The Chase Morrin Trio: The ASCAP-award-winning piano prodigy Chase Morrin was back in town (he is attending both Harvard and the New England Conservatory) to celebrate his 21st birthday with a concert at Dizzy’s, accompanied by bassist Justin Grinnell and drummer Charles Weller.
Hunched over the piano, with his ear parallel to the keys, Morrin began “The Pintacree Ferryman,” by creating layers of straight-eighth diatonic harmonies as Grinnell charted an independent course over the shimmer of Weller’s cymbals. Hyper-melodic pastel colors also dominated “Through the Echo,” while classical flourishes dotted the landscape of “The Little Pear,” which also served as a launching pad for a fleet, probing bass solo.
In an evening characterized by Morrin’s originals, the excitement quotient didn’t really crank up until the trio launched into the flamenco groove of Chick Corea’s “What Was,” where Weller’s insistent cross-stick jabs and uppercuts egged the young pianist into his most animated work of the evening. Grinnell then proceeded to steal the show with limber filigree. Morrin’s got chops galore, challenging compositional ideas, and a rich touch at the piano. At this stage in his development – a little more emphasis on risk-taking and tension-building could catapult him to the next level.
The Larry Fuller Trio: The very next night, NYC pianist Larry Fuller dropped into the Pacific Beach venue with an entirely different aesthetic. Years of experience in the bebop ethos (the 49-year-old Fuller was the last pianist in bass-legend Ray Brown’s band) and a repertoire heavy on standards and jazz classics led to a night of heavy, ebullient swing.
Fronting a crack unit comprised of bassist Katie Thiroux and drummer Matt Witek, Fuller came out swinging for the fences on Cole Porter’s “At Long Last Love.” Over Thiroux’s thick, grounding pulse and the feather-dusting brushes of Witek, the pianist unleashed long bluesy phrases with startling velocity. Witek’s hands-on-skins percussion under languid arco primed Fuller for blues-rococo and deft block-chord ornamentation, and Thiroux kept her solo real with raw, primal chunks of meaty fundamentals delivered in synch with her own voice.
In a genius change of pace, Fuller’s long, two-chord improvisation began with swaths of Duke Ellington’s “Reflection in D,” and traversed into a neatly reimagined look into Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” which showcased his rather voluptuous sense of harmony. Then it was back to the races with Clifford Brown’s “Daahoud,” at a tempo somewhat shy of the speed-of-light but faster than one can legally travel on the Autobahn. The trio locked into a wicked 4/4 with gobs of unison accents as Fuller quoted “Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise,” before yielding to Witek’s stick-ignited fireworks.
Two nights, two piano trios, two different worlds – equally viable – that’s kinda the beauty of jazz.
Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years.