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Justin Wolff 8:30 a.m., June 16
April 18 represented a special day in the evolution of piano master Joshua White. Drum legend Marvin "Smitty" Smith made the trek down from LA, as did bassist Hamilton Price to join White and tenor saxophonist Ben Schachter for a blistering set of post-modern jazz before a small, but attentive audience at Dizzy's.
I first became aware of Smith some 25 years ago when he was a member of Dave Holland's group. He's got an ultra keen directive with his cymbals, and he stirs up waves of percussive propulsion with the rest of his kit.
White began by debuting a brand new original composition with the trio of Smith and Price, "Memories of Motian," dedicated to the late great drum avatar Paul Motian. Ruminative abstractions hung in the air as piano and bass zeroed in on angular unisons over malleted drums. The kinetic energy of one hammered note surrounded by a vortex of stormy harmonies and surging percussion brought the intensity into a higher dimension.
By contrast Wayne Shorter's "Iris," was much more conventional -- at least at first. White layered lush voice-leading over Price's groaning bass and the laser focus of Smith's cymbal pings and rimshots before branching out in a lyric display worthy of Hancock or Jarrett.
White's supercharged blues "The Lower Case," opened with left-hand fragments building to a double-fisted pounding while Schachter's muscular tenor rippled through the changes with fat curves that twisted into multiphonic squeals. The pianist's solo began with one idea smashed into multiple tonalities through a spinning prism of chromatic invention before succumbing to an endless succession of competing themes.
Schachter got a chance to showcase his breathy Ben Webster-ish sense of melodic grace on "Ballad for the very tired, very sad Lotus Eaters," while White brushed soft chords and the saxophonist responded with hushed, tender curlicues around the form.
The start/stop loony-tunes fanfare of Ornette Coleman's "Folk Song," ripped into a furious swing driven by the kaleidoscopic time shifting of Price and the constant motion of Smith's cymbals, which inspired the pianist to lean on a cycle of repetition that sounded like a record skipping in an earthquake. Somehow, the dynamics drew way down, affording the bassist a chance to surface with a liquid feature of warm drama --yielding to Smith who conjured a masterpiece of military snare cadences mirrored by shimmering cymbal attacks. Throughout his solo, one could distinctly hear the melodic structure as an imperative.
White's "Curiosity Landing," was next, a nice feature for Schachter, who built his statement on burnished arpeggios and coarse trills into the altissimo register. Over the throbbing bass, the pianist strapped in for a duet with Smith that had chain-reactive qualities. What began pensive became volcanic as each man ratcheted the tension higher.
Jangling clusters with fragments ricocheting like a floodlight with a seizure characterized the frenetic lurch of White's arrangement of "Little Rootie Tootie," where an unstoppable swing led into a drum solo with enough explosions to bring out the National Guard.
Really, it doesn't get much better than this.
Photo by Barbara Wise