Bassist Antar Martin unveiled his debut as a leader in San Diego with a wildly ambitious plan: recreating the epochal 1964 Eric Dolphy album "Out to Lunch" at 98 Bottles with a stellar local cast featuring pianist Kamau Kenyatta, trumpeter Derek Cannon, drummer Matthew Smith, and reed-man Jesse Aduelo. Aduelo had the unenviable task of assuming the Dolphy role, and considering he arrived late after being stuck in LA traffic from another gig – performed admirably.
Martin began the proceedings with a rope-thick bass soliloquy to set up “Green Dolphin Street,” before handing off to Cannon, who briefly quoted Freddie Hubbard’s “Up Jumped Spring.” Kenyatta soloed in a hyper-tasteful, Tommy Flanagan mode and Aduelo struggled to warm his bass clarinet up, having just walked in.
Aduelo’s switch to the alto saxophone for “G.W.” found him mining some of the quicksilver runs and disruptive squeaks associated with Dolphy, and Kenyatta’s spot was all fluid ideas in motion. It was kind of strange hearing the band launch into Mingus’s “Fables of Faubus” minus the incendiary chant, but it also allowed one to appreciate the beauty of the melody – which turned out to be quite gratifying on its own. Martin’s rotund lines fueled a stately pulse, and both Cannon and Aduelo turned in coruscating solos.
Aduelo began the second set a cappella, with his own bass clarinet transcription of Dolphy’s version of “God Bless the Child,” a bona fide masterwork; he switched to flute as the band tackled “Gasseloni,” (the first actual tune from "Out to Lunch"). The band found their sea-legs on this one – embracing the free aesthetic with abandon – floating on Martin’s pedals and pliant pulse. Cannon delivered a burning freebop essay with strangled vibrato over Smith’s delightfully interruptive snare drum. Kenyatta and Aduelo locked into a furious exchange of chirping overtones and clanging harmonies while keeping the swing factor at 100%.
The comic vibrato of “2,4,5” found Aduelo digging in for his most impassioned playing of the evening; Kenyatta followed with a beautiful blend of blues dialect and outward repetitions, and the closer “Hat & Beard,” proved how much the group was capable of expanding a cellular bass line into a full exchange of improvised ideas.
Props to Martin for reaching so high. Can’t wait to hear them do this again.
Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years.