Gilbert Castellanos welcomed Azar Lawrence, Alphonse Mouzon, Hamilton Price and Joshua White into a meditation at 98 Bottles.
The spiritual gravitas of jazz icon John Coltrane hung thick in the air at 98 Bottles on August 4, especially when tenor saxophonist Azar Lawrence steered the ensemble into what would become a blueprint for the evening: a free rubato introduction into "Lonnie's Lament," which became a 20 minute tour-de-force. Gilbert Castellanos' trumpet swirled in orbits around the saxophone refrain over the skitterish, unsettled drums of Alphonse Mouzon. When the minor-blues form came bounding out, there were rough-hewn curlicues from Lawrence and smeary postulations from the trumpeter. Joshua White emerged, left-hand spring-loaded / right-hand splaying for locked-in exchanges with Mouzon, who may be the loudest drummer I've heard since seeing John Bonham in 1970. Finally, Hamilton Price drew the dynamics down, with strummed double-stops and flamenco gestures before the band took the tune out.
The super-charged Latin-to-swing aesthetic of "Summer Solstice," found Castellanos hitting first, darting though the changes with exuberant velocity and a strangling vibrato. Mouzon kicked each pedal section into an ecstatic dimension, spurring Lawrence into '65 Coltrane vortices with shotgun accents. Alternate universes were implied by the shifting harmonies of White, who used bluesy repetitions to create a tension that heightened with rhythmic counterpunches delivered with the force of Ali on a sparring partner.
A long a cappella innovation led Lawrence into a remarkably free "Body & Soul," landing stylistically somewhere between 'Trane's Atlantic version and the excoriating "Live In Seattle," Impulse session. Castellanos revealed a more tender and pensive signature with his muted solo, and White took the tune into a different reality with the energy structures of a beautiful mind.
Over a furious Price walk, Castellanos cut "Impressions," into short bursts that reconstituted in his improvisation to the length of old-growth redwoods. Mouzon kept an assault and battery pounding that rocketed off the stage and White strolled so that Lawrence could directly access the 'Trane/ Elvin Jones continuum with scales of alacrity and screams of delirium.
The malleted toms of Mouzon induced a squeal-trill-athon from the saxophone before White, beginning with the barest of materials delivered "Naima,' into a kinetic dust storm not seen since Pharoah Sanders' elastic burbling on "Live at the Village Vanguard Again" circa 1966.
The standing ovation following "Moments Notice," could not have been more appropriate.
Photo by Brian Ross