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Straight, No Chaser

The most underground music in Houston right now isn't rap or indie rock...it's jazz.

The evening's repertoire encompassed standards like "April in Paris" and George Gershwin's "Fascinatin' Rhythm" and originals like the Monk-inspired swift blues of "Sphere of Influence," which Noise especially enjoyed. Whether speeding up for a McCoy Tyner tune or slowing down for Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin," York, bassist Anthony Casares and drummer Sebastian Whittaker played with the agility, interplay and nuance of seasoned professionals — and the enthusiasm of serious fans.

But however much you may know or not know about jazz, musicians like York's trio are just fun to watch. One kid who couldn't have been more than 23 years old had eyes as wide as dinner plates studying Whittaker's brushes sliding across the snare. Noise understands, because as a former bassist ourselves, we spent a good portion of the set watching Casares's fingers hopscotching over the strings.

By the time we left, Cézanne was packed, with all the seats spoken for and the bar two or three people deep. The club itself is at a bit of a crossroads, as saxophonist Woody Witt hands over the booking reins he's handled for the better part of a decade to another local jazz musician, guitarist Mike Wheeler, after this weekend's Bobby Lyle shows — in a bit of syncopation any jazz fan can appreciate, both men will be in Lyle's backing band (see "Playbill").

But Cézanne, which is only open Friday and Saturday nights, has a lot of company. On the edge of the Third Ward, Smitty's near MacGregor and 288 hosts jams on Mondays and Wednesdays, while Heights patio cafe King Biscuit (see "The Nightfly") does the same Tuesdays. Furthermore, Witt says longtime local guitarist Joe Carmouche is close to reopening Legends Jazz Café just north of Buffalo Bayou downtown, and will add Thursdays to the mix once that happens.

Realizing a kind of music a lot of people gave up for dead years ago is not only surviving but, in its own way, thriving on a grass-roots level — and with a fraction of the media attention given to, say, the local hip-hop and indie-rock scenes — is both surprising and gratifying. And considering our own blossoming appreciation for jazz, however belated it may be, the timing couldn't be better.

For both Cézanne and local jazz in general,we'll be back for more. Soon.

chris.gray@houstonpress.com

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