My first encounter with trumpeter Camerahn Alforque occurred last October when he, as a member of the International Academy of Jazz opened the show for the San Diego Symphony-sponsored “Jazz at the Jacobs” series, curated by Gilbert Castellanos.
Alforque was already playing at a very high level back then, and he is improving exponentially, so when I heard that he was leading a quintet for the “Young Lions Series” at Panama 66 with fellow IAJ graduate Jarien Jamanilla on alto saxophone and 16-year-old drum phenomenon Johnny Steele, I knew I had to check it out. Rounding out the Alforque group were two of San Diego’s most solid musicians, Antar Martin on bass and Ed Kornhauser on piano.
The group opened with Wayne Shorter’s ominous, “Armageddon,” propelled by the insistent ride cymbal pings of Steele and the rope-thick pulse of Martin, as Jamanilla soloed first, full of braying cries and wailing vibrato. Alforque followed with clear and concise ideas toggling between velocity and lethal doses of the blues. Kornhauser soloed with a nod toward McCoy Tyner using liberal amounts of fourths and Martin kept his ground as firmly as old-growth redwood.
Continuing with the Wayne Shorter fixation, Alforque’s men unwound on a precise distillation of “Black Nile,” with the leader sputtering through a series of trills as a means of rhythmic displacement, while Jamanilla went for a more patient delivery. Kornhauser and Martin locked into a serious groove, prodding young Mr. Steele into a carefully crafted, yet ultimately explosive solo.
Ballads are often the ultimate test for a young player, especially ones like Alforque and Jamanilla, who have chops galore. On “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” both musicians hung back initially as Kornhauser guided the group through a series of delayed resolutions that landed at the feet of Martin who took the baton with a poignant, woody exposition. Alforque passed the “ballad exam” admirably, taking his time, squeezing in a relevant quote from “Nature Boy” before cueing the band into double-time, where he unleashed a string of deadly, half-valve smears.
Alforque and Jamanilla are for real, and I look forward to hearing where they take their music.