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98 Bottles in Little Italy has been open just 10 weeks now, but they've established a forward-thinking policy of featuring jazz musicians in performance--always a welcome trend.

Thursday night, they opened with a bang with the Joshua White Trio, which, on that night "imported" two of its members from LA: Edwin Livingstone on bass, and Dan Schnelle on drums.

The place was packed to the limit with enthusiastic fans, many of whom constituted a "who's who" of San Diego musicians. In my immediate area were concert promoter Bonnie Wright, guitarist Nate Jarrell, mandolin expert Chris Acquavella, saxophonist David Borgo and super-fan Barbara Wise. I also saw bassist Harley Magsino and pianist Kris Korsgaden as well.

White opened by hammering a single-note, that eventually led into an oblique reading of the standard, "Yesterdays," which also seemed to contain quotes from "Love For Sale" and "Autumn Leaves." The pianist uses these themes as jumping off points for pure improvisation anyway, something he accomplished immediately by shooting streams of jagged phrases and startling ideas around the room. The tune wound up as a free, three way dialog, with each musician trading notions as to where the tune might go.

The dialog continued as Livingstone applied throbbing pulses over the pinpoint ride cymbal pinging of Schnelle as White coaxed little fragments of "Anything You Can Do," out of the air--before morphing into a stretch and pull dynamic on John Coltrane's "Mr. Syms," a classic minor blues. The pianist built cross-firing sequences and tension raising blues repetitions that roiled the rhythm section into a series of gurgling climaxes, which Schnelle broke wide open with an explosive drum solo.

Over a vaguely Latin pedal tone groove, White applied the melody to "You Are My Sunshine," whereupon he lurched into a wild display of seemingly unrelated stylistic essays, at times evoking a meeting between James P. Johnson's stride aesthetic crashing into Don Pullen's stream of clusters.

The first set ended with a remarkable free rumination of solo piano on the Hoagy Carmichael / Johnny Mercer standard "Skylark," that was notable for both its tension and release.

A brief note about the sound. The proprietors of 98 Bottles would do well to invest in some sound dampening curtains, or something, to hang on the cinder block walls that converge into the corner of the bandstand, because Ed Livingstone's bass sound was swallowed up by the room for the most part. I could see him playing his ass off, but I had to imagine hearing him. It was somewhat better in the second set, after Livingstone placed his amplifier on top of a box and turned it up, but it could still stand a lot of improvement.

Speaking of the second set, White and company emerged as a unit edging toward it's zenith with a medley consisting of Wayne Shorter's "Pinocchio" crashing into the incredibly focused "Thelonious," by Monk. Livingstone began an exploration of the standard, "All Or Nothing At All" with eerie ponticello bowing and glissandi harmonics over the tinkling bells and mallets on toms of Schnelle while White coaxed the beauty of the well worn ballad.

At certain points, the pianist seemed to take sections of tunes and freeze them in time, repeating four bars here and two bars there, and his associates always seemed to go with the flow.

A perfect illustration of this effect could be found in the finale, a romp through the off-kilter Ornette Coleman blues, "Turnaround," which White reiterated for effect multiple times before launching into some glorious and effusive straight bluesology. Livingstone took over with a solo that was solid as an oak, and filled with piquant double-stops and manic runs up the fingerboard.

Up next for 98 Bottles is the Mattson 2, tonight at 8 p.m. Joshua White will be at Dizzy's on Dec. 30, with Gilbert Castellanos, Daniel Jackson, Marshall Hawkins, and, an as yet-to-be-named drummer.

Photo by Barbara Wise

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