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San Diego pianist Joshua White continues to demonstrate that he is ready for virtually any high-profile gig. I can see him making an immediate contribution to the groups led by Dave Holland, Wayne Shorter or Charles Lloyd, for instance -- and taking his place among the elite players of his time.

The trio he assembled for the April 26 hit at the Westgate Hotel had never performed before as a unit -- and that degree of unfamiliarity only added to the excitement quotient for the evening. Saxophonist Ben Schachter plays within the extended tradition of Philadelphia icon John Coltrane with tough, brawny lyricism and bassist Gunnar Biggs acted as the unifying force when White and Schachter reached into the upper partials of expression.

Sprightly chords led off "I'm Old Fashioned," as Schachter purred honeyed tones over the protean walk of Biggs, eventually ratcheting 'Trane-ish spirals while White kept breaking the harmony up behind him. When it was the pianist's turn he toggled between lyric kisses and playful slaps of jangling clusters -- channeling Red Garland one moment and Don Pullen the next -- keeping a mad swing imperative throughout.

Schachter's keening sound came out beautifully on his original, "Next," rippling like a jaguar under a silk sheet. White is capable of creating fully formed yet spontaneous ideas -- so trying to guess where he might be going is at least half the fun. Biggs brought up the rear with thick, quick turns through the dark registers.

The highlight of the first set was a bracingly free romp through "I Should Care," which began with White spinning fractured shards into elliptical orbits around the room, somehow coalescing into an inscrutable swing even as the melody relocated into the witness protection program. Biggs kept it all real with his straight-down-the-middle time keeping as White cast streams of melody, then followed with joyful velocity when his opportunity arose.

Photo by Bonnie Wright

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