Loose Gravel plays the Avalanche on Thursday

Loose Gravel plays the Avalanche on Thursday

Loose Gravel sliding into The Avalanche on Thursday night

It all started five years ago as a jazz workshop featuring a rotating roster of players.

Loose Gravel has transformed itself into a regular quintet + 1 special addition for the show on Dec. 17 at The Avalanche Bar and Grill. The band features some the Valley’s best known musicians in unusual musical settings.

“We like to challenge ourselves and our audience,” said bassist and co-leader James Lithgow.

Featuring bass, two percussionists, and a three horn frontline, one of the challenges for the audience is the absence of a piano or guitar.

“It’s a harmonic challenge for the band too, and opens up any given tune for all the players to explore fresh territory,” which Lithgow says is true to the original intent of the band.

Loose Gravel draws some of its material and inspiration from the famous piano-less bands of saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker during the 1950s. Called at the time, West Coast Cool, that Mulligan band laid the groundwork for much of the Cool Jazz movement.

“Cool, but not too cool,” co-leader Tony Morrison cautions. “We like to Bebop and play more modern styles too.”

Morrison leads with his flute, tenor, alto and soprano saxophones, ably joined up front by some familiar jazz society performers: Jay Havelaar on trumpet and Jeff Agopsowicz on trombone. Morrison’s playing is both studied and intuitive. With a big tone reminiscent of Dexter Gordon, and fluid repertoire he likes to wander through jazz history in some solos and highlights communication between band and audience by breaking down the fourth wall.

Keeping the pulse and structure throughout is Oscar Robles Diaz, a familiar band leader/member around town on numerous Latin, popular and experimental projects. A gifted guitarist as well, he brings terrific melodic as well as rhythmic sense to the percussion discussion on stage.

Joining the band for this Jazz Society performance is the +1 of drummer Bill Street. Lithgow and Street have been playing together longer than either likes to admit and have a telepathic rapport that can lead to some stellar swinging.

Throw in some Christmas music and Loose Gravel promises an entertaining evening Thursday, Dec. 17, Avalanche Bar and Grill, showtime is 7:30 p.m.

All you have to do is throw on some Christmas cheer and join the friendly crowd that now gathers every Thursday for the best show in town. Admission is $10 for members, and $15 for non-members.

Note, this is the last show for 2015. Thursday night jazz will take a break over Christmas and New Year. Regular shows commence on Jan. 7.