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San Diego piano virtuoso Joshua White continues to evolve at a dizzying pace, well evidenced by his debut performance at the Museum of Art on June 27, with a quartet featuring saxophonist Ben Schachter, LA bassist Hamilton Price and drummer Kevin Higuchi.

Confusion over the starting time caused me to miss most of the opening tune, but I was well situated to observe "Second Orbit," by one of Joshua's regular drummer's, Dan Schnelle. Price led the tune off with a deep-toned, wood-grained soliloquy as White surfaced with soft, pedaled chords. Higuchi used cymbal washes to color until a penetrating Latin groove was established, setting the stage for Schachter's yearning, emotive solo, which recalled Jan Garbarek's work with Keith Jarrett back in the day. White began slowly over the light clicks of Higuchi's rimshots, connecting short melodic ideas that converged into longer strands that bordered on the ecstatic.

"Memories of Motian," couldn't have been more different. Time floated and swirled around the abstract melody as White pounded and hammered odd intervals and clusters into a sonic squall. Schachter got all late 'Trane with tortured fragments and squealing vibrato.

An older White composition, "Monotone Joe," was anything but -- it shifted between free-jazz thrusting and an inherent swing impulse, which the pianist developed with strains of Red Garland battling Don Pullen. Schachter proved to be a tone-master -- veering from honey-hushed luster to bark-peeling blats in an instant. Price began with a direct quote from "Evidence," then traveled from the dark register into the cello range with an impossible agility.

Over Higuchi's shimmering cymbals and the gentle throb of Price's bass, White waxed extremely lyrically on "New Colors," setting off lush, bell-toned harmonies that led into a pianissimo-level drum solo that ebbed into a kinetic climax and receded as quickly as a wave back to deep water. Higuchi is new to the area, and his drumming was consistently delightful all evening.

Erupting from the bass register, White's assaulting activity careened into "The Lower Case," causing Schachter to barrel through the barrelhouse contours. White speaks all dialects of the blues with alarming fluency, and it was instructive to witness his wild, a cappella ride which organized thoughts at the speed of neurons firing.

Closing with his own "Prelude for Monk," a gorgeous and haunting ballad into a startling reorganization of "Rhythm-A-Ning," was a touch of genius. White inverted the melody so effectively it almost became a new tune, especially the way he manipulated the time --pulling, contracting at the form like an accordion.

Heady stuff. White will back at the Museum in two weeks. As will I and everyone who attended this one, I bet.

Photo by Barbara Wise

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