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San Diego trumpet master Gilbert Castellanos opened a new chapter in the local jam-session era last night with his premier performance at Seven Grand located at 3054 University in North Park.

I am happy to report that by most tangible expectations, the first gig was a wild success. The small room was standing-room-only--and, in the brief time I was there, many musicians came armed for the challenge of sitting in on the second set. I saw lots of saxophone cases and gig-bags and a trombone case as well.

There are some bugs to be worked out.

The seating is very limited, and as people kept arriving in droves, most of them filled in the spaces between the small tables that were available--totally robbing those of us who arrived 30 minutes early and stood in line to acquire those limited seats.

Secondly, even though everyone who came seemed to be there to hear the music-- you couldn't tell by the noise threshold of audience conversation--which for me was unbearable.

Third-- they have to do something about the sound--during the first tune pianist Joshua White was all but inaudible, and even after a 10 minute pow-wow between numbers, a substantial boost in his level still had serious limitations. An acoustic piano would constitute an immediate improvement, and lowering the "ambient" volume of the non-performing human-beings would go a long way toward actually being able to hear.

None of that is the fault of the players, though, and it's important to note that Castellanos has assembled an incredibly hot band for these sessions. (This is his jazz band--next week will feature a Latin-jazz group). Along with White, tenor saxophonist Ben Schachter, bassist Rob Thorsen and drummer Dan Schnelle are all top-flight improvisers with impeccable credentials.

Opening with Nat Adderley's "Fun," Castellanos hit first on the rousing, stop-start theme, darting though the changes and sending tight spirals into the air--supported by the brisk propulsion of Thorsen, and goosed by Schnelle's roiling punctuation. Schachter followed, sowing the wind with brawny, twisting arpeggios and reaping the whirlwind with guttural honks and screaming altissimo. I know that White was tearing it up-- because he always does--but I wouldn't be able to hear him until after the P.A. adjustment. Schnelle took the tune out with explosive exchanges.

I couldn't catch the name of the next tune, but it was a golden, modal groove with an intricate, serpentine melody that White jumped on with a joyous, gospel-inflected attack, steering block-chords into layered ideas that lingered in the ear. Schachter continued with full-bodied orbits that shot into the upper register with ease as Castellanos posited clear declaratives with such warmth I had to stand up to see if he had switched to flugelhorn.

I am confident that this jam session will succeed-- any club-owner can see that Castellanos can fill the house. He has done so much to define and revitalize the San Diego scene since his arrival--it is very hard to imagine jazz in this city without him.

Photo by Michael Klayman

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