Star-Bulletin Features

The Gilbert Batangan Trio -- Gilbert Batangan on guitar, Shawn Conley on bass and Abe Lagrimas Jr. on drums -- played at Ye Olde Fox and Hounds Pub in Kahala Monday night.

Pure jazz

By Gary C.W. Chun

Gilbert Batangan is one lucky guitar player. He's surrounded himself with the best local rhythm section in years and, together with his young charges, has played some of the best pure jazz in town since late May.

Tonight's the last night upright bassist Shawn Conley will perform with Batangan and drummer Abe Lagrimas Jr. before he heads off to Quebec, Canada, for a bass workshop. Conley then goes to Houston to continue his music studies at Rice University, while Lagrimas returns to the Berklee School of Music in Boston to start his sophomore year.

Chris Yeh sat in on sax with the Gilbert Batangan Trio.

Conley and Lagrimas are 19. The youthful-looking Batangan is 33, and the three of them make for a friendly if formidable jazz group. Batangan hopes that the players he'll choose to replace Conley and Lagrimas in the coming weeks will bring the same amount of enthusiasm to the gig as they have.

"The people who have heard us seem to like the energy of the music rather than the virtuosity," Batangan said.

Before forming the trio, the musicians had already played together in other groupings at Studio 6, Kapono's and Ward Rafters.

Gilbert Batangan Trio

On stage: 8 p.m. to midnight today, July 14 and 21
Place: Ye Olde Fox and Hounds Pub in Kahala (formerly Kahala Bistro), 4614 Kilauea Ave.
Admission: No cover charge
Call: 738-5655

"The chemistry between us comes through because we all share the same musical tastes," Batangan said. "It's mostly that post-Wynton Marsalis genre of jazz, played by musicians like Brad Mehldau, Mark Turner and Kirk Rosenwinkel. But we also like that mid-'60s Blue Note sound from guys like Joe Henderson and Bobby Hutcherson. We also share a taste for Coltrane and bebop.

"What we play is on the cusp of freewheeling jazz, but steeped in roots and tradition," he said.

Conley developed his chops as a classical bassist until his sophomore year at Punahou School, when he played in the high school big band. "But I started playing because of jazz," he said, "after I listened to the first Christian McBride album."

In his senior year, Conley played with the Honolulu Symphony, and, as he continues his studies as a performance major at Rice, wants to continue to play both jazz and classical music. "I see the similarities between, say, how Bach and Charlie Parker approached their music," he said.

Lagrimas is part of a veteran local musical family, starting with his dad. His two older brothers gig around town regularly. He started banging on the drums when he was 4, took lessons while in the fifth grade and played in an intermediate jazz band at Waipahu High. He said his musical influences "run the gamut from the legendary Roy Haynes to Brian Blade."

Batangan studied classical guitar at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and played in the Wave Waikiki house band Sugarfish, but didn't get seriously into jazz until he happen upon a Blue Note sampler.

"Once I listened to Bud Powell's 'Un Poco Loco,' I was hooked," he said.

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