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Composer and pianist Joe Garrison brought the rich 9 piece ensemble he calls Night People into 98 Bottles on March 7, for an evening of creative, swinging original material featuring some of San Diego's best instrumental soloists.

Garrison himself is a fine, if understated pianist--but it is with his pen that he distinguishes himself. Writing for multiple horns, the composer has a gift for conjuring sumptuous voicings that seem rooted in the work of Oliver Nelson, or Woody Shaw's Rosewood ensemble--but that ultimately bear an individual stamp.

Opening with "Ja-Ka," a gorgeous, elliptical theme, star trumpeter Derek Cannon let loose first, with darting velocity and murmured smears, then trombonist Matt Hall followed with a highly rhythmic solo that never strayed far from the upper register. Brian O' Donnell's bass trombone had a wider melodic scope, and soprano saxophone master Kemau Kenyatta cut through the density with a piercing contribution. Young drummer Fernando Gomez was most impressive, cleaning the slate dynamically for each soloist, and growing the intensity of his drive accordingly. Bassist Rob Thorsen was the glue that held it all together with muscular, consistent time-keeping.

Rich dissonances made the head to "Casa Cada Dia," sing from the get-go, and Kenyatta's soaring, chirping saxophone inspired primal explosions from Gomez. Hall unwound a whinnying solo over Thorsen's groaning bass and Cannon built long lines of trilled eighth notes and bent-tones in an exemplary statement.

Garrison's winding expression over a reggae beat, "Bass & Drum," featured a melodically cascading piano solo which rippled around jagged stones of barrelhouse interjections.

On another piece, which sounded like the theme to a really hip movie, Kenyatta's spotlight was arresting from the very first note--he's got a beautiful sound, and his ideas are transformative.

The rest of the band exited save for the french horn of Nicolee Kuester, Kenyatta and Garrison to unravel a stunning, Wayne Shorter-esque ballad of resonant ecstasy as Garrison made the tiny piano sound like a Steinway.

Armando Silva snuck in a neat solo on "8/89," temporarily relieved of his conducting duties. Cannon followed, with burning and implacable logic, then Thorsen emerged with a wholly free-improvisation that bristled with creative fire.

Bold and original large ensemble writing like this is exceedingly rare. Joe Garrison and Night People are the real deal.

Photo by Bonnie Wright

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