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San Diego pianist Joshua White has reached a stage where his musical development is growing so fast--that if it were a virus--we'd all be under quarantine...or dead.

Ninety minutes elapsed in the seeming blink of an eye last Tuesday night at Dizzy's. I didn't even get a chance to sip my drink--because that would have entailed missing a micro-second of the performance--a sacrifice I was unwilling to make.

Part of the appeal of it all lay in White's careful recruitment of associates. John Paul Maramba is a bassist of uncommon qualities. He hails from a school that values the sound of his instrument first--more emphasis is placed on the tone of each note than in the relative pursuit of velocity for its own sake. He, and his rhythm section partner, drummer Dan Schnelle, demonstrated a keen sensitivity to the ideas that might happen if the listening was deep enough.

At the center of this in-the-moment experience was White himself, who strives to be the vessel from which the music flows.

The concert began with the Wayne Shorter composition, "Pinocchio," the fragmented theme quickly morphing in a long exploration of the Broadway show tune, "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better," from Annie, Get Your Gun.

White used dissonance as a color, and his astonishing ease at this practice made the term irrelevant, from the pejorative context. His ideas are elliptical and his translation of those ideas so immediate--that the audience became swept up into the vortex of communicative exchange.

Schnelle was the perfect drummer for this dialog. His ride cymbal articulation had the precision of Jack DeJohnette's stuttering layers and the audacity of Tony Williams' interruptive commentary. He laid down deeply relentless grooves that were plastic enough to pause, in the reverberant wash of a White chord--then veer off instantly in a different direction. The sense of push and pull was always foremost.

The show tune evolved into a 5/4 rumination on the John Coltrane blues, "Mr. Syms." The pianist often seemed to encode the melodies--a practice that drew the observer even further into the deep listening experience.

Sometimes, when you're in-the-zone, one note can tell a whole story. White excels at hammering a single-note from many different angles--sometimes ratcheting up tension and other times--simply to refocus the ear.

Schnelle got a solo handed to him so seamlessly, it was a joy to watch him build his statement from a blank slate--starting from silence, he crisscrossed waves of tic-tocking rim shot chatter that yielded to off center drum rolls and explosive accenting.

Maramba began his solo intro to "All Or Nothing At All," with probing pulses over the cymbal washes of Schnelle. The bassist made each note count as he built an aria from resonant single tones and gently strummed double-stops. White entered with measured flourishes then stripped down the melody to it's purely essential core.

Maramba and Schnelle left the stage, and, at an audience member's request, White revisited the Billy Strayhorn composition "Lush Life," as a solo vehicle. That tune was one his highlight moments in the Thelonious Monk International Piano Competition last month, and it's easy to see why.

White approached the ballad from far afield, then alluded to key portions of the theme, while abstracting others. Gradually, the melody emerged into clear focus, and at that moment, it became as stirring and poignant as the version John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman codified on their epochal collaboration in the '60s.

The rhythm section returned for one more tune, a brisk jog through the Woody Shaw modal gem, "The Organ Grinder." A brief ostinato released into straight swing and it was off to the races for a series of celebratory solos on the form.

Joshua White has a fair amount of upcoming gigs--and, if you love the piano, or forward-leaning jazz, or the sound of surprise--you owe it yourself to catch his star ascending.

photo by Barbara Wise

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