The monstrous, young piano virtuoso Joshua White continued his inexorable evolution on Nov. 14 at Dizzy's in Pacific Beach with a special quartet composed of L.A. and NYC associates, including Gavin Templeton on reeds, Dan Schnelle on drums and Dave Robaire on double-bass.
White began his original "Morning" with soft, pastel colors around the alto saxophone cries of Templeton, who wound up from kitten purrs to a volcanic squall in the course of his dynamic solo. White transformed diatonic ideas into a jumble of polyphonic extrapolations with a surety so graceful that it almost escaped notice -- were it not for the gusting open of the doors of surprise.
From there the group erupted into the jagged minimalism of Monk's "Off Minor." Robaire emerged with thick, woody strokes that landed like body shots from Joe Frazier while White's lyric complexity floated on the irresistible motion of Schnelle's brushfire percussion. On baritone saxophone, Templeton locked into a violent dance with Schnelle for a reading of Andrew Hill's "Tough Life," a feature for brutal honking and Robaire's considered deliberations. Robaire, like Charlie Haden, makes every note count.
The ebullient one-note hammered theme of "Thelonious" pounded with the force of a piledriver into cellular fragments of raw swing, incremental velocity and out-of-nowhere uppercuts, powered by the kinetic energy of White. In contrast, the pianist's original "Curiosity Landing" was melodically effusive, following Robaire's poignant intro. Templeton's blue, wailing ornamentation alongside White's finger-flying collisions over the locomotive drums of Schnelle took this tune into a higher dimension.
Speaking of energy: White's signature original, "The Lower Case," sprung from the stage like a starving leopard determined to make a kill. Templeton's gruff baritone coursed through the blues with verve and several quotes from Ornette Coleman, while the band expanded and contracted the form through audible cues.
White is in a stage of his development where every performance reveals entirely new content -- there are, quite literally, surprises around every corner. Don't miss the opportunity to experience him live. You won't regret it.
Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years.