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Stalking the stage with intensity, Charles McPherson snapped his fingers briskly and tore into "Crazeology" (a bebop staple based on the harmonic sequence of "I Got Rhythm") in lockstep with trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos.

The alto saxophonist has arrived at a stage in his career where, like Sonny Rollins, his spontaneous, unaccompanied cadenzas are soliloquys in and of themselves.

Fronting a band that included bassist Rob Thorsen, pianist Rick Helzer, and drummer Willie Jones III, McPherson made a convincing case for bebop as a living art form. His keening alto zigzagged around the dense harmonies and raced up the scale to punctuate a bent note, then straight back into the flowing commentary.

Castellanos proved a perfect foil and able counterpart, dazzling the full house at UCSD's Conrad Prebys Music Center with his feature, "Johnny Come Lately." McPherson followed by tearing apart at the seams the ballad "Darn That Dream," exposing a raw, beating heart.

Following a dramatic drum solo, McPherson and Castellanos orbited each other's lines and finished each other's thoughts through a burning performance of the Dizzy Gillespie classic, "A Night In Tunisia."

photo by Laurent Kramer

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