On a recent Glendale night, the customary cold stillness of the 1100 block North Pacific Avenue in Glendale was agreeably jostled. At about 9, the warm sounds emerging from the Neat Bar doorway added welcome vitality to the commercial street that bisects placid residential blocks.
Singer and keyboardist Dave Damiani has initiated a Wednesday jazz series at the Neat, making it a hospitable destination for listeners and musicians alike. After opening with guitarist Nick Mancini and vocalist Gina Saputo, Damiani brought his own Jazzadelics band in. The music, the fine musicians, the easy atmosphere and the well-stocked bar make Wednesday night jazz at the Neat a scene with the potential of becoming a real scene.
Damiani met Neat owner Aidan Demerest when they both tended bar at the Hotel Sofitel in Los Angeles. Demerest had the ability to create innovative mixed drinks, which he's carried over to Neat.
This is a bar for people who view drinking alcohol as an adventure. Want a cocktail made with single-malt scotch? Mixologist Arash Pakzad will give you samples of three top-quality brands: Black Bottle, Benromach and Cardhu. Make a choice and he'll put together something to your order. Neat serves drinks on quaint wooden planks with recesses routed-out for drinks and mixers. Sit bar-side long enough and you'll catch the smells of basil, lemon rind and fresh-cut cucumber.
The Jazzadelics convene in the back of the long, narrow room, and Damiani sits in the middle of this intergenerational band. Veteran master guitarist Barry Zweig is a harmonic and melodic treasure, spinning out melodic lines. Young bassist-singer Katie Thiroux and drummer Matt Witek (each working on master's degrees at Cal State Long Beach) provide the supple yet strong bottom end of the rhythm section.
Their book is full of standards: Great American Songbook fare, show tunes and jazz anthems. Time and again, the choices skirted the obvious yet mined fine material: “Don't Be on the Outside,” “I'm Old-Fashioned,” Matt Dennis' “Everything Happens to Me,” “How Little We Know” and Bobby Hebb's “Sunny.” Damiani's retooled Angeleno lyrics to “Come Fly With Me” brought smiles: “… in Dodgerland there's a taco stand....”
It's a fine quartet with many virtues. Zweig's hollow-body Ibanez — played with a flat plectrum or a thumb-pick — is unfailingly tasty, with lyrical flourishes. Damiani is an agreeable singer but his KORG keyboard turns into a Hammond B3 on the swinging “Sunny.” He's also an engaging frontman, whose own “The World is Against Me” is a gently comic pity party.
The young players portend great things. Witek is a meticulous yet flexible drummer. He administers the pulse yet embellishes with small but meaningful touches: a metal brush handle scraped across the diameter of a cymbal on Frank Foster's “Shiny Stockings,” or harmonized cymbal bell taps to Miles Davis' “If I Were a Bell,” intro reveal careful attention to detail and vocabulary.
Thiroux plays contrabass with a firm and nimble touch. She phrases her solo on “Outside” as a horn player might, complete with breathing spaces. She also sings in a lyrical, Chet Baker manner, leavened by a swing sensibility. She's overly reliant on scatting, something she'll probably outgrow. As Thiroux studies privately with bass giant John Clayton and Witek with Clayton's musical brother, ace drummer Jeff Hamilton, they're a musical team that functions together admirably.
Wednesdays at Neat hold many pleasant surprises indeed.
KIRK SILSBEE writes on jazz and culture for Marquee.
Neat Jazz Series, Wednesday nights at Neat Bar, 1114 Pacific Ave., Glendale; (818) 241-4542, www.neatbar.com.