Playbill

Wouldn't it be cool to chill with hizzoner at the Mayor's Jazz Brunch? It's easy to imagine Lee Brown as a smooth jazz cat. Okay, so at $75, it is the most expensive event at the Houston International Jazz Festival. But this year's Jazz Brunch is an opportunity to rub shoulders with all those contractors who have pitched in big bucks to the mayor's campaign war chest and who also happen to be big fans of Bubbha Thomas (It's All About Style). It will be interesting to see which other City councilmembers show up. Who, after all, wouldn't want to hear homey Ronnie Laws perform with the Summer Jazz Workshop All-Stars?

For those who were never enticed by the Jazz Fest's outdoor setting in August, you'll be happy to note that this year's version unfolds over three days in the air-conditioned comfort of the Aerial Theater. Friday's bill features smooth-jazz guitarist Ken Navarro with saxophonist Nelson Rangell and drummer Thomas. On Saturday, Michael Franks, the man who put the "balm" in balmy, headlines. And, of course, Laws will appear at the Mayor's Jazz Brunch on Sunday at the Aerial.

Hardier souls can hear a more adventurous lineup -- for free, no less -- at the Jazz Village on Fish Plaza in front of the Wortham Center. Charged Particles and the Fredrik Noren Band provide one of the festival's few improvisational high-energy zones on Friday, starting at 11 a.m. Guitarist Joe Carmouche headlines the evening concert beginning at 6 p.m.

The highlight will be the Saturday-evening Fish Plaza show. Local faves Norma Zenteno and Shaakir join a reunion of Laws with his former band, Lightmen Plus One (Doug Harris on sax, Patrick Williams on trumpet, Marsha Frazier on keyboards, Don Patterson on bass, Thomas on drums). Drummer Steve Reid's Bamboo Forest combines smooth grooves and world music to headline the Sunday-evening program.

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Aaron Howard