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Jazz musicians from all over Southern California and beyond flocked to El Camino in Little Italy last night for a mega-jam session in honor of Gilbert Castellanos' 39th birthday. Local KSDS afternoon jazz personality Ron Dhanifu emceed.

Castellanos, expanding his New Latin Jazz Quintet to a sextet with the addition of tenor saxophonist Brian Levy, set the bar very high with a fully charged opening salvo of material fusing the harmonic complexity of be-bop with the rhythmic fire of Afro-Cuban music.

Castellanos' trumpet bristles with fiery ideas delivered at a breakneck tempo, capturing the joy of life by living it all in the moment. He began with a lesser-known Tadd Dameron tune, flying through the changes while dropping quotes from Miles Davis ("Four"), and Charlie Parker ("Segment"), before yielding to Levy's Dexter Gordon meets Sonny Rollins essay. Pianist Irving Flores is something to experience: he can take any material — filter it through his rock-solid montuno prism, and get people dancing.

Rob Thorsen kept the time like an atomic clock.

The rhythm tandem of Mike Holguin's drums and the congas of Charlie Chavez tattooed the joint with intricate unison metrics that left more than a few patrons slack-jawed and bleary-eyed.

After the first set, dozens of players lined up for the chance to join the festivities. Levy and Los Angeles tenor-man Michael Mayes joined Chris Burgess (also on tenor) for a dreamy version of Joe Henderson's "Recordame," sounding very Horace Silver-ish and prodding each other into ascending degrees of expression.

Just in from NYC, doublebass phenomenon Danny Weller joined drummer Fernando Gomez, setting the stage for flautist Dave Millard. Mayes, an unknown altoist, and pianist Rick James threw down a free-wheeling take on "Softly As in a Morning Sunrise," a tune that always brings Coltrane to mind.

San Francisco bassist Ben Wanicur and drummer Bob Daniels were switching out the rhythm chairs when I left around 11:30.

There were still scores of excellent musicians waiting for a chance to shine in the dimly lit, packed to the gills El Camino aisles.

Happy Birthday, Gilbert!

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