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Utilizing a shared study of the music of Sonny Rollins and an encyclopedic knowledge of the Great American Songbook, San Diego jazz icons Peter Sprague and Gilbert Castellanos met on common ground last night at the Westgate Hotel unraveling a superb set of heavy improvisation with bassist Rob Thorsen laying down the bottom end.

Loosely conjuring Rollins' "Blue Seven," Sprague opened with peek-a-boo comping over the stutter-stepped walking of Thorsen while Castellanos whispered sweet-something's into the collective ear--gradually building to a more dense expression and tossing in a quote from "Bags Groove," for good measure. The guitarist's story began with elliptical sequences and flashes of chromatic stenography that mixed up single-lines with knuckle-busting voice leading. Thorsen emerged, with lines as thick as oak trees standing firm against a storm.

Sprague set "It Could Happen To You," into a joyous motion, winding through a circuitous route of arpeggios sprinkled with blue notes, swinging harder than a needle on Lance Armstrong's polygraph test. Castellanos took a different approach, often singling out one note to sculpt, ornament or squeeze before linking it to melodic flurries. Thorsen muscled rubbery strands of ideas punctuated by sighing glissandi and dripping double-stops.

The guitarist brought gorgeous chord-ornamentation into the air for Duke's "In A Sentimental Mood," adding curious, muted-Asian undertones as Castellanos traced fluid curlicues in gentle orbits around the harmony--stopping occasionally to purr blasts of warm air from his flugelhorn. After a bass solo that continued the theme of somber elegance, Sprague built an entirely new set of structures on the skeletal form.

Muted trumpet, darting and feinting with barely contained enthusiasm introduced "Old Devil Moon,' into the atmosphere while wringing every drop of blues in the process. Fragmenting the changes through a spinning prism, Sprague took things "out" then brought them slowly back "in" to focus.

The trio took "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise," apart, rebuilding it piece by piece as Castellanos performed a wicked split-personality attack with the plunger mute. Sprague danced into an alternate universe with daring distortions of the time--even briefly flirting with the "Bo Diddley" rhythmic motif as he traversed from raw swagger into whiplash strands of bebop velocity. Thorsen toyed with repetition--crafting tension through multiplicity and mutation before the trumpeter came wailing back in--growling like a malevolent hound, and bouncing from the gutbucket to the baroque in a flash.

Three masters working without a net and succeeding wildly through sublime communication.

Photo by Bonnie Wright

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