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In a spellbinding performance worthy of a sell-out crowd, master musicians Joshua White on piano and Marshall Hawkins on double bass collectively made magic, told stories, and stimulated the senses last night at 98 Bottles.

This was a perfect pairing. Both men draw upon their communicative and instrumental skills with great care--always filtering them through deep cognitive listening to create music-of-the-moment that values the space between the notes as much as the notes themselves.

The concert began in a dream-like cloud of White's pastel harmonies, laced with Hawkins' fulsome whole notes and yearning glissandi. Suddenly, they shifted into the theme for "Love For Sale," in a wicked swing time punctuated by a lattice-work of block-chords intersected by strands of single-note ideas.

Singing along with himself, Hawkins' solo took the road less traveled as he explored odd angles that White locked into for dynamic exchanges.

White and Hawkins have established a degree of dialogue that allows them to transform any material well past the original contours of form. On Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage," they managed a thorough investigation without any overt reference to the well known bass figure or rhythmic devices. Instead they drew it out in a lugubrious tempo, pausing to light on a hammered note or to dance on a strummed double-stop. Somehow, this morphed into a rhapsodic reading of the ballad "I Should Care," upon which each note resonated within the ear.

Hawkins' hard plucking and rhythmic thwacking drew White into a pointed volley of layered ideas in what became Thelonious Monk's "Green Chimneys," where squalls of pure energy cycled like swells in a storm.

As the first recognizable strains of "Stella By Starlight," wafted into the ether, White and Hawkins engaged in a whisper-quiet exploration of hidden avenues within the framework of the familiar harmonic structure, ending with the pianist dancing on the gentle Latin pulse of Hawkins bass.

White sprang loose with a pneumatic assault on the keyboard where his hands seemed to be chasing each other, then running away--then dropping into an almost stride-piano-on-amphetamines chaos that eventually yielded, one phrase at a time-- the theme for "Lush Life."

Of all of the times I've seen Marshall Hawkins, this was the first time I really had the opportunity to hear him, and the experience was glorious. Hawkins has a dark, resonant tone, and he draws from a deep well of pliant ideas. He often slid into a note from below, then caressed it with vibrato, making you feel his intention.

White continues to astonish with his encyclopedic knowledge of harmony, wide breadth of dynamics, and a willingness to go anywhere his imagination takes him.

Kudos to the folks at 98 Bottles for providing a platform for music like this to happen. They have been open for less than a year--and there are some kinks to iron out, (a decent grand piano would go a long way)--but they have already fostered enough highlight concerts to elevate the San Diego jazz experience.

The venue has some heavy stuff coming, much of it featuring Joshua White, and that's exciting.

Photo by Barbara Wise

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