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Add Danny Green to the list of great pianists living and working in San Diego County. Green is a young musician with impeccable chops who has staked out his own personal improvising aesthetic, (heavy on the music of South America), and assembled a top-notch quartet to interpret his conceptions.

Green's quartet played at UCSD's The Loft last night with compelling results. The tightness of the band was all the more amazing, given that there was a last-minute substitution on bass: regular bassist Justin Grinell was unavailable, so Doug Walker filled in, after learning the book in one day ! (must have been a hell of "cram-session").

The secret weapon in the Green quartet is the criminally under-rated saxophone master Tripp Sprague. He can play in any style, and his soloing capabilities would make any ensemble shine. Walker is a very solid bassist that reminded me of older cats like Doug Watkins, Herbie Lewis and Percy Heath: impeccable time, with an emphasis on the big, meaty notes.

Driving the group, from the rhythmic perspective, were the drums of Julien Cantelm, another name, like Walker, new to me, that I won't forget now. Cantelm is a modernist who might be drawing from the same well that nurtured guys like Pat Metheny Group drummer Antonio Sanchez. He's got the intricate, subdividing ride cymbal patterns down, and he conjures up waves of clicks and clacks from multiple rim-shots all over the kit.

The concert began with a Green original, "Searching For The Words," a sprightly samba that seemed to reflect the influence of both Chick Corea and Peter Sprague, ( Green has worked with Sprague). The tune featured an episodic melody filled with piano/saxophone unisons that were impressive and intricate. Sprague wove a detailed, but short solo comprised of winding scalar runs punctuated with the occasional "coo."

"Tempestade," by guitarist Chico Pinheiro was next-- a nice modal piece with a strong ostinato in the vein of McCoy Tyner. Sprague outlined and digressed from the theme with a typically brawny tenor sax solo, and Walker followed with a muscular turn of his own.

"A Thousand Ways Home," another Green original in the Latin spirit, alternated between a two-chord vamp and a much longer harmonic sequence with many starts and stops along the way. When they took the tune out, the nature of the groove was altered by Cantelm's switch to a rock beat--which was very effective.

Cantelm's creative brush-work opened up the joyously phrased soprano sax melody from Sprague as Green's arpeggiated harmonies provided a lush bed of support on "Baiao Brasil." When Green's solo emerged, it was in a deliciously lyrical spirit that brought Keith Jarrett to mind--the ultimate compliment in my book.

Other highlights included "Under Night's Cover," which despite Green's claim that it was inspired by the bombastic opera composer Wagner-- had a distinctly lullaby feel to me. Green and Walker both built tasteful solos on the form, supported by the quiet dynamics of Cantelm's use of hands, rather than sticks, on the drums.

For me, though, the ultimate highlight came with a hard-swinging romp through the standard, "I Hear A Rhapsody," which featured the entire band firing on all cylinders. Sprague's effortless sense of swing regardless of tempo or the density of his improvisations, cascaded onto the efforts of his associates--everyone rocked the house on this one.

The concert concluded with "Unwind," another Green original with a strong bass ostinato and wicked Latin groove. Sprague danced around the changes with serpentine phrasing, ocassionally breaking up the honey-toned timbre with a dry-cough phrase or two.

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Photo by Chris Woo

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