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The New Cool: Preview the return of live jazz in Seattle

Photo by Abe Beeson
Lucky Mystery Now Orchestra at HPIC: (l-r) Higgins, Bloom, Bello, Schroff, Ricci, Gray, Daniel, Olson, Austin, Cressey, Colvert-Bowlds, Brown.

It was in the neighborhood - an ensemble of top young jazz and funk players were gathering for a virtual concert from the Highland Park Improvement Center. New Cool host and HPIC neighbor Abe Beeson got an invitation to attend and shares his photos of a joyously funky jazz reunion.

All the musicians in Joel Ricci's Lucky Mystery Now Orchestra had begun their COVID-19 vaccinations, but health precautions were still taken and the audience members could be counted on one hand. Still, the Loudswell-hosted livestream last Saturday night felt like the beginning of the return to normal.

Also known as Lucky Brown, Joel Ricci has been a driving force in Seattle's deep funk movement for more than a dozen years. His Westsound Recording Collective includes a who's who of Puget Sound-area jazz and funk musicians, and has released his music in various lineups on Seattle's Wax Thematique, Germany's Tramp Records and through his Funkways distribution.

Credit Photo by Abe Beeson
Trombonist Jason Cressey and Lulu welcome me to the Highland Park Improvement Center for a jazz/funk allstar livestream Saturday night.

After expressing my excitement for Ricci's livestream with the dozen-plus member Lucky Mystery Now Orchestra - featuring several musicians familiar to New Cool fans - I was invited to witness the show in person. The Highland Park Improvement Center being just down the street, I jumped at the chance to see my first live gig in more than a year. 

The show was presented by regular HPIC denizen and community booster Beef's Prime Cuts.

Credit Photo by Abe Beeson
Audience accommodations can wait. Joel Ricci leads the Lucky Mystery Now Orchestra at the Highland Park Improvement Center, currently "under improvement" itself.

Only a few friends of the musicians were in attendance at the historic venue. The century-old building is in the early stages of a remodeling project, and the large space worked perfectly for the 12-piece ensemble. The conditions were not great for the handful of fans, but high spirits filled the room.  

Joel Ricci's music is centered around soulful funk instrumentals but arranged with a jazz composer's intellect and a film-score writer's flair for the dramatic. The result is hypnotic grooves with compelling themes, amplified by the live setting and joyfully passionate solos.

Credit Photo by Abe Beeson
As Jason Cressey takes his solo, Peter Daniel, Kate Olson and Jimmy Austin smile on. Many of these musicians hadn't seen each other in months.

Ricci himself played pocket trumpet and percussion, but mostly kept himself busy leading and encouraging the Lucky Mystery Now Orchestra. He told me there was a lot of hard work behind these naturally flowing pieces, and hopes to release more music later this year from this excellent group before their schedules inevitably fill up and vaccinations make live audiences more feasable.

Credit Photo by Abe Beeson
Joel Ricci with his pocket trumpet. Lucky Mystery Now Orchestra's first single is out on Wax Thematique.

Polyrhythmics members Ben Bloom, Jason Gray, Grant Schroff, Lalo Bello and Art Brown were joined by Kate Olson, Peter Daniel, Jimmy Austin, Jason Cressey, Jane Covert-Bowlds and Colin Higgins Saturday night. Beyond the incredibly high level of music, and the amazing feeling of being in the room as it was being made, I was just thrilled to see all of these friends in person again.

Credit Photo by Abe Beeson
All smiles! A quick mask-down band photo at the end of a performance that left everyone overjoyed.

I hope to see you in the crowd soon. Stay tuned as we journey to the other side of this pandemic on The New Cool.

The New Cool airs Fridays from 9 to 11 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.

Abe grew up in Western Washington, a third generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.