Although there are many essential jazz recordings, jazz itself is an artform that must be experienced live. 2013 was a banner year for live jazz, and I took in about 200 shows, ranging from international acts to stellar local performances. The depth of the San Diego jazz scene is undeniable – only four of my top 12 concerts involved talent from outside the area, although there were many fine events that just missed the list.
- Mark Dresser Trio at the Loft: I am always looking for a transformative listening experience; all of these concerts share that quality – none more so than Dresser’s interactive trio featuring Joshua White’s singular piano skills and the remarkably inventive drums of Kjell Nordeson.
- Joshua White Quintet w/ special guest Hugh Ragin at SD Museum of Art: Colorado-based trumpeter Ragin brought years of cutting-edge experience to White’s explosive ensemble which featured LA heavyweights Dan Schnelle on drums, Dave Robaire on bass and Gavin Templeton on reeds.
- Gilbert Castellanos w/ Azar Lawrence and Alphonse Mouzon at 98 Bottles: This concert tribute to John Coltrane was volcanic and loud, thanks to the explosive dynamics of legendary drummer Mouzon. Lawrence -- the veteran of Miles Davis and McCoy Tyner ensembles -- pulled the considerable energy of Castellanos’ trumpet, Hamilton Price’s bass and Joshua White’s piano into an ecstatic vortex.
- Joshua White Solo at Dizzy’s: The show we had all been waiting for – a pure fix of Joshua White, who has it all. White can transform any material into a personal aesthetic where melody, harmony and rhythm coalesce into a unified element galvanized by a remarkable command of dissonance and flow.
- Mike Wofford Solo at Athenaeum Music & Arts Library: There is a purity at work in everything the veteran master Wofford touches, and this evening was filled with sublime examples of his lush harmonic choices and undeniable sense of flow. Even though Wofford takes plenty of risks – it’s his subtlety that devastates the listener.
- Mark Dresser Quintet at Dizzy’s: Dresser’s amazing quintet fuses the influences of Charles Mingus, Anthony Braxton and Ornette Coleman and interjects revolutionary rhythmic concepts into a roaring, blues-drenched presentation that bodes well for the future. With Joshua White’s piano, Michael Dessen’s trombone, Ben Schachter’s tenor saxophone and Kjell Nordeson’s drums, the excitement couldn’t ratchet any higher.
- Dave Douglas Quintet at Athenaeum Jazz TSRI: Trumpeter Douglas and tenor saxophonist Jon Irabagon weaved intricate lines around each other, layered over the elastic rhythm section of Linda Oh’s bass, Rudy Royston’s drums, and Bobby Avey’s piano. On the outer edges of mainstream jazz, this performance was riveting from start to finish.
- Anthony Davis & Mark Dresser at the Loft: These two masters began playing together in the '70s, and the conversation they carried on this night was at turns, intimate and stormy. Davis is an unsung hero at the piano and it was nothing short of amazing to witness them listen, and respond to one another.
- Robin Adler & Mutts of the Planet at Dizzy’s: No one interprets the music of Joni Mitchell like Adler and husband Dave Blackburn. Playing the Mitchell masterpiece Hejira in its entirety, Adler and Blackburn assembled a stellar cast including guitarist Jamie Kime, bassist Kevin Hennessy, drummer Danny Campbell, harmonicist Jeffrey Joe, with three amazing background singers for a spellbinding concert.
- Han Bennink, Mary Oliver & Mark Dresser at Space 4 Art: The manic Dutch drum legend tore it up with Oliver and Dresser providing a wicked dissonant string springboard at one of concert promoter Bonnie Wright’s most incendiary Fresh Sound shows in years .
- Rudresh Mahanthappa & Gamak at Athenaeum Jazz at the Studio: Mahanthappa’s intricate and rhythmically charged music burned brightly with David Fiuczynski’s guitar, Francois Moutin’s bass and Dan Weiss’ drums for an evening of microtonal adventure.
- Rez Abbasi Trio at Space 4 Art: Abbasi, with longtime drummer Satoshi Takeishi and local bass hero Mark Dresser filling in for John Hébert, delivered a mesmerizing set in the East Village, culminating with a hypnotic take on Keith Jarrett’s The Cure.
Robert Bush Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years.