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In the moments leading up to the Improviser's Summit concert last month at the Neurosciences Institute, adventurous music promoter Bonnie Wright of the Fresh Sounds concert series introduced me to Nobu Stowe, a recent transplant from Baltimore. Stowe laid his latest CD on me, and after taking a while to listen to it, and reading up on the guy, I feel the creative music scene in San Diego may have just gotten a significant shot in the arm.

Even a casual perusal of Stowe's c.v. indicates that he's some kind of modern day renaissance man. He is an accomplished pianist /improviser /composer and recording artist with five CDs under his belt--released on the important German labels, Konnex, and Italian company Soul Note.

In addition, he is a psychologist who moved to San Diego to work at the Scripps Research Institute. Stowe is also a writer of considerable talent who has written articles on Keith Jarrett, Paul Bley, Gary Peacock, Bill Frisell and many others, for the Japanese magazine Tokyo Jazz and the Spanish magazine Toma Jazz.


The CD he gave me, Confusion Bleue on Soul Note, is a fresh look into free improvisation principals that bears repeated listening. Stowe plays acoustic and electric piano on the disc, fronting an ensemble consisting of Lee Pembleton on electronics, Ross Bonadonna on guitars and alto saxophone, Tyler Goodwin on 5-string double bass, and Ray Sage on drums.

All of these names were new to me, but that doesn't diminish what is an astonishing document from all of them.

From the opening "Introduction," the five musicians conjure up a cloud of dreamscape electronics and waves of manic energy underpinned by the deep arco of Goodwin . Stowe plays mysterious, dramatic chords and trills that creates a darker undertone, perhaps indicating that the dream is about to head South.

Throughout the disc, Stowe's uncanny ability to create melodic motion and spontaneous structures separate this from the aimlessness that pervades many efforts of completely improvised material. Stowe doesn't dominate--but he definitely leads the group into areas of his own imagination--his ideas are very strong, so the band tends to go with his flow. Having said that, there are many moments on this disc where he lays out, letting the others shine, especially Bonadonna, who kills on both guitar and saxophone. Goodwin has a full, dark sound and the ability to spin his own narrative within the contexts established by the pianist, and Sage is an especially dynamic drummer who is constantly in motion. The electronics of Pembleton tend to hover in the background, but they are an important contextual voice that play a key role in this recording.

On "Quatrieme Mouvement", Sage's clanging cymbals are grounded by the full-bodied plucking of Goodwin, both supporting the chirping and swooning alto of Bonadonna. Suddenly Stowe's piano erupts with volcanic skeins of pure energy splayed across the keyboard. Amidst the chaos, there is a definite intent involved, as themes emerge in a seemingly compositional arc-- similar, to the iconic Cecil Taylor masterpiece, Conquistador.

There is one composed piece on the disc, and it's probably the highlight track for me. Bill Evans' "Blue In Green," is given a highly oblique reading--but, in it's own way, it's as profoundly lyrical as the original. Stowe waxes rhapsodic, layering over the cymbal washes of Sage and the sublimely melodic counterpoint of Bonadonna.

Stowe figures to be in the area for a couple of years, and he's hoping to hook up with like-minded musicians.

"Yes, I'd love to start playing in San Diego. David Borgo suggested to perform as a trio with this drummer from Sweden. I hope this will happen soon," said Stowe via e-mail.

Me too.


Photo courtesy Nobu Stowe

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