City Slang: RJ Spangler at Berkley Library



Jazz in a library – there’s a novel idea. It makes complete sense too; take a music form that is thrilling but probably unobtrusive directly to the people. Don’t wait for the to come to you in the city’s jazz dive spots.

Still, it’s weird. As the RJ Spangler Trio get going in a little side room of the library, people are just outside the door searching for research material and/or reading the newspaper. That door has to remain open, because all seats are taken and it’s standing room only by the time this writer arrives, child-in-arms.

Spangler himself has been a regular on the local jazz and blues scenes for years. The drummer was a Sun Messenger from ’82, and then he ran Johnnie Bassett’s band. He played gigs with the Drifters, Earl King, Andre Williams, Catfish Hodge, Thornetta Davis, and he performs to this day with Alberta Adams and Planet D Nonet. Quite the resume.

This evening at the library in Berkley, the Trio also includes Oliver Nevels on guitar and Greg Cook on upright bass, with sax man Larry Smith guesting. Smith is an unsung player who should get “sung” a little more. He is, by all accounts, the keeper of the be-bop flame. We didn’t even know that there was a be-bop flame, but now that we do we’re glad that it’s being kept alight.

So the Spangler Quad makes for quite the weird sight with the lights fully on in a room that was being used to show live bats to children the last time we were here. They don’t care though; the playing is wonderfully sloppy in that “let it go where it wants” sort of way. Smith is a real treat to watch; he throws himself fully into his playing, every note etched on his face.

These guys are real players. They’ve played all over the place with many people. But a library gig is a perfect opportunity to perform in front of people they might otherwise not. Hopefully Berkley Library, and many others, will put on more shows like this.

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