Veteran San Diego double-bass master Rob Thorsen doesn't do a lot of dates as a leader, so his Feb. 27 show at 98 Bottles -- a tribute to the music of John Coltrane, featuring his current trio of Kiefer Shackelford on piano and Fernando Gomez on drums -- was especially gratifying.
Thorsen and Gomez began "Some Other Blues" as a duet, with the bassist alluding to the theme with rubbery glissandi over the drummer's pliant ride cymbal. Suddenly Shackelford entered, and the swing quotient ratcheted exponentially with soulful block chords and dazzling single-note acuity.
Thorsen's drastically re-tooled version of "Giant Steps" slowed down, sped up and skipped around through multiple vamps that saw Shackelford soaring through the changes, with Thorsen sharpening thick woody spikes, and Gomez creating resourceful explosions.
Piano and bass repeated the melody to "Pursuance" ad infinitum, while the young Gomez dialed up the tension with roiling accents -- yet the mood for "Naima" could not have been more tenderly demonstrated. Gauzy harmonies and groaning whole notes led the band into a pensive groove where piano and bass explored the emotional center of the composition with thoughtful dexterity.
Alice Coltrane's "Something for John" borrowed heavily from Reggie Workman's bass line on "Greensleeves," and the whole tune slipped into an exotic trance-like feel, capitalizing on Thorsen's strummed, flamenco vibe and Schackelford's simultaneous riffing on acoustic and electric piano. Shackelford seemed to combine the aesthetics of Red Garland and McCoy Tyner for a potent blend of power and groove, and Gomez fueled the mission with kinetic energy in the style of Coltrane drummer Elvin Jones.
Most satisfying was "Dahomey Dance" from 'Trane's "Ole" album. It was a wonderfully swinging lilt that featured cello-like musings from the leader and a virtual blues essay from Shackelford.
Thorsen is one of San Diego's busiest musicians -- he can be found playing somewhere virtually every day of the year -- but it is always illuminating to hear him leading his own group. You can catch the Rob Thorsen Trio on Saturday, March 7, at Dizzy's in Pacific Beach.
Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years.