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McPherson, Castellanos & Lowe by TOM HARTEN

A capacity house was on hand to celebrate trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos and his hand-picked San Diego Jazz Legends at Tango Del Rey last night.

Featuring as many as eight musicians sharing the stage at one time is an inherently tricky affair--especially when the ages of the musicians involved span from the mid-twenties to the early nineties. Everyone is a bandleader in their own right--so there was a huge potential for stylistic clashes. Thankfully, that drama was avoided.


Marshall Hawkins by TOM HARTEN

Using bebop as the lingua franca was an inevitable, and wise decision. Opening with the Sonny Rollins classic blues, "Tenor Madness," powered by the muscular bass lines of Marshall Hawkins, tenor saxophonist Gary LeFebvre led off with a swirling solo in the Lester Young tradition--very legato. Castellanos followed with a constant stream of eighth-notes--navigating the changes with earthy swagger. Mundell Lowe posited challenging arpeggios and connected them into an intelligent whole with scale-tones and passing notes--then, tenor icon Daniel Jackson summed it all up with his burnished and yearning variations on early Coltrane.


McPherson, Dechter by TOM HARTEN

Somehow, Lowe and the relative youngster guitarist Graham Dechter managed to stay out of each other's way with selective chord feeding, or the occasional contrapuntal effect as on "Lady Be Good," Castellanos sliced through the harmony with fire and grace--and Lowe snuck in another relaxed and swinging statement.


Jackson by TOM HARTEN

Jackson's feature came on "My Romance," with a brilliant a cappella intro that referenced the theme with imaginative discourse, and when the band joined in--he teased out melodic gems that lit upon the elusive "perfect-note," more often than not.

During a frantic Charlie Parker tune ( I forget which one), LeFebvre jumped into the storm with a relaxed élan that belied the tempo--winding curlicues around the changes. Castellanos expanded and contracted the melodic contours--bending the harmony to his own purposes and tossing in mad quotes where they fit. Suddenly "surprise-guest," Charles McPherson appeared, and the energy level, which was already at a fevered pitch--cranked up dramatically. McPherson stalked the stage--on fire from the very first note. He culled and invented phrases--then twisted and turned them into something different. He chose specific notes to distort with vibrato--or expand with multiphonics--and generally tore my head off in the process.

That tune was driven by a change in the drum-chair, San Diego trap-set avatar Duncan Moore received, and answered the call of duty, and I was immediately reminded of how many questions I have to ask him about his pinpoint ride cymbal technique

There was a sublime guitar duet on "Polkadots & Moonbeams," where Dechter got a chance to shine--weaving wide contours around the changes, spitting out super-charged bebop phrases with the occasional bent-string blues angle--then Lowe distilled the melody into a purity of motion that made it all the more real.

Not everything worked perfectly. Hawkins' bass was set too far from the remarkably steady drums of Carlos Vazquez, resulting in a more opaque groove than would have evolved had they been able to hear and feel, each other, perhaps. Hawkins' solos would have been much better absorbed had everyone else dropped out when they occurred--but these details are often common with the ad-hoc nature of last night's gig.

Catellanos and McPherson expertly sketched the theme to "The Song Is You," then McPherson came out swinging, taking bebop into the 21st Century with exclamatory lines that seemed to acknowledge the sound of Ornette Coleman and the slippery phrasing of Eric Dolphy while keeping it all very Charles McPherson. Every time I hear this man--I think that he has very few peers in this world today.


Gary LeFebvre & Claudia Gomez- Vorce by TOM HARTEN

As a final treat, Castellanos brought the remarkable tap-dance artist Claudia Gomez-Vorce to the stage for a bravura example of how the human body is the original, primal instrument. She tore it up, with a rhythmic drive loaded with intricate subdivisions on "Caravan," that brought the house down.

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RenFaiz May 28, 2012 @ 8:29 p.m.

I always enjoy San Diego's great jazz musicians. Also, I always learn a little something when I read these articles and see these wonderful pictures.


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