saturday that the Doug Webb Group takes the tiny tiny stage at Squashed Grapes in Ventura — a stage the size of which puts it in the fine tradition of the intimate jazz clubs Webb haunts these days. The Baked Potato. Catalina Jazz. The Blue Note in New York City. These are cozy venues bordering on cramped and sweltering, at times, full of insanely great players that you’d never expect to show up at a vintner’s at 6:30 p.m. on an August night. Theirs is a jazz that is bristling with both sparkling technique and chops galore. Admittedly, the results vary wildly; sometimes you get the grit of a pre-shout Miles Davis; other times, you get the smoothness of chocolate cheesecake.
Saxophonist Webb takes the stage by downpour in this outpouring of jazz excellence, along with bassist Jimmy Earl, Mitch Forman on piano and Danny Carey of Tool on drums, making the wine bottles rattle, leaving them ringing, singing in their wake as they start with the 1972 Freddie Hubbard song “Povo,” ambling through it with crystalline vim in all its laidback splendor.
Forman’s electric piano summoning bygone seasons of the ’70s, sunset breaking through the smog of that time to the clearer skies of this. It’s all carried off with spectacular alacrity, even if in the beginning Webb’s sax runs roughshod over the acoustics of the space, volume hitting hard until it squashes some grapes of its own. There’s nimble interplay between the rhythm section even as the group launches into “In a Silent Way,” a number that brims with joy and musicianship as Webb switches to baritone sax and practically free-falls into its swinging embrace. No glory hog he, Webb holds back on multiple occasions to let the rest of the group shine, coming back in at just the right moments, deus ex jazz machina for all the wonder and thunderous applause he evokes.
There are only a few hard-core Tool fans here but they mesh well with the staunchly devoted jazz fans in this standing-room-only crowd that eats and drinks with as much gusto as they experience the experience Webb delivers here. Another Hubbard track, 1970’s “Mr. Clean,” rings out now, again with Forman’s gently doomed electric piano stylings, and there is at one point a shriek that rises up from Webb’s saxophone that comes on like that scene in John Carpenter’s “The Thing” in which Kurt Russell lights up that shape-shifting severed head with a flamethrower. That is to say: He kills it. And it’s moments like this — in jazz as it is in art, as it is in movies — that you remember. It’s what you talk about later. You mull it over. It’s what moves you. It’s what makes you remember. The Doug Webb Group in this one rarefied passage brings the now and the past together in that singular way that only the best moments of jazz can do.