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Mike Garson's Electric Jazz in The Back Room

L.A. pianist Mike Garson was last in San Diego supporting vocalist Nnenna Freelon a few years back, in one of the better concerts of that year. Garson has an impressive résumé as a musician--including many years as the musical director for David Bowie.

Last night, he returned with a fusion-ensemble concept featuring several SD heavyweights, and a protégé from up north, 16 year-old fretless bassist Theo Ryan. Joining them were flute virtuoso Lori Bell, electric bassist Dave Curtis and veteran drummer Kevin Koch.

It began with a swing aesthetic: Bell's swooping vibrato weaving around the melody to "Stella By Starlight," in full, glorious tone over Garson's keyboards, the hissing hi-hat of Koch and the power-walk of Curtis. Each of the principals soled then Garson and Bell traded 2-bar phrases with a kind of symmetry that only comes from great chemistry.

After a rubato, dreamy synthesizer intro to "Oh What A Beautiful Morning," Bell emerged, snaking around the changes with winding lines, sputtering and growling at will. Garson changed things up dramatically with a powerful vamp--then he and Koch locked into a percussive melee that ratcheted up the excitement quotient .

Garson brought the young bassist up for a stirring arrangement of Jaco Pastorious' "Continuum," and I've got to say, this kid can really play. To be able to play those lines at his age is a solid indicator that he's looking at quite a future in music.

Ryan stayed on for the rest of the evening, taking on the melody role for "Autumn Leaves," "Besame Mucho," and a totally rocking version of Lionel Ritchie's "Hello," which featured wild synthesizer work from Garson, a spirited electric bass shoot-out -- and a jaw-dropping drum solo from Koch--who seemed to be channeling Dave Weckl and Steve Gadd all night. It goes to show you that context is everything--Garson obviously knew what a fire Koch is capable of igniting--and the two drove each other into some furious exchanges.

It was a neat gesture for Garson to feature the young bassist to the degree he did--and it was equally instructive to hear the veteran Curtis do a little schooling when it came time for the solos.

They closed with a wild version of "Donna Lee," a tune that is still amazing to hear interpreted on the electric bass, 35 years after Jaco did it on his first album. Garson even morphed into "Sweet Georgia Brown," on the house piano--providing some relief from all of the electricity for a moment.

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L.A. pianist Mike Garson was last in San Diego supporting vocalist Nnenna Freelon a few years back, in one of the better concerts of that year. Garson has an impressive résumé as a musician--including many years as the musical director for David Bowie.

Last night, he returned with a fusion-ensemble concept featuring several SD heavyweights, and a protégé from up north, 16 year-old fretless bassist Theo Ryan. Joining them were flute virtuoso Lori Bell, electric bassist Dave Curtis and veteran drummer Kevin Koch.

It began with a swing aesthetic: Bell's swooping vibrato weaving around the melody to "Stella By Starlight," in full, glorious tone over Garson's keyboards, the hissing hi-hat of Koch and the power-walk of Curtis. Each of the principals soled then Garson and Bell traded 2-bar phrases with a kind of symmetry that only comes from great chemistry.

After a rubato, dreamy synthesizer intro to "Oh What A Beautiful Morning," Bell emerged, snaking around the changes with winding lines, sputtering and growling at will. Garson changed things up dramatically with a powerful vamp--then he and Koch locked into a percussive melee that ratcheted up the excitement quotient .

Garson brought the young bassist up for a stirring arrangement of Jaco Pastorious' "Continuum," and I've got to say, this kid can really play. To be able to play those lines at his age is a solid indicator that he's looking at quite a future in music.

Ryan stayed on for the rest of the evening, taking on the melody role for "Autumn Leaves," "Besame Mucho," and a totally rocking version of Lionel Ritchie's "Hello," which featured wild synthesizer work from Garson, a spirited electric bass shoot-out -- and a jaw-dropping drum solo from Koch--who seemed to be channeling Dave Weckl and Steve Gadd all night. It goes to show you that context is everything--Garson obviously knew what a fire Koch is capable of igniting--and the two drove each other into some furious exchanges.

It was a neat gesture for Garson to feature the young bassist to the degree he did--and it was equally instructive to hear the veteran Curtis do a little schooling when it came time for the solos.

They closed with a wild version of "Donna Lee," a tune that is still amazing to hear interpreted on the electric bass, 35 years after Jaco did it on his first album. Garson even morphed into "Sweet Georgia Brown," on the house piano--providing some relief from all of the electricity for a moment.

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