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San Diego tenor saxophonist Ian Tordella has been organizing these "double-trio" evenings for the better part of the year now, but the August 24 hit at Dizzy's might just be impossible to top. For his part, the hornman unveiled a new trio with bassist Justin Grinnell and drummer Kevin Higuchi--and based on their debut performance -- this could be an important group. Tordella also invited pianist Joshua White to bring in a trio, a devastating assemblage featuring bassist Mark Dresser and Danny Campbell.

Ian Tordella Trio

The first thing you notice about this group is how loose and open they operate. Grinnell is a superb bassist with strong, logical lines and a woody sound, and he propelled the Tordella original, "Liam's Song," with a combination of walking lines and pedaled suspensions that allowed Higuchi's stormy motion to effectively offset the more measured streams of saxophone consciousness. Tordella's sneaky altissimo facility is always interesting, and Grinnell's spot achieved excitement through deliberation.

Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge," reached a peak when Tordella's squealing upper register melded with the rhythmic cyclone of Higuchi, who spreads his pulse evenly around the drumkit, and Grinnell''s a cappella intro to "Sir Edwards Lament," established a space where everyone seemed to be soloing at once.

The trio became a quartet with White sitting in on the pulsing ECM vibe of "Anna Street," benefiting greatly from the shower of ride cymbal pings from the drummer, and the audacity of the pianist's harmonic choices which seemed to spur the saxophonist into a muscular, spiraled twist.


Joshua White Trio

Featuring a slew of new compositions inspired by the late painter Jean-Michel Basquiat -- the White trio virtually exploded with bristling intensity from the moment the piano and drums answered Dresser's volume-pedal swells of harmonics on the opening "King Alphonso." White attacked the keyboard with hurricane-force, as Dresser fragmented the ferocity of his walking with slaps and pedal tones while Campbell's ride cymbal anchored a series of percussive counterpunches.

Jumbling stabs in the lower-register began "Victor 25-448," as Dresser answered with a counterpoint of raked triplets against Campbell's rimshot fusillades while the cluster-filled melody came careening off the keyboard. Dresser, White and Campbell often took on the role of three drummers-- volleying broadsides of fractal motion for whiplash connections.

"50 Cent Piece," traced violent orbits between splayed keys and the rhythmic unisons of bass, drums and Tordella's alto saxophone. White achieved a sort of Taylor-esque command of power and velocity that refracted multiple salvos from the drummer. Dresser grabbed a bow, soared into the upper register and reversed with a descending glissando. The intensity and lurching unisons reminded me, stylistically of John Coltrane's "Sun Ship."


"Eyes and Eggs," began with Campbell's brushes feather-dusting his kit for a loping swing while Dresser momentarily pedaled the g-string. White's melody, jagged and angular kept the tension high even while the blues lurked in every corner as the bassist quoted "Green Chimneys," and activated amplified overtones that sounded like a creaking jaws harp.

Closing out with "Liberty," an ingenious theme that inexorably blurred the distinction between melody and rhythm-- White's clusters advanced with hammered agitation and Dresser, using both palms to slap a perpetual hand-drum motion against the strings and fingerboard, layered against the congruent figures of Campbell's Elvin Jones-ish polyrhythms.


Tordella Trio photo by Justin Grinnell. White Trio photos by Brian Ross.

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