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Last Saturday evening, the name draw of legendary saxophonist Charles McPherson, and the tireless work of Chuck Perrin led to a jazz club experience worthy of New York City.

Dizzy's, San Diego's most consistently productive nightspot, was filled with enthusiastic fans, standing room only--for a rare appearance by a specially assembled Charles McPherson Quintet.

The McPherson group featured regular associate Gilbert Castellanos on trumpet, but the piano chair was helmed by current Oregonian Randy Porter whose roots go way back with the leader. Marshall Hawkins made the trek down from Temecula for the gig, and his unique voice on the doublebass added considerable weight to the excitement quotient. Chuck McPherson on drums completed the ingredients, and revved the engine of a primed ensemble.

McPherson began the proceedings with a slower than usual version of Monk's "Epistrophy." Operating at a slower groove allowed each note to marinate on its own, and the saxophonist broke down the theme into asymmetrical chunks interlaced with short asides.

McPherson inhabits the divide between velocity and nuance as if it were his permanent address.

Castellanos took over with a solo filled with darting, quicksilver declaratives--spinning in parallel orbits around the course set by the master. He is a perfect foil to the saxophonist, alternately challenging and supportive. The trumpeter often races through the changes--making frequent stops to quote snippets of be-bop or show-tune melodies or squeeze out a piquant high note.

Porter upped the ante on the amount of dissonant clusters associated with Monk, adapting them into perfectly placed accents of a flowing dynamic. Each one of Hawkins solos had the glow of a master. Saxophonist Pharoah Sanders once introduced him as "the very creative, Marshall Hawkins" twice in the same sentence, and he could have said it three times with no loss in credibility.

This was a night that justified the term "embarrassment-of-riches", so, in addition to the powerhouse quintet, there were several surprise guests in the wings.

The first of them, vocalist Lorraine Castellanos, arrived on stage with a classical guitar and sat down to deliver a poignant and pitch-perfect reading of "Manha de Carnival." The fact that she's married to the trumpeter and super-model gorgeous did nothing to detract from her credentials as an outstanding musician in her own right. Castellanos laced the melody with flashes of sorrow and joy--all with the purity of a songbird.

Next up was the remarkable tap-dancer Claudia Gomez-Vorce, who began with an a cappella intro to the Ellington staple, "Caravan". Acting as the groups percussionist, (in tandem with McPherson's hi-hat), Gomez-Vorce laid it down in a stunning virtuosic scene that inspired the loudest ovation of the evening.

As if that weren't enough, McPherson coaxed local tenor icon Daniel Jackson to the stage for some serious blues-riffing on the Miles Davis associated, "Blue 'N Boogie".

McPherson led off, instigating streams of ideas that rippled and bulged while flying around the contours of the blues; Jackson followed with a warm-toned hush of fluid ideas that brought the spirit of mid-period Coltrane to mind. After a series of like-minded statements from the others, all three horns vamped the tune out in an almost Dixieland cacophony.

A final note about Chuck McPherson. He looked like a giant dwarfing his tiny kit, and every gesture he made while driving the group was a demonstration of the joy of making music. He isn't flashy, but his swing is inerrant, and all night long, I kept thinking of the great Mingus drummer Dannie Richmond, another perfect conduit for the magic possibilities of listening.

This concert was well worth the Padres-at Petco nightmare of super limited-exorbitantly-priced parking, and any other downtown Saturday night nuisances. Bravo !

photo by Thomas Westerlin

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