Walter Mencken 12:30 p.m., Sept. 21
Best jazz concerts for 2012
Last year, it was Jeff Kaiser's massive 23 piece "big band" that earned top honors. This year, it's a solo concert for contrabass.
The San Diego jazz talent pool is deep, very deep. So much so that after attending more than 200 shows this year, and taking days to sort through them all for this list of the top-twenty, 18-time Grammy winning guitarist Pat Metheny only made it to #4, and many of the national and international touring artists didn't make the list at all.
Most of the shows I caught were excellent, so whittling the list down to 20 was at times, excruciating. A lot of really good ones didn't make it.
The ones that did were transcendent experiences. Moments in time where the music took me out of myself and into a spiritual plane where nothing else existed. Certain musicians made multiple entries onto the list, but trust me, for every time Mark Dresser or Joshua White are included--three or four equally inspiring performances by these two world-class masters could have been justified. So here they are.
Mark Dresser Solo (UCSD). Dresser has created a separate universe in the world of contrabass virtuosity, distinguishing himself with an entirely original vocabulary. This concert was breathtaking from start to finish, as the bassist painted vivid sonic landscapes from world's of his own imagination.
Joshua White Quintet (98 Bottles). I caught the White Quintet three times this year, and they were all mesmerizing affairs. With trombonist Michael Dessen, alto saxophonist Gavin Templeton, bassist Dave Robaire and drummer Dan Schnelle, White has assembled one of the most exciting combos in jazz. What they do with original material and extrapolations on Monk, Coleman and others creates a inescapable vortex.
Michael Dessen Trio (Fresh Sound @Space 4 Art). Bonnie Wright's Fresh Sound concert series always delivers creative music that couldn't be heard anywhere else. Dessen is one of the best trombonists on the planet, and his NYC associates Chris Tordini and Dan Weiss, on bass and drums make vital sonic sorcery that refuses categorization.
Pat Metheny Unity Band (Anthology). Pat's new quartet with saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist Ben Williams and drummer Antonio Sanchez delivered a blistering set of modern jazz--but it was the moments when Metheny played alone that took me to Planet Zargon.
Gilbert Castellanos, Geoffrey Keezer, Rob Thorsen (Westgate Hotel). This is the best small room in San Diego to hear jazz in all of its potential glory. Keezer had me making strange involuntary noises as he continually pushed the envelope and Castellanos distilled the blues and swing to a divine purity over the astonishing mass of Thorsen's unamplified bass.
Robin Adler & Mutts of the Planet (98 Bottles). Adler and husband Dave Blackburn recreated three of Joni Mitchell's most jazz-inspired albums with an amazing authenticity that never became mimicry. Their incredible band of Barnaby Finch on keyboards, Dan DiPietro on bass, Danny Campbell on drums and Rick Schmidt on pedal-steel couldn't have been tighter. I was already in a trance as they struck the opening harmonies to "Edith & The Kingpin," when I transitioned into a higher plane.
Improvisers Summit (98 Bottles). Mark Dresser and Michael Dessen teamed up with Joshua White and the amazing drummer Gerry Hemingway for two sets of spontaneously improvised free-jazz that ran the gamut from galvanic caterwaul to whisper-quiet. A Chuck Perrin production.
Pat Martino & Eldar (Anthology). Martino is back, improvising with the daring and precise rhythmic drive that defined him as a singular talent 50 years ago. Thrilling, post- Wes Montgomery action taken to audacious heights.
Joshua White & Marshall Hawkins (98 Bottles). White and the astonishing veteran Hawkins have a special chemistry together that borders on the telepathic. Hawkins has a sound, and an original concept that strips all artifice away--only the purity of intimate sound exchange remains.
Trio Kinesis (Athenaeum Jazz at the Studio). Saxophonist Eric Person, bassist Jospeh Lepore and drummer Shinnosuke Takahashi extended the '60s free-jazz model into a dizzying night of modal communication twisted into a visceral dynamic.
Trio M ( Athenaeum Music & Arts Library). Pianist Myra Melford, bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Matt Wilson have fashioned a unit based on leaderless interaction and sublime flow that balances the sensitivity of the Bill Evans Trio with the visceral impact of Albert Ayler's innovations.
Vinny Golia Quartet & Sextet (Museum of Making Music). Golia's absolute mastery of all woodwind instruments is nothing short of amazing. He led a saxophone quartet featuring Gavin Templeton on alto, Brian Walsh on baritone and Jon Armstrong on tenor through rich, chamber music, then got his harmolodic rock on with trumpeter Daniel Rosenboom, Templeton, Armstrong, guitarist Alex Noice and drummer Andrew Lessman.
Mark Dresser & Diane Moser (98 Bottles). These two have a deep connection dating back to the 1970's. Moser can navigate the divide between kinetic energy and thoughtful lyricism and listening to them listen to each other was delightful and inspiring.
Mundell Lowe & Jim Ferguson (98 Bottles). Lowe's understated virtuosity is pure magic and Ferguson played bass and sang like an angel. They made each standard sound brand new. Another Chuck Perrin production.
Nicole Mitchell & Anthony Davis (UCSD). Southern California is all the richer for Mitchell's transfer from Chicago to Irvine. She is an improviser of the highest order and a composer without limits. Davis is a stunning pianist who took things to another level.
Han Bennink, Mary Oliver, Mark Dresser, Michael Dessen (Neurosciences Institute). Bennink is an exuberant drummer that breathes music, and a hilarious performer to boot. Oliver extends the tradition of Leroy Jenkins and Billy Bang with a vengeance and created a unique string ensemble with Dresser. Dessen was, well, Dessen. Enough said.
Christian Scott Quintet (Anthology). Scott's trumpet playing has somehow managed to avoid the duplicitous banality of most of his contemporaries. Fronting a creative and lock-tight group that featured guitarist Matt Stevens and drummer Jamire Williams, Scott blew the roof off the place.
Ben Goldberg Trio (Fresh Sound @ Space 4 Art). Goldberg's group, with Chicago guitarist Jeff Parker and NYC drummer Ches Smith, exemplified creative interaction at its finest, with each member weaving improvisational tapestries around each other.
Ian Tordella Group (98 Bottles). I've seen Tordella perform a half dozen times this year, and I keep liking what I hear. He can really play, and I love the tunes he writes. The twin guitars of local institution Peter Sprague and the insanely creative Joey Carano kept the energy stoked to an ecstatic level, spurred on by the drums of Richard Sellers and bass of Ben Wanicur.
Ken Filiano & Anders Nillson (Fresh [email protected] Space 4 Art). Bassist Filiano is a deep virtuoso with heavyweight credentials and Nillson operates out of a bag somewhere between Mary Halvorson and Derek Bailey. Fascinating, conversational stuff.
Now that Chuck Perrin has a new home for Dizzy's, I look forward to his productions that will certainly pepper the "Best of 2013." Special props to the folks behind the scenes that make all of this happen: Steve, Jill and Chris at 98 Bottles, Howard Berkson and Michael Pritchard at Anthology, Dan Atkinson at Athenaeum Jazz, and Bonnie Wright of Fresh Sound.
Links to original reviews:
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