This is the first Daniel Jackson Week celebration to hit the city following the beloved jazz mentor’s passing on Sept. 3, 2014. His friend and colleague Marshall Hawkins has been working tirelessly to produce two concerts to honor Jackson’s legacy, the first of which unfolded on Jan. 29 at 98 Bottles in Little Italy.
The celebration was an all-star affair, and every musician onstage shared a deep connection with the late tenor saxophone master. Guitarist Bob Boss led off the core group -- Joshua White on piano, Hawkins on bass and Brett Sanders on drums-- through a blues, cutting straight into the heart of the matter. White followed with a metric exuberance, and then the bassist laid down the first of a series of amazing solos where the distance between his brain and his fingers could only be measured in nanoseconds. Throughout the evening, Sanders, who is one of San Diego’s best-kept secrets, conducted a virtual groove workshop. Clarinet virtuoso Evan Christopher flew in from New Orleans to make the gig, and his solo on Jackson’s "Transgression" shot into the rafters without benefit of microphone -- zigzagging between columns of blistering runs and pointed vibrato. Responding in kind, White took it out with such powerful swing -- who else is capable of evoking Red Garland and Cecil Taylor in the same breath?
Mark Dresser ascended the bandstand to duet with White on his gorgeous tribute to Jackson, "Two Handfuls of Peace," doubling the yearning theme with classical bow flourishes. The duo was all about pure melodic energy and invention, and when it was time for his solo, Dresser juggled the extremes of heartache and joy with an intense dignity that couldn’t help but remind one of the tune’s inspiration.
Dresser and White remained on the bandstand as Hawkins and Sanders returned with violinist Jamie Shadowlight and alto-flutist Dave Millard in tow to explore the extremely spiritual, 'Trane-infused "Wisdom," one of Jackson’s most endearing compositions. The two basses conversed like twins, finishing each other’s sentences. At one point, I was sure I heard a woman singing, but it was Hawkins’ bow. Shadowlight and Millard made memorable, soulful contributions, and it was one of the evening’s deepest moments.
Turiya Mareya was then invited to the piano chair, from which she led the band through a Latin-tinged reading of "You Don’t Know What Love Is," full of bluesy and baroque ornaments. Hawkins, whose solo concept is absolutely singular, took the tune to a different universe, singing along with his bass in a style utterly devoid of cliches.
After an extended intermission, three saxophonists (LA tenor giant Charles Owens, alto-man Charlie Arbelaez, and a cat whose name I didn’t catch) crowded the bandstand alongside White, Hawkins and new drummer Chucky McPherson for an absolutely smoking version of John Coltrane’s "Mr. P.C." It was saxophone heaven as Arbelaez tore into the stratosphere with coruscating speed, followed by Owens' more measured essay and the short burst from the unidentified saxophonist. Each player followed their own road to an orgiastic climax of multiphonics, all assisted by the thunderous drums of McPherson. Another highlight moment.
After an elastic duo between White and vocalist Miss L on "More Than You Know," and a super-swinging romp through "Softly As in a Morning Sunrise," surprise guest and alto saxophone master Charles McPherson blew the roof off the joint with a stunning rendition of "Lush Life." Stretching the melody like saltwater taffy, McPherson’s note choices couldn't have been more wisely informed. Straddling the divide between honeyed declamations and whiplash altissimo squeals, McPherson was devastating.
Boss returned with dazzling, bluesy sequences on "Morning," and Hawkins teamed with White on a beautifully artful "I Should Care" before Christopher closed out a wildly swinging "Rhythm-a-ning," knocking it out of the park with a warbling, blue wail.
What a wonderful tribute. Somewhere, Mr. Jackson must be smiling.
Note: Marshall Hawkins will be reprising this tribute on Saturday, Jan. 31 at Dizzy’s, (4275 Mission Bay Drive) at 8 p.m. with many of the same performers, plus some surprise guests.
Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years.