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The continued development of piano phenomenon Joshua White took a new turn on Feb. 23, in a cooperative venture with former San Diego bassist Jeff Denson in a superlative performance at the new Dizzy's with special guest tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens and LA drummer Dan Schnelle completing the ensemble.

Opening with short, seemingly disjointed fragments alone at the piano--spinning though key-changes with lyrical asides until the band joined in on Monk's "Eronel," White broke the theme into vignettes--driving everything with an irresistible forward motion. Denson followed with smart harmonic sequences and the remarkably relaxed posture of Schnelle belied the furious nature of his contributions.

The drummer also wields a pen, as evidenced on his original, "Second Orbit," a mysterious Wayne Shorter-esque melody with subtle mood shifts that saw Stephens bellowing in the lower register while winding into piercing wails in the upper. Denson's piquant spot featured measured commentary and sculpted phrasing that lingered in the ear.

Denson led off with a loping walk to introduce Stephens' "Dr. Wong's Birdsong," as piano and saxophone staked out parallel melodic structures. White's excited deconstruction of the blues seems to be the product of a mind full of ideas and the confidence with which to present daring extrapolations that always work somehow. Stephens took the baton with twisting spirals and bold declaratives and Denson brought it all back home with an earthy blues examination.

White's "Curiosity Landing," a gorgeous, pensive ballad in the ECM tradition sported a breathy, Stephens purr while the pianist opened melodic portals over the throb of Denson's bass and the whispered martial cadences of Schnelle's drums. Stephens' solo was all liquid swirls and White's answer brought a breathtaking lyric grace into the ether.

The pianist's manic tumble through "Thelonious," brought the kinetic energy up to a level of ecstasy with hammered repetitions and clanging clusters and Denson's original, "A Thought That Lingers," represented ballad storytelling in the highest tradition--especially his show-stopping solo-- a rich statement of singing tones that transcended technique and moved into an extra-musical domain.

Dizzy's was deservedly packed, and I trust no one left unmoved.

Photo by Bonnie Wright

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