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The 12 Unforgettable Jazz Concerts of 2015

Robert Bush recounts another very rich year for San Diego jazz

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    Bassist Mark Dresser's performance at the Loft in December heads up the top jazz concerts of 2015.

    Jazz is an art form that is always best experienced live. San Diego’s vibrant music community, along with heaping doses of national and international touring acts, had another great year in 2015, and here are my favorite live jazz moments.

    There are plenty of places to take in America’s original indigenous cultural expression -- and the list of venues continues to expand. You’ll notice that my list greatly favors local artists -- that’s both deliberate and accurate, in my book.

    1. Mark Dresser Septet -- The Loft, Dec. 11, 2015. I chose this performance over a similarly transcendent gig in August at TSRI. In the final analysis, this band gets incrementally hotter each time out. Stephanie Richards’ trumpet filled in admirably for Nicole Mitchell, and Dresser’s regular gang of monster improvisers -- Michael Dessen on trombone, Marty Ehrlich on clarinets, Joshua White on piano and Kjell Nordeson on drums are dangerous.

    2. Anthony Davis Solo Piano -- SD Museum of Art, Feb. 19, 2015. This all-too-rare hometown gig for Davis was exhilarating in every possible sense, as Davis roared through his incredibly diverse repertoire including several excerpts from his award-winning operas "X," and "Amistad." Brilliant and mesmerizing.

    3. Wadada Leo Smith -- Conrad Prebys Music Center, Jan. 21, 2015. Smith’s glorious extended suite "Ten Freedom Summers," featuring Anthony Davis and John Lindberg soared into the ether in an unforgettable performance.

    4. Charles Lloyd Quartet -- Athenaeum Jazz at TSRI, Oct. 20, 2015. The legendary Lloyd delivered the kind of experience one expects from a legend -- with expert support from Gerald Clayton, Rueben Rogers and Kendrick Scott. Wonderful in every sense.

    5. Joshua White Quintet -- Dizzy’s, April 18, 2015. White infused his quintet aesthetic with an energy that leaned heavily on Ellen Weller, Stephanie Richards, Mark Dresser, and Kjell Nordeson. This all-improvised program was nothing short of thrilling.

    6. Gilbert Castellanos, Marshall Hawkins, Joshua White -- Westgate Hotel, Aug. 14, 2015. The Westgate’s small, acoustically superior bar only seats about 40 people, but the sound and the performances are stellar, and this night was as good as jazz gets. I could spend my life in this room.

    7. Kronomorfic -- Jazz Live, May 26, 2015. "Jazz Live," the flagship program sponsored by KSDS 88.3, reached for the stars with this ambitious booking, and the polymetric assassins co-led by David Borgo and Paul Pellegrin delivered the goods. Also featuring Kjell Nordeson, Andy Zacharias, Michael Dessen and Nate Jarrell.

    8. Kjell Nordeson Solo Percussion -- Bread & Salt, May 1, 2015. Nordeson is a master of any instrument that can be struck with a stick or a mallet, and this concert was mesmerizing from start to finish.

    9. Kyle Motl Solo Contrabass -- Conrad Prebys Music Center, Jan. 31, 2015. Young Motl is attending UCSD as a grad student, studying with Mark Dresser, and he is already a monster, making his January recital a very exciting affair.

    10. Red Fish Blue Fish -- Bread & Salt, Jan. 15, 2015. Percussion maestro Steve Schick’s group knocked it out of the park at yet another "Fresh Sound" milestone from promoter Bonnie Wright.

    11. Joe Garrison & Night People -- Jazz Live, March 10, 2015. Garrison’s huge group, stocked with the area’s finest musicians, offers incomparable beauty in the form of his wildly ambitious compositions.

    12. Joe Chambers Quartet -- Jazz Live, Jan. 13, 2015. Getting the chance to see a jazz drumming legend like Chambers (accompanied by Josh Nelson, Rob Thorsen and Duncan Moore) is one of the reasons I really love "Jazz Live."

    Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years. Follow him on Twitter @robertbushjazz. Visit The World According to Rob.