Critic's Choice

The ''Houston jazz scene'' may be an oxymoron. The improvisation specialists who call Bayou City home are few, and only a handful of those players dare to deal with the hassles of club gigs. That's one reason why the small band of really dedicated jazzers in town pop up on-stage so often.

Familiarity, though, can breed boredom (if not contempt), and that's where creative packaging helps. No other jazz club in town has been as creative as Cezanne, where impresario/lawyer/pianist Ken Ward runs the show, but Ward will be the first to admit he didn't come up with this Friday's concept: the Music of Houston Composers. Pianist Joe LoCascio invented that one.

Perhaps it's a survival thing for LoCascio; after all, he's one of the familiar regulars. But whatever the reason, it's a terrific idea. LoCascio's trio, featuring drummer Tim Solook and bassist Dave Nichols, will eschew the usual standards in favor of music by Houston composers such as trumpeter Dennis Dotson, saxophonist Warren Sneed and pianists Paul English and the late Dave Catney.

LoCascio, of course, is extremely familiar with English's work, an eclectic songbook that includes traditional jazz pieces as well as chamber-jazz works. The pianists have been friends for longer than they care to admit. They even performed and composed together in a band back in 1982.

As for Catney, his work should be familiar courtesy of the three discs he did for Justice Records. The pianist died last year from AIDS-related complications shortly after releasing his most critically acclaimed CD, the solo piano work Reality Road.

But the real find of the Houston Composers evening may well be Dennis Dotson. He's already known as the first-call trumpeter in Houston, a musician whose resume includes gigs with big bands and avant-garde ensembles, but he hasn't made as much impact as a composer. That, LoCascio says, may be because Dotson isn't particularly prolific. But the few tunes he has written, LoCascio notes, "are very strong."

Naturally, LoCascio won't let the evening slip by without performing a few of his own tunes. This transplanted New Yorker, after all, has been earning his keep in Houston long enough to call it home (even if the East Coast accent remains). LoCascio has recorded a handful of albums, mostly fusion-oriented projects, but last year, he released his first-ever acoustic trio session, Silent Motion, featuring bassist John Adams and drummer Ed Soph. It showcased the pianist's knack for constructing inviting sonic playgrounds, where, as a soloist, he could explore all the hidden alleyways. On Friday the attraction will be to see how well those alleyways work in somebody else's playground.

-- Tim Carman

The Music of Houston Composers, presented by the Joe LoCascio Trio, at 9 p.m. Friday, June 23, at Cezanne, 4100 Montrose. Tickets are $8. For info, call 522-9621.