Oct. 29 was perfect timing for a concert featuring material from Romanian pianist Lucian Ban's ECM recording, Transylvanian Concert. What put this event over the top was the local opening act of piano master Anthony Davis and virtuoso bassist Mark Dresser.
The Loft, at UC San Diego, always comes up with some killer combinations, and this one was particularly potent.
Davis began his signature piece "Of Blues & Dreams," with gentle arpeggios evoking a soft, falling rain as Dresser's deep indigo arco slid upward into the sound of seagulls crying. Davis and Dresser share an intricate sense of rhythmic structuring, and they navigated a course of brightly crashing clusters over staggered ostinati to tinkling harmonies hovering above eerie ponticello bowing with a lockstep bordering on the telepathic.
The stop/start jangling force of "Sudden Death" parlayed into a wicked swing that propelled Davis into a beautiful velocity of ideas that careened from extremes of grace and power, and Dresser's soliloquy exploded with two-handed tapping in opposite directions that made it sound like he had three hands on the fingerboard.
Dresser's "Parawaltz" aches with a pure beauty even as it embraces orchestral dissonance. The result was a stormy and romantic exchange where groaning whole-notes in the bass grounded Davis' lush melodic filigree.
After a brief intermission, Lucian Ban took to the microphone, and with genuine humility, opined that he should have been the opening act. Ban was originally set to appear with violist Mat Maneri, his duo partner on Transylvanian Concert, but a medical emergency necessitated the last-minute substitution of alto saxophonist Jorge Silvester (a fine musician in his own right). Nevertheless, there was a drop-off in the intimacy that makes the album such a darkly gorgeous document.
Ban opened with left-hand rumbling ruminative harmonies with blasts of melodic energy while Silvester unwound sweet, dry commentary in a feeling-out period. It wasn't until the third piece that the duo began to soar, with "Not That Kind of Blues" from the new album mixing pensive, gauzy harmonies into an ironic hook. Ban set into an intense rhythmic vamp that provided Silvester a stable surface to glide above with dramatic ornaments.
Silvester continued with a long, unaccompanied solo that initially seemed closer to Johnny Hodges than Arthur Blythe, blowing into the open lid of the piano for a resonant swirl that eventually climaxed with heated blats and shrill exclamatory.
The highlight, for me, came on the penultimate tune, "Harlem Bliss," a superb piece of writing that seems to draw in equal measure from the standard, "You Don't Know What Love Is," and Ornette Coleman's iconic "Lonely Woman." Ban has an exquisite touch and his chops were on fire for this -- producing a smoky haze from which Silvester emerged with bent-tones and grainy squeals for a stark and emotional centerpiece.
Robert Bush Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years.