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One of the greatest advantages of having an artist of the stature of Joshua White in town is the ability to experience his inexorable development through the prism of multiple performances -- gauging material from both constant and varying ensemble partners -- one principal becomes crystal clear: White likes to mix it up.

I've seen the pianist interpret the music of Thelonious Monk many times, yet each performance stands in stark relief from the previous one.

Configuring the instrumentation and corresponding seating into a "theater in the round" formation, White began "Light Blue," in a dense thicket of sonic qualities, considerably aided by the non-cliché battery of Kevin Higuchi's drums, which competed for vibrational access with the pianist's elliptical chords as Ben Schachter's bark-peeling tenor veered into squealing tangents. All of the dynamics reduced to a hush for White's essay of tattooed trills and piledriver clusters. Bassist Hamilton Price rounded out the exchanges with a deft blend of velocity and fat whole notes.

The heady bitches-brew continued with "Break's Sake," powered by the engine of Higuchi's cyclic fusillades and the pneumatic hammering of White. Price added to the density with non-walking lines -- creating a constantly evolving ostinati while the pianist spun manic trills into gospel harmonies.

Leading off "Teo," with dissonant intervals over baroque counterpoint, White wound through the contours with melodic surety along the shifting dynamics of Higuchi, who would draw down to a whisper and crank up to the intensity of a Gatling gun. Price provided the connective tissue into "Shuffle Boil," with a long and dramatic solo of flamenco strums and pregnant double-stops. This one morphed from jagged stabs into a wicked straight time with Schachter screaming through the changes as White strolled -- making his reentry even more satisfying -- especially as he cut daringly across the grain of the rhythm --teasing toward a resolution that never really came.

The highlight event occurred on a spontaneously arrived at decision to take on "Ask Me Now," as a duet with Schachter. Clearly, a communicative vista had been scaled, as Schachter's breathy purring graced one of White's most lyrical landscapes. What makes this pianist so special though, is that even his most sunny portraits have dark clouds that emerge from nowhere -- yet his rhythmic motion is so pure that just hearing him comp is like a ticket to nirvana. Schachter responded with ecstatic multiphonics-- and the piece took on a transformational dimension.

The entire affair took on the feeling of an adventure -- and that's what jazz is supposed to do.

Mission accomplished.

Photo by Patrick Escalante

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