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There is something magical, and instructive about watching guitar great Mundell Lowe perform. Years of living "in-the-moment" have been honed into a personal improvising aesthetic where the proof of virtuosity involves what he doesn't choose to play as much as what he does.

Last night, Lowe assembled a group of simpatico veteran associates, including fellow guitarist Jaime Valle, LA percussionist Ramon Banda and Tennessee bassist Jim Ferguson for an evening of sublime rumination on bebop and tunes from the Great American Songbook.

Using this material as a sort of lingua-franca, Lowe works without the aid of a safety net. He'll announce a tune at a moment's notice, or accept a suggestion from a bandmate and instantly jump into it absent a chart or discussion of arrangement.

Lowe and Ferguson began the evening as a duo, breezing though "Gone With The Wind," with effortless élan, showcasing the remarkable vocal abilities of Ferguson, whose light, limber tenor is a perfect bookend to his liquid, sonorous work on the double bass.

"Haunted Heart," was next, Lowe still taking chances with his chord choices and launching into a sinewy recap of the melody, framed with snippets of blues and rich voice-leading.

Lowe took a breather as Valle and Banda joined the bassist to explore a nuanced, "Bahia," led by the guitarist's burnished chords and piquant octaves as Banda's irresistible pulse fueled the ride. Ferguson took on a Scott LaFaro type role, with glissandi and stabs into the upper register.

Banda's rim-shot chatter powered the Brazilian groove of "Manha de Carnival," while Valle plumbed the blues with reverberant commentary.

Lowe returned, leading the entire ensemble through a series of swinging highlights made profound by his astonishing economy, in which all extraneous artifice was peeled away to expose an essential truth in the material.

Especially noteworthy was a breathtaking version of "Moonlight In Vermont," where Lowe's notes fell like gentle rainfall into a still pool, followed by Valle's chord-melody distillation and Ferguson's rubbery appoggiatura.

A wonderful evening of intuitive exchange by four virtuoso listeners.

Photo by Bonnie Wright

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