By Rick Forest

If you've been to a Java Men gig lately, I guess you've noticed the change. The fun-loving trio of Todd Hildreth, Craig Wagner and Ray Rizzo is now a quartet! Yes, dear readers, bassist Chris Fitzgerald has joined the group and gives it a whole new feel. I strapped Todd to a chair the other day and while I heated the irons for the interrogation he `fessed up to what's going on.

"He frees me up to try some other things," Todd admitted, "we've always been an organ trio and it's been my duty to hold down the bass. I've always liked the sound of the piano and moving it in." Todd said that there had been some disagreement in the group about having a piano, guitar and drums trio and this is the opportunity for Java Men to expand their instrumental palette to include piano and even occasionally, accordion. Adding Chris contributes a certain freshness to the group as well, bringing a new perspective to the regular Java Men tunes and providing a new source of music: Chris' own compositions.

Chris and Todd had been friends for a number of years and while Craig and Ray were off with Days Of The New, E Trio developed, allowing Chris and Todd to work with drummer Gary Claude. After a while, E Trio sort of faded away, but the musical relationship that Chris and Todd had blossomed into a new incarnation of Java Men.

"I wanted to continue playing with Chris in that kind of context and Chris just became the obvious choice at that point. It seemed like two different things were happening simultaneously which kind of brought Chris into the picture," Hildreth noted. "One was that the E Trio kind of became defunct and the other is that the Java Men were looking for a new way, some new twists to keep things fresh."

One strength that Chris Fitzgerald brings to Java Men is his writing ability. Todd says "we get his perspective now, as a composer and so it's very nice to have his tunes come into play and he's got his own way of thinking of writing. Craig and I have very distinct compositional styles and Chris' is distinct from the two of us as well so it really offers a whole new realm of possibilities and eventually those new ideas that he offers in his own compositions kind of sink into everything we do."

Does this mean that there will be a new, revitalized Java Men on the local music scene? Not necessarily. Each of the guys is at a different stage in their lives than they were when they began. In fact, Ray is still quite involved in Days Of The New. However, Todd also feels that they have come full circle as a band.

"When we first got together, it was just the three of us playing and jamming and then we got ideas of playing non-standard kinds of tunes, still not writing. And then we started to write and from there for a while it was what we called a 'composer's workshop.'" After a while, Java Men became something of a "product" that was being marketed, but now they have regained that "workshop" feel. "Each one of us have very distinct things we want to develop as musicians and composers," Todd said, "so we're all there to kind of work it out together."

Is there a Java Men quartet recording in the future? My crystal ball says: "looks pretty good." Todd agreed, "there's definitely a possibility. Things need to calm down for everybody a little bit and we'll wait for that and if it doesn't, we'll just make that happen." If good things come to those who wait, I guess there are some pretty nice things in store for us regarding Java Men. If you want to see the new quartet in action, be at Clifton's Pizza on November 11.

If your taste in Jazz runs toward the funky side of things, check out vibist Roy Ayres in the Bomhard Theatre of the KCA on Saturday, November 2. It's part of the Midnight Ramble Series and promises to be a lot of fun. Roy got his first set of vibe mallets from Lionel Hampton when he was five but waited until he was seventeen to take up the instrument. After working with Jack Wilson, Chico Hamilton and Gerald Wilson, he met Herbie Mann and began a four-year gig with Mann at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, CA. He branched out on his own in 1970 and formed Ubiquity, a band that would allow him to experiment in fusion, funk and R&B influences. Those influences stuck with him and allowed him to become one of the foremost exponents of funky vibes around. Showtime is 8 p.m. and tickets are available through the KCA box office or by calling 584-7777.

As always, your ideas and comments are welcome. You can reach me at rforest@wfpk.org. And for cryin' out loud, get out and hear some live music, will ya?