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One of the coolest things about Chuck Perrin and Dizzy's, is the opportunity he provides San Diego's next wave of improvisers to showcase their abilities.

Tonga Ross-Ma'u is an emerging talent who capitalized on that exposure on Sept. 12, fronting a trio featuring double-bass stalwart Antar Martin and young drum phenomenon Fernando Gomez

I've caught Ross-Ma'u several times in the past year, usually playing both piano and guitar, although this latest gig focused on his piano work.

Opening "Viennese Summer," with pensive harmonies grounded by Martin's singing bass lines and the shimmering cymbals of Gomez. Ross-Ma'u developed his phrasing with deliberation, giving each sequence a chance to breathe, melodically, followed by a throaty, wood-grained statement from the bass.

"Jangling," brought LA tenor saxophonist Brian Clancy into the mix on Ross-Ma'u's 16-bar blues. Martin hit first with a dark, rope-textured feature that grooved from end-to-end, then Clancy carved golden hued arcs with languid phrasing--building incrementally from a slow to full boil. Ross-Ma'u constructed his solo from one hammered note, picking up velocity and ornamentation with surges of bluesy filigree.

His original waltz, "When Words Are Not Enough," was an inspired example of his compositional ability--a gorgeous melody that reminded me of Keith Jarrett's "European Quartet," where Clancy's burnished tenor soared above the moaning whole notes of Martin and the gentle swirl of Gomez' brushes. Ross-Ma'u has a deft motion with diatonic harmonies and a delicate way of crafting melodic information on the spot.

Gomez got a chance to shine with an explosive soliloquy on "One Finger Snap" telling a complete story in the process, and Ross Ma'u shifted from a sublime solo reading of "My Funny Valentine," into a very ECM- sounding "Skylark," which was lyrical and organic.

They closed with McCoy Tyner's "Passion Dance," drawing Ross-Ma'u into a forceful display of rhythmic jabbing in response to the percussive onslaught of Gomez. Clancy trilled and flirted with altissimo dynamics and Martin's deep, time-centric solo quoted bugle-calls and other ideas from the overtone series.

Photo by Bonnie Wright

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