Ian Tordella Quintet rocks the house at 98 Bottles
Tenor saxophonist Ian Tordella assembled a quintet of some of San Diego's finest musicians for his gig at the increasingly vital venue,98 Bottles's "The Back Room."
Fronting an unusual format of two electric guitarists, Tordella's concept drove the packed house into an appreciative frenzy. Not that the band didn't earn it-- this was an evening of highly creative music being interpreted by five masters.
Peter Sprague and Joey Carano on guitars hooked up nicely, and you can't imagine two guys with more diverse approaches to the instrument. Carano utilized distortion, harmonizing and filtering effects to create a real in-your-face aesthetic, which fit right in with his kind of "outcat" presentation. Despite all of the effects pedals, his lines and chord voicings were what you'd expect from a more clean-toned intent. In other words, he didn't sacrifice complex chords or ideas, even though his signal was highly processed.
Sprague, well, anytime you can get Peter Sprague to commit to a sideman gig--you must have something going on, because he is quite simply, one of the best players in the world. Period. Speaking of signal processing, Sprague wasn't exactly a purist last night either. He ran his custom-made Andy Powers double-necked guitar through a multi-effects rack and Roland guitar-synthesizer units more than on his usual gigs--giving the audience a new slant on his stylistic oeuvre.
Tordella himself has a highly evolved saxophone technique that seems to be modeled on Wayne Shorter, both in his playing and composing, which was a consistent highlight. His tunes are very modern, and they use chords and harmony more as colors than as a didactic roadmap. He is also highly influenced by rock bands like Stereolab, covering several of their tunes.
This is perhaps, where the tastes of different generations diverge. The Stereolab material seemed excruciatingly minimalistic to me--but it didn't seem to have that effect on the audience.
In reality, Tordella, Sprague, Carano and the rock-solid rhythm team of bassist Ben Wanicur and drummer Richard Sellers could make compelling music out of "The Wheels On The Bus," or the "Itsy-Bitsy Spider,"-- I just much preferred the Tordella originals to the rock covers. Enough said.
Opening with a tune from his upcoming CD, Tragic Comedy, Tordella unwound the theme over Sprague's pedalboard styling and the distorted harmonics from Carano, while Wanicur laid down a powerful ostinato. Carano emerged from the post-Bitches-Brew morass first, spewing tight scalar fragments that gradually shifted chromatically into a decidedly "outward territory." Tordella answered with a honey timbred solo that occasionally percolated into the altissimo register.
They continued with "The Way Through," an original from Tordella's first CD on the Circumvention label, Magnolia. The saxophonist powered through a series of squiggly arpeggios that chased each other up the length of his horn into a series of well-timed squeals. Sprague answered with a complex solo of layered ideas and modulating expansions. Carano began with a series of short ideas that seemed simple enough, until he sequenced them through related, and unrelated keys--,maintaining a kind of drunken bluesy stagger throughout.
"Puncture In The Radax," a Stereolab cover, was next, and it's minimalist harmony and bare-bones beat concept was either hypnotic or, plodding, depending on where your head was at. Sprague and Carano took substantial stabs into "pure-noise" country, building a kind of experimental chaos until Sellers focused things with a pretty wicked rock beat. Sprague launched into an Al Di Meola meets Pat Martino solo that mixed pure velocity with rich ideas--alternating between rippling skeins of scalar runs and long sections of sumptuous chord inversions.
The second set began with "Tragic Comedy," an instant highlight from the short Seller's drum intro that set up the quasi-Latin feel to the beautiful vertical theme of it's melody which reminded me a lot of the writing of trumpet giant Kenny Wheeler. Tordella is a gifted composer, who builds memorable themes with dramatic, and joyful components. Carano built his statement carefully--alternating precise sequences with silence--then Sprague followed with a reverb-drenched soliloquy of highly enriched melodic content.
Sellers opened a Squarepusher cover, "Iambic Poetry," with a nasty funk groove that Wanicur danced around with a delicious, fat solo that brought Motown great James Jamerson and the German born virtuoso Eberhard Weber to mind.
After all the rock covers, the relative joy of hearing the standard "While We're Young," even transmuted through an odd-meter was immeasurable. Todella's tenor saxophone rippled around the changes like water cascading down a staircase for his best solo of the evening.
The second set concluded with "Catharsis," a gorgeous original ballad in the ECM vein--which only whet the raucous audience's appetite. A standing ovation and several moments of cheering brought a highly adventurous romp through the jazz standard "Yesterdays," featuring simultaneous solos from Sprague and Carano, and swinging contributions from Tordella, Wanicur and Sellers.
Judging from the size and enthusiasm of the crowd, my guess is that Tordella will return to The Backroom @ 98 Bottles soon.
I'll be there when he does.
Photos by Michael Klayman