I first heard about local composer and jazz musician Nathan Hubbard when I reviewed the album This Middle Ground, by his band Ogd_S(11) Translation Has Failed.
Despite that mouthful of a band name, the recording was intelligent and engaging, and immediately put Hubbard on my radar. Hubbard has stayed on it through his recent work with Dependent Origination -- the Peter Kuhn-led all-star sextet that also included trumpeter Hugh Ragin and drummer Alex Cline, as well as with Passengers, Hubbard’s constantly evolving collective that’s based on his own four-part composition.
“I wrote a bunch of music for four voices,” Hubbard said recently from his North County home. “But it wasn’t ever really specified. I tried to write it so it’s loose enough and can be played by different ensembles.”
A 21-piece Passengers ensemble -- his largest ever -- will play Space 4 Art in downtown San Diego on Saturday.
Reprising a 17-piece Passenger ensemble that played San Diego in November, Saturday’s performance will include six bassists, three drummers, five keyboard players, five guitarists, a violinist and Hubbard on vibes -- a far cry from the septet that once squeezed onto the stage at the Tin Can.
“At some point,” Hubbard said, “I realized the pieces worked better when you added more players. There’s just a certain kind of community aspect to this stuff. You really can add people to it.”
And it’s likely to keep growing. Hubbard’s recently been contacted via Facebook by other musicians who heard about the performances and are interested in performing with Passengers. The only question is – if Passengers keeps growing, what local stage will be able to hold them?
“Every few years someone starts a jazz club in San Diego,” Hubbard said, “and before long, it’s done. We just saw it with Anthology. And it goes all the way back to the '70s like that. They just never seem to stay that long.”
The young composer realizes that San Diego isn’t a jazz town on the level of San Francisco or Chicago (especially in the realms of free jazz or experimental music), but he happily cites things like pioneering trombonist George Lewis’ tenure at UCSD and world-renowned flutist (and San Diego resident) Holly Hofmann’s past work in bringing jazz musicians to the Horton Grand as great building blocks for the genre here in town.
“There is some continuity here,” said Hubbard. “I just keep hoping that at some point people will really dig into it.”