White led this red-hot quintet through the music of John Coltrane with imaginative arrangements in front of a packed house.
Wednesday, February 13, piano virtuoso Joshua White, celebrated the musical legacy of jazz icon John Coltrane before a sold-out house at The Loft--fronting an all-star aggregation featuring bassist Mark Dresser, trombonist Michael Dessen, saxophonist David Borgo and drummer Duncan Moore.
Mr. White's inexhaustible quest for growth as a musician has yielded tangible, and astonishing results. During several solo spots--the other players onstage--some of whom have 30 years on him--looked on in obvious amazement.
Dresser opened the concert with somber intervals, eking out a short, grainy solo that led into "Living Space," an angular, explosive theme from Coltrane's often-misunderstood "late period." It was a joy to hear Moore ratcheting up the tension in free-metrics as White dialed up the energy. By the time the horns entered-- White was channeling both McCoy Tyner and Alice Coltrane.
A short, roiling drum solo led into "Transition," where White activated a hard swing right out of the gates--joyously hovering over Dresser's sturm und drang and the wicked ride cymbal implications of Moore. Borgo surfaced with burnished tenor textures--twisting scalar ideas into hoarse cries before handing off to Dessen, who's braying, warbled vibrato was temporarily sidetracked by a problem with onstage feedback.
Moore's soft mallets triggered a remarkable synthesis of Elvin Jones on "The Drum Thing," and White's left-hand rumblings and piledriving clusters brought tangential commentary from Borgo while Dresser chopped huge chunks of time with windmill thwacks on the strings of his bass. Dessen toggled between the court-jester to the romantic and back with minute variations on timbre and degrees of vibrato.
"After The Rain" opened with Dessen cradling the melody--eventually pulling the form apart like saltwater taffy as each musician charted an independent course. White's splayed arabesques initiating a trance before yielding to Dresser, who massaged upper register fingering into a state of spiritual grace.
The tour-de-force moment came when White unraveled a breathtaking deconstruction of "Giant Steps," which began as a soliloquy of seamless voice-leading careening into waves of discordant textures and a freakish mix of Cecil Taylor and Errol Garner as bits and pieces of the intricate theme came flying off the stage and past the ears.
The slinky swing of "Big Nick," found Borgo dancing and chirping on soprano and Dessen blustering his personal vision of the blues as Dresser walked, skipped and stumbled while White's ebullient block chords kept it all swinging.
After a brief intermission the band launched into the loose modal swing of "Brazilia," where White teased an almost unbearable tension through repetition released by long strands of effusive velocity. Borgo and Dessen wrapped orbital trills around each other to take the tune out.
Other highlights included Dessen's blustery Dixieland swagger on "Some Other Blues," and the aching exchange between piano and bass on "Naima," where Dresser's arco suggested the cry of seagulls over White's ruminative arpeggios.
Early candidate for concert of the year.
Photo by Brian Ross