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I caught another encouraging glimpse at the future of the San Diego jazz scene last night when the Ben Wanicur Quartet played two sets at 3rd Space in University Heights.

I've been tracking Wanicur pretty regularly since the bassist moved to town a few years ago, and every time I see him, (usually as a sideman), I come away a little more impressed. Wanicur seems to be on the verge of becoming a major force as a bass player, and his composing is especially noteworthy.

The group he put together for last night's concert, (and for a recording next week), was a fascinating blend of veteran and emerging talent. On the veteran side was guitar virtuoso Peter Sprague, followed by tenor saxophonist Ian Tordella who is really coming into his own. Young drum phenomenon Charlie Weller, back to the area after earning a degree from the famed Berklee School of Music in Boston, is starting to make his mark.

Opening with his original tune, "Sun Chants," Wanicur began with an arco drone before transitioning into a neat, odd-metered ostinato that set up a winding, snaky melody. Tordella came on strong, with a keening timbre and spinning dark webs before engaging with Sprague in melodic sparring. The guitarist's turn was all about architectural layering — ascending spirals of harmony interspersed with ideas that shifted on chromatic dimes. Wanicur emerged with joyous, effusive lines that had an irresistible flow.

"Like, Dude," a kind of modified, 8-bar blues structure drew some of the most angular and strutting gestures from Sprague, who painted himself into corners that only he could escape, then Wanicur got Haden-esque with deep cavern tones while Tordella wrapped ornaments ranging from low-honks to tricky squeals in the upper register. Throughout it all, Weller kept the music surging forward with crystal clear ride cymbal articulation.

Many of Wanicur's excellent originals were written in unusual time-signatures, like "13 Bands," which featured a serpentine melody based on a constant stream of trills and, of course, a meter of 13 beats — which seemed to bring out the best in everyone — especially Tordella, who tore through the changes, and Weller, who kept a wicked funk groove lit.

I'm really looking forward to hearing the upcoming recording and more to come from Wanicur as a leader.

Photo by Darci Fontenot

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