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KSDS Jazz 88 brought in a veteran group of improvisers playing music grounded in the tradition while looking to the future on Oct. 8, when the Billy Mintz Quintet performed at the Saville Theatre for the "Jazz Live" series.

The leader was once a San Diegan, before moving first to Los Angeles then back to his native New York. An extremely versatile drummer, Mintz can thrive in bebop or free environments, and he does it all with an unshakable swing.

Opening with the lush original ballad, "Beautiful You," saxophonist John Gross and trombonist Joey Sellers wrapped around the melody over Mintz's orchestral percussion and the reverberant harmonies of Roberta Piket. An amazing drum interlude followed, filled with tiny musical gestures that made you lean forward to take it all in. Piket's soliloquy drew thick clouds of resonant texture--she can straddle the divide between "inside" lyricism and knottier improvisation very well. Gross takes his time and paints with a broad brush of timbres, eschewing harsher shrieks for the most part. Sellers takes an edgier approach with looser intonation and devotion to the instrument's extremes.

The frantic see-saw theme of "Flight," opened up with Sellers taking things straight "out" mixing deft upper register ripping with fat blats in the lower. Throughout the evening there was a terrific arc of dynamics, all controlled and directed by Mintz's intricate ride cymbal beat. Gross showed off a superior sense of melodic organization and Piket's contrapuntal jabbing was inherent to the developmental flow.

Bassist Putter Smith got into the spotlight with an unaccompanied solo following "Relent," probing rich ideas in a quarter-note pulse with sliding double-stops and yearning stabs into the thumb-position.

After an inspired dual 'bone/tenor solo on the freebopish "Schmear," the group laid down a 'Trane-ish ostinato for "After Retribution," establishing a hypnotic reverie.

Photo by Michael Oletta

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