Daniel Powell 1:30 p.m., Nov. 19
Delivering in the moment: Joshua White Quintet
With special guest trumpeter Hugh Ragin, White's music took transformative turns.
The July 11 performance of the Joshua White Quintet at Dizzy's exceeded expectations by almost every metric one could imagine. For nearly two hours, music of the highest nature cascaded from the bandstand into the brainwaves of the listener in a way that transfixed me -- so much so, that even the suffering of a particularly painful toothache became a moot point.
Opening with a 30 minute medley -- White introduced his own composition, "Doorway," with contemplative musings that grew in agitation as trumpeter Hugh Ragin phased one long tone through cycles of classical purity to growling dissension that leapt into UHF screeches as bassist Dave Robaire, drummer Dan Schnelle and saxophonist Gavin Templeton voiced individual contributions to a five-way conversation-- then suddenly, it was Robaire alone, pulling thick deliberate textures in a solo that transitioned into Andrew Hill's "Tough Love," featuring a spooky left-hand / bass-clarinet ostinato that Ragin pounced on with tart smears, wild yelps and notes high enough to shatter glass. Shifting between elliptical ideas and violent splaying of keys, White explored blurring gradients before Templeton surfaced with honeyed tones that acquired a searing intensity. A brief Schnelle vignette served as both orchestral pallete-cleansing and the connective tissue into Grachan Moncur's "Frankenstein," that began as a lyric duo between piano and bass, until the reverie was enhanced by shimmering cymbals and rimshot clicks. White and Ragin crafted melodic gems and Templeton charted a new course with a slashing velocity.
A quiet drum interlude set up Schnelle's original, "Second Orbit," a pensive ballad in the ECM vein with a Wayne Shorter-esque melody beautifully intoned by Ragin and Templeton, yielding to Robaire, who creates excitement through the exactitude of his note selection and singing tone. White can be breathtakingly lyrical, and he was all in on this one.
A raw, Elvin Jones type groove introduced Templeton's "Asterperious Special," joined by a bass line reminiscent of Willie Dixon's "Spoonful," trumpet and alto combined on a head that suggested a marriage of Vinny Golia with Art Blakey. Building slowly with deference to space, Templeton ratcheted up the excitement quotient with dervish lines and significant explosive contributions from Schnelle. Ragin changed directions most dramatically -- everyone else receded as he dropped into a pianissimo with whispered tones that you just knew were going to lead into a change of focus -- it was the mastery with which he led the listener to that change that was so amazing: piercing clarion calls, dizzying trills, smears and multiphonics wrapped into a raw ecstasy that begged for the only possible release -- a graceful recapitulation back to the melody.
In a nod to tradition, Ragin counted off his original blues, "Not A Moment Too Soon," with escape velocity in mind. Soloing like the most committed bebopper Ragin continued for several minutes in that vein before his exposition took on different aesthetics, including warbled trills, distorted gurgling and palm-muted ripples-- White responded with ebullient choruses of swinging blues alliterations refracted through drastic shifts in tempo, harmonic inventions and jack-hammered chords.
As a device to induce a state of grace, White's "Curiosity Landing," could not have been a more appropriate choice. The golden, probing melody showcased a dazzling piano solo followed by Templeton's Ornette-ian cries and Ragin's purring sequences-- all of which allowed the listener the space to transport back into a corporeal state sufficient to negotiate the ride home.
This same band will reconvene at the Museum of Art on July 25. Don't miss out on the opportunity to be transformed by this music.
Photo by Richard White