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Pianist Theo Saunders brought a sextet into the Saville Theatre on July 5, that combined the wisdom of experience and the exuberance of youth into an ideal vehicle of post-Coltrane expressionism.

Representing the experience factor were Saunders, trombonist David Dahlsten, saxophonist Chuck Manning and bassist Jeff Littleton. These four masters were elevated by the contribution of two CalArts alumni, Zane Musa on reeds and Tony Austin on the drum-kit, both in their early 30s.

Musa was an animated and inventive soloist throughout, he drew the listeners in with his swirling, spiraling improvisations mostly on alto saxophone. Austin on drums was a force of nature--swinging with a churning engine that recalled Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette--his first solo earned a roar from the full house.

Manning, who's c.v. includes work with West Coast free-jazz multi-instrumental king Vinny Golia, was deep and wide in his expression, with a tone that reflected a calm center--even as his lines twisted and coiled around each other.

Dahlsten's 'bone was the perfect color balance between the two reeds, with a gruff staccato that fits somewhere between Roswell Rudd and Ray Anderson. When all three horns were playing, Saunders' arrangements voiced them for maximum aural potential.

The band burst out of the gates with a slinky, strutting version of the country-blues standard "16 Tons", sounding like Tennessee Ernie Ford meeting Oliver Nelson. Littleton took an exquisite solo that balanced chops with deep groove, and Saunders utilized cascading streams of right hand ideas that danced around left hand islands of chords voiced in fourths.

Saunders dedicated "Queen Of Tangents" to his wife, who was in the audience. The title might have inspired some acrimony if the lush ballad were not so gorgeous in its scope.

They finished up the affair with a modern version of the dixieland aesthetic, all three horns soloing simultaneously over the martial second-line drumming of Austin for the pianist's post-Katrina dedication to New Orleans, titled, "When The Saints Go Out."

Tumultuous applause ensued.

photo by Vince Outlaw

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