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Third Story, the creative, collaborative quartet helmed by bassist Danny Weller, returned to 98 Bottles last night, in full-force, their powers sharpened by a series of gigs in the area.

Third Story has the feel of a real band, and is remarkably balanced--and, considering that one of its members is the phenomenal pianist Joshua White, the notion of balance gives you some idea of the level of talent we're talking about here.

Guitarist Jeff Miles is a terrific technician--but more importantly, he is a joy to experience--he seems so transformed by the act of playing--you can't help but be drawn into his world of racing scales, taut vibrato and heady arpeggios.

LA drummer Jens Kuross navigates the divide between swing and straight-eighth propulsion with just the right amount of force--and when called upon, he can ratchet up torrents of kinetic energy to take things to another level.

Weller himself has achieved a degree of facility rare in someone his age--in instrumental and compositional terms. When playing time, his sound is thick enough to make it seem that his strings are made of rope, and when soloing, his fingers exhibit an agility swift enough to drop one's jaw.

White continues his amazing surge towards complete singularity-- I can think of no one playing piano right now with more intelligent use of all available colors--or with as much raw, rhythmic force as Mr. White.

Opening with Miles' strummed, open-stringed chords, the band launched into the guitarist's "Crystal Spire," a tune that balanced a Latin pulse with country overtones in a manner reminiscent of Bill Frisell. Weller came out first, big and muscular while Miles followed with a series of hammered trills and long, melodic ideas.

"Molly," was next, a gentle melody with dreamy chords, tight unisons and radical mood shifts. White extrapolated the basic theme and refracted it many times over--discovering multiple permutations along the way. Miles' approach is so legato, sometimes it sounds like a synthesizer being played.

Weller's "Hyperion," featured a raw, powerful vamp that drew wild, chirping electronics and splayed piano clusters before it broke into a freebop groove that was satisfying at the most visceral level. Kuross initiated a series of controlled explosions to complete the experience.

White opened his own "Scarlet Tanager," with barely contained ecstatic repetitions--reminding me of Keith Jarrett's inventions. The pianist composed this piece with the free-ranging drums of Kuross as an integral component of the melody--and it is a dramatically effective strategy.

This concert drew a full-house into The Back Room and was a prime example of consistently creative energy . Sterling, all the way.

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