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The music of saxophonist Wayne Shorter has served as a rich source of inspiration for jazz musicians since the 1960s. Last night, trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos enlisted the aid of Las Vegas reed man Charles McNeal to celebrate that music with pianist Joshua White, bassist Rob Thorsen and drummer Dan Schnelle.

McNeal is a brawny player with lines that evoke Shorter and Coltrane pretty equally, and he was able to operate freely in the modal arena, creating twisting improvisations that frequently reached an effective boiling point.

"Black Nile," kicked things off, McNeal creating sinewy lines over the ever precise ting-ting-tinga-ting ride cymbal articulations of Schnelle, while Castellanos pummeled short phrases like Muhammad Ali working the speed-bag. White kept the tension high with crashing repetitions and hammered notes before suspending the harmony on a pedal tone, only to break loose with a series of freely swinging ideas. Thorsen spun lines of a rubbery nature, reminding me of Ron Carter's seminal work in the '60s.

Schnelle's malleted cymbals fed the modal ballad style of "Oriental Folk Song," until Thorsen's bow yielded to a strong ostinato, and Castellanos' flugelhorn wrapped warm ideas with sharp retorts, leading McNeal to build a solo balancing torrential scale development with sequenced arpeggios and emotional screams in the upper register. White began with short phrases that dissolved into long snatches of pure melody before his ideas opened up to the point where it seemed like he was playing a duet with the spaces between the notes. Schnelle built an exposition that capitalized on explosive tom-tom rolls, punctuating into mini-crescendos.

White's very creative re-imagining of "Footprints," altered the bass-line from "All Blues," and double-timed the melody, and Castellanos led off with multiple iterations of notes squeezed from every angle, while McNeal began more elliptically, eventually crowding dense spirals that locked into an exchange with the pianist, for a shared, moment of spontaneous invention.

For almost two hours, the band explored Shorter's dark, modal, textured compositions with both reverence and abandon, recalling one of jazz history's most fertile eras of creativity--while keeping it all real and in the moment.

Photo by Barbara Wise

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