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It is difficult to imagine the San Diego jazz landscape without the Herculean amount of energy that trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos has infused it with since he came here 20-some years ago.

Among the many things we have to thank him for are the legendary jam-sessions he's been hosting over the years. Saturday night, Castellanos celebrated a reunion of his quartet that held fast at the Onyx for ten years, along with special guests.

Pianist Gerald Clayton and drummer Kevin Kanner reside in NYC now, and bassist Hamilton Price is one of the rising stars in the LA jazz scene. Ben Schachter is a recent transplant from Philadelphia, and fellow tenor saxophonist Brian Levy spends most of his time in Germany.

The Castellanos crew came out smoking with Kenny Dorham's "Philly Twist," whereupon the trumpeter struck first, tossing boppish lines into the ether with an ecclesiastical fervor, and pausing to stroke or strangle, a single-note into submission. Schachter followed, twisting tight, brawny spirals toward inexorable altissimo punctuations and crowding arpeggios into a dense mass. Clayton began with short, spaced bursts that gradually connected into longer lines of tangentially related melodies, throughout it all, the rhythm section sparked like a live wire from the pinpoint ride cymbal articulations by Kanner amid Price's muscled walking. The bassist leapt into a solo of digital velocity in the thumb position before branching out with thick, meaty stabs in the lower register.


Castellanos opened "Delilah," with an essay on the plunger-mute, alternating between tight, harmon squeals and blubbery gurgling until the band jumped onto the sensuous Latin-groove and he began pressing orbital sirens into the ceiling with undulating vibrato. Clayton took his time, layering waves of rich melodic content dotted with bluesy asides and chordal flourishes.

The blistering bebop of "Thermo," found Levy and Schachter combining sinewy arpeggios and Castellanos bobbing and weaving between warbled sequences and clarion-call blasts. The tempo was so wicked that I don't know how Price kept his walking up--if he was using his legs rather than his fingers--he could have walked to the moon and back. Kanner traded 8's with a series of mini-explosions dangerous enough to place him on the "no-fly" list.

Clayton unveiled a beautiful new piece, as yet untitled, that was so full of deep lyrical content it reminded me of Keith Jarrett. The pianist wove a thematic tapestry around the hefty throb of Price's bass and swirling brushtrokes of Kanner in his trio feature.

A heavy, triple ballad followed, Levy leading off with an impossibly tender reading of "Over The Rainbow," his horn drizzling like warm maple syrup, then Castellanos followed on flugelhorn with "Never Let Me Go," which was just breathtaking in its purity. Schachter had his work cut out for him, but three breathy, Ben Webster meets Coltrane notes into "You Don't Know What Love Is," had me convinced.

Another superb Castellanos production.

Photos by Bonnie Wright

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