Scott Marks 3:09 p.m., June 23
Joshua White, Tripp Sprague & Gunnar Biggs @ Westgate Hotel
Three masters explore, deconstruct, and reinvent standards in the moment.
Piano virtuoso Joshua White cemented another step in his quest for self-fulfillment on March 29, with a smoking performance at the Westgate Hotel featuring tenor saxophonist Tripp Sprague and bassist Gunnar Biggs.
Unwinding soft honeyed tones over the solid time of Biggs, Sprague issued elliptical, climbing arpeggios as White kept the motion surging with well-placed chords--taking his turn with strutting ebullience, provocative runs and double-fisted block chords. The bassist emerged with thick, rope-like textures, steaming ahead and quoting "Fascinating Rhythm," with no trace of irony.
White's intro to "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise," broke the theme into baroque-like vignettes--seeming to imply double and half time in the same instant before disappearing to allow a deliciously furious bass/tenor duet to germinate with Sprague carving raspy curlicues above the swing machine heroics of Biggs--made all the more ecstatic by White's return--laced with irresistible and highly charged rhythmic motifs.
Time seemed to float on velvet pillows during a remarkably chilled "Jitterbug Waltz," where Sprague wove bluesy ideas and sly vibrato before White channeled into a cross-the-grain arrhythmia against the steadfast motion of Biggs--who's grainy double-stop strumming took the dance-off/sparring session to another level.
Sprague led off "How High The Moon," with churning locomotion, Dexter Gordon filigree and liberal quotes from Parker's contrafact "Ornithology," then White picked up the last phrase of his solo and sent it spinning across multiple checkpoints into an entirely different zip code.
Nothing prepared me for what they did to transform "Body & Soul," though. White began by eking resonant harmonies--setting up a slow dance in which Sprague caressed the melody with a hushed breathiness, reinventing each contour and avoiding clichés like landmines. Again, the pianist took a hard left with his solo, veering directly into oncoming traffic with audacious contrary motion that somehow morphed into a glorious moment of lyric grace.
I've come to expect magic from White, but it was especially gratifying to hear Sprague, and Biggs elaborate at length in this meeting of the spirits on equal ground.
Photo by Bonnie Wright