Ken Leighton 2:46 p.m., Oct. 15
White does Monk
The always surprising pianist led an inspired quartet through his distinctive take on classic material.
The rewards of experiencing pianist Joshua White live as often as possible can not be exaggerated. Jazz, in its purest form is music created in the moment, and as such, every time White approaches the piano different things happen.
On July 18, at the Museum of Art in Balboa Park, White assembled a particularly expert ensemble to explore the music of Thelonious Monk, featuring Philadelphia transplant Ben Schachter on tenor saxophone, Hamilton Price on bass and Dan Schnelle on drums.
The house was packed with enthusiastic listeners primed for the performance which concentrated on lesser known material from the iconic composer. Leading off "Teo," with jangling clusters over the calypso feel of Price and Schnelle, White cleared a path for Schachter, who thickened the air with smoky spirals ascending into split-toned screams. The pianist would take one phrase, examine it though the facets of a polytonal prism before striking out with hyper-melodic skeins that edged closer to a delirious climax. Price's spidery fingerings stair-stepped through dark intervals and landed on plump single notes that tied it all together.
Price began "Brilliant Corners," alone with warm stabs and mocking asides before morphing into wicked time as White and Schnelle engaged in mortal combat on the free side and blood-brotherhood on the swing. Schachter's incantation began with burnished contours translating into a rough-sawn edge of confident motion. Schnelle's solos are not the typical assortment of licks -- they are architectural structures of explosive materials that always reflect an underlying logic.
A highlight moment occurred when White approached "Ask Me Now," as a solo statement. Rippling with a baroque sense of motion tempered by striking dissonances, his exposition was daring enough to draw open-mouthed stares from his associates as he transitioned from neo-classical ornaments into shades of stride and peek-a-boo fragments of harmonized melody.
Schachter's breathy tone ushered in "Ruby, My Dear," while White's tinkling harmonies almost took an irreverent attitude as he stretched the tune into the unknown.
Schnelle released his snare strainer to begin a tribal sounding drum choir introduction to "Raised Four," where Schachter broke his phrasing into jagged vignettes before tossing the baton to White, whose assault on the keys made all ten fingers seem spring-loaded.
White will return to the museum next week with a completely different group -- this one featuring the dazzling Colorado-based trumpeter Hugh Ragin -- don't miss it!
Photo by Barbara Wise