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Bob McPhail 8:30 a.m., Aug. 17
Trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos continued his Friday-night-at-the-Westgate Hotel series, Some Of My Friends Are Piano Players, last night with local piano phenomenon Joshua White and bass stalwart Rob Thorsen in front of another standing-room-only crowd that cheered on two sets of stellar modern jazz.
The room--which is acoustically sublime--seats about 40 listeners, so I arrived an hour early to claim a spot in front of the piano.
Castellanos defers choices about the material to each visiting artist--increasing the excitement over dealing with new material--a challenge he finds energizing.
White led off with an exquisite, re-harmonized introduction to "I Could Write A Book," establishing an irresistible pulse and sending the trumpeter into a space where one warm idea layered atop another. When White turned up the heat, Castellanos responded with strings of trills and fat smears--yielding to ebullient gestures from the pianist that grew more challenging as his solo developed. Thorsen brought up the rear with thick, meaty slurs and flashes of thumb-position alacrity.
Once again, the draw of this room lies in the reality that everyone can play unamplified, without sacrificing the ability to hear each instrument distinctly. Every nuance is audible, from the touch of White's chords, to the rattle of Thorsen's strings, and the whispered glissandi of Castellanos.
As such, ballads are a perfect choice--and White's lyric, pastoral harmonies eased into tinkling arpeggios--then a dark mysterious throb to outline "All Or Nothing At All," provoking some of the most salient purring from the trumpet--augmented by gentle undulations from the plunger mute. White hammered a single note with varying density while building harmonies around it--resulting in a dramatic suspension of time--and clearing a spot for Thorsen to craft a beautiful story of open-harmonics, pregnant double-stops and wide glissandi.
White chose "Stars Fell On Alabama," for a solo feature--beginning with a strange series of sputtering repetitions, then stating an idea that refracted into multiple keys--then suddenly launching into a sprightly two-beat feel that sounded like Art Tatum.
Next was a blues--in this case Hank Mobley's "Soul Station." The blues always seems to trigger the naughty-extrovert in Castellanos-- this one found him with both feet in the gutbucket "bringing it" with growling, chortling and notes strangled into submission. Thorsen's "time" is so strong--it gets under your skin.
The highlights kept coming--whether it was a dark exploration of "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," or the waltz-time re-imagining of "Freddie The Freeloader," which touched on every possible permutation of the blues-form including a remarkable Baroque section from White. Also noteworthy was the insertion of "Surrey With The Fringe On Top," at the end of "If Ever I Should Leave You." Very Ahmad Jamal-ish.
The series continues next Friday with pianist Mikan Zlatkovich and double-bass monster Bob Magnusson. Get there early.
Photo by Barbara Wise