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San Diego bassist Ben Wanicur held a CD release party May 17, at Dizzy's celebrating his new disc The Excluded Middle, fronting an all-star band featuring Peter Sprague on guitar, Ian Tordella on saxophone and Charles Weller on drums.

Opening with the free-boppish blues, "Hey Dude," Wanicur hit first, with a thick solo steeped in metric certainty followed by Tordella, churning rough spirals into well placed yelps. Sprague began by orbiting phrases around a repetition -- navigating the divide between bop and the outer limits with intricate chromatic connections. Weller took leave of his relentless ride cymbal dialog to engage in an assertive series of fours with an explosive edge.

Weller locked in tight with the bassist on the 13 beat vamp, "13 Vans," steering the meter into an organic stew that Tordella spiced with course lines, and Sprague took the reins for a trio outing of "B Samba," which bounced along on an effusive lilt.

Perhaps my favorite moment came on an expansive reading of Wayne Shorter's "El Gaucho," beginning with Sprague's orchestral guitar-synthesizer textures, and branching out with surging tenor gliding along Wanicur's whole-note punctuation and Weller's battery of small gestures.

Wanicur closed the concert alone, reprising a Dave Holland arrangement of Charles Mingus' "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," strumming pregnant double-stops and bluesy brushstrokes with oblique references to the melody.

Photo by Bonnie Wright

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