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Jazz guitar icon Mundell Lowe turned 90 last month, and has been celebrating with a slew of gigs. Last Tuesday night, it was Jazz Live at City College with a quartet comprised of guitarist Ron Eschete, organist Bill Cunliffe and drummer Jim Plank.

Lowe's guitar tone is golden and his ideas are pliant. His fingers dance along the strings with an economy of motion so pure no movement is ever wasted. No matter what tune is called, Lowe can improvise an opening cadenza, peel away to the essence of the melody, and slice through the chord changes with a relaxed sense of swing.

Eschete favors a slightly darker tone and a more oblique sense of harmony--he often posited tangential arpeggios in a daring fashion--while Cunliffe's solos were a constant refresher course on blues-organ aesthetics. It was the veteran San Diego drummer Plank, however, that really stood out with his pinpoint ride cymbal articulations--creating a wide swath of rhythm for his partners to glide along.

Whether it was the gentle bossa nova of Jobim's "Wave," or the aching balladry of Ellington's "In A Sentimental Mood," Lowe captivated the sold-out crowd with the same artistic touch that led him to accompany many of the legends of jazz, including Charlie Parker, Billie Holliday and Lester Young.

Photo by Michael Oletta

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