I don't know how or why I kept Diego de Jesus Mondragon off my jazz calendar so long, but in retrospect, I blew it. After catching his act at The Merc recently, I'm convinced there isn't a much hotter show going, at least not in Riverside County.

Mondragon is a jazz violinist with remarkable chops, flawless taste, a terrific sense of time and has a winning personality. And his sidemen also are exceptional musicians. Best of all, they, like their leader, play like there's no tomorrow. But it's more than just fire power that makes this band what it is. It's the sextet's range of music that stretches from Elgar to Ellington and is often as elegant as it is exacting and energetic as it is exciting. In a nutshell, it's a perfectly balanced musical menu.

Mondragon is classically trained and like most musicians who study serious music, the Murrieta resident never plays out of control regardless of how much oil he pours on the fire. As you might expect his revved-up musicians manage to follow suit. So, even when the band is in full flight, a unity of purpose is always evident.

Mondragon's group is essentially a rhythm ensemble; a drummer, two percussionists, a bass fiddle and guitar. Therefore it's up to Mondragon to carry the melody with the help of six-stringer Jimmy Patton, who blends beautifully with Mondragon and is a solid rhythm-maker, too.

Mondragon has a new CD that either is on its way or now available, depending on when you read this. Either way it should be a winner since it encompasses a full range of musical styles and at least one original that should capture the ears of local residents. It's "Temecula Mist" that owes its origin to Mondragon's impression of the impact made in the area by early Indian tribes and a melody woven into the vision that is mystically lyrical.

Next time Mondragon trots out his sextet at The Merc or at one of the local venues or watering holes, drop on by and give your ears a treat.

- Cam Miller

(Cam Miller is a Murrieta freelance jazz journalist who contributes regularly to The Californian, North County Times and The American Rag, a monthly jazz publication.)

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