10:43 a.m., Sept. 22
The force was with them
"Jazz meets Star Wars"? Gilbert Castellanos made it happen.
Gilbert Castellanos' "Jazz Meets Star Wars," concert on July 19 at Dizzy's could not have been more successful -- both from a musical standpoint as well as a commercial one. The show was well attended -- so much so, that for me it reached that rare nexus where gratitude and claustrophobia begin to merge.
Let me say, upfront, that I am not a Star Wars fan. I may have watched the first movie once on network TV, and I only remember looking forward to the commercials. Having said that, true jazz musicians can transform any material into something deep, and with a lineup consisting of Joshua White on piano, Hamilton Price on bass, Brian Levy on tenor saxophone, and Jamie Shadowlight on violin -- I'd probably be down for an evening devoted to the "song-stylings" of Lady Gaga.
I felt a little trepidation when the ensemble began with the all-too-familiar "Theme From Star Wars," but as soon as the melody passed that feeling was erased the moment White brushed a few simple chords onto the sonic canvas. Levy's dense jabbing drew the band into a committed swing which dropped into a hush for Shadowlight's more pensive exploration, filled with gypsy vibrato and raw aesthetics. When Castellanos entered, the intensity reached an ecstatic level, as the trumpeter's solo consisted of one long, continuous idea performed at escape velocity. White followed up with a fountain of notions gathering momentum through precise use of repetition as a tension builder.
White opened "Yoda's Theme," with gauzy, ambiguous harmonies over free input from Price and Schnelle before settling into an elastic, Wayne Shorter-ish groove. The trumpeter hit first, slowly connecting one thoughtful phrase to the next with gorgeous held tones before the pianist opened it up into an animated conversation with drums.
Shadowlight and White began "The Force," with classical touches until the melody instigated a potent bolero feel from the rhythm section. The pianist was both bluesy and lyrical, and the violinist countered with chilling glissandi, but it was Price who got the last word in with probing thumb-position acrobatics and deep baritone sonorities.
Schnelle's Tony Williams-esque drumming transformed "Imperial March," into a modal vehicle informed by White's choice harmonies. Castellanos jumped on the form, dare I say, like a Jedi warrior, racing, smearing and sputtering before Levy crowded dark spiraling arpeggios into the air. White twisted a trill into a vortex of kinetic energy surrounded by pneumatic hammering and Schnelle capped it all off with an ultra-musical drum solo that never lost sight of the drama.
Photo by Hiro Ikezi