Multi-layered pianist Joshua White brought a few heavy-hitters from NYC and one from LA for a revealing and inspired concert Jan. 23 at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library.
Massive props to the Athenaeum’s director of jazz programming, Daniel Atkinson, for having the vision to showcase Mr. White in the esteemed company of David Binney’s alto saxophone, Hamilton Price’s bass, and Mark Ferber’s drums.
White never waters down his art, a fact established from the first bar, when Ferber’s mallets opened an especially oblique version of the pianist’s “Memories of Motian,” where storm clouds loomed beneath a deceptively calm exterior. After some agitated clanging, the stage grew quiet as Binney spun long strands of honeyed melodic phrasing in tandem with Price’s resonant probes.
White dissected Monk’s “Off Minor” into unpredictable fragments, where the melody jabbed at you from odd angles, then Price assumed the lead with a thick, wood-grained solo -- dancing on the groove of Ferber’s interactive brushwork. When the pianist began churning terse ideas into the swirling strands of a kinetic vortex, the drummer cranked the energy up several notches with a considered assault based on deep listening and a superior understanding of propulsion.
Seemingly out of nowhere – a wicked, primal, swing generated and the room was transformed. Demonstrating true mastery of pacing, White followed with one his most rewarding melodic gems, “Curiosity Landing,” an anthem of ECM-proportions with a haunting hook. Price took the feature here with a deep, singing, basso profondo moment of pure lyric quality.
White’s solo distillation of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” was a breathtaking tour-de-force which touched on so many chapters of piano history that one could not be faulted for swearing that Art Tatum morphed into Cecil Taylor doing a tango --- or Jaki Byard channeling Bach on amphetamines.
The first set concluded with the gospel ebullience of the pianist’s original “Scarlet Tanager,” which on this night, really brought to my mind Keith Jarrett’s Belonging Quartet with Jan Garbarek. Binney leapt out of the gates, carving winding melodic curlicues dosed with fat blatts and hiccupped squeals. Ferber was on fire with incredible rhythms, counter-rhythms and forces set in motion—all keyed off an intricate ride cymbal articulation that simply defined the concept of flow.
As for White himself, there is nothing more gratifying than witnessing his accelerated development. Every concert is a new experience. Catch him while you can.
Robert Bush Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years.