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The ARC Trio featuring pianist Rick Helzer bassist Justin Grinnell and drummer Nathan Hubbard played a reunion gig on March 9 at Villa Musica--reconfirming the depth of talent in the San Diego jazz scene.

These guys may be the best-kept secret in town. They are playing a form of music that no one else is really dealing with--so that makes their relatively rare performances even more important.

It would be easy to categorize what the ARC Trio does as "ECM" music--that is, a form of "chamber-jazz," but that's only partially accurate. Time and again, their music roars into a visceral swing, and the mutual distortions of time they employ suggest a complete absorption of principals established by the cutting edge of American improvisers.

There is a seamless transition between intricately notated materials into open forms that demand vigilant listening, and a fine-tuned balance between unfettered melodicism and raw, rhythmic forays into the unknown that made for a fascinating evening.

Opening with "Dewey's Gone," Monk-ish piano intervals clanged into constantly shifting tempo vignettes--where Helzer advanced a jagged forward-motion while Grinnell countered with a constant pedal-tone and Hubbard stirred up a quiet storm with active brushes.

Grinnell's "It's What You Do," started out with piano/bass unisons before leaping abruptly into a free dialog including comic glissandi and Hubbard's everything-but-the-kitchen-sink percussion before Helzer took the helm with a remarkably cogent melodic assault that coalesced the group into a throbbing whole.

"Circular Reasoning," a sumptuous waltz with a nod toward Wayne Shorter and Kenny Wheeler, sang from the first bar. Gliding on the pinpoint ride cymbal articulations of Hubbard, Helzer sprang streams of cascading ideas and Grinnell fashioned a velocity-themed solo that evoked a Gary Peacock sense of drama.

Helzer's piano harmonies were as rich as Goldman Sachs on "In The Shadow of the Dark Tree," and full of angular motion on "The Bush Man," which also brought out a huge, primal sound from Grinnell as all three transitioned from the loping theme into open water.

Hubbard's "Dead Pan," engaged the bassist into a furious back-and-forth as the ARC Trio careened toward an ebullient climax.

Inspiring stuff that left me wanting more.

Photo by Michael Neal

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