Brian Ross and the folks at UC San Diego’s the Loft pitched a perfect game on March 13 with an irresistible concert doubleheader featuring LA’s futuristic Daniel Rosenboom Quintet and the inaugural performance of the Joshua White/Peter Sprague Group.
Daniel Rosenboom Quintet: Rosenboom is a remarkable trumpeter, who I first came to appreciate as a member of multi-instrumental giant Vinny Golia’s various groups. In his quintet, he has fashioned something entirely new from wildly diverse precedents like the music of Ornette Coleman, Balkan-folk, heavy-metal, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Rosenboom has a warm, gorgeous tone and when he began the concert a cappella, spinning vaguely Spanish-sounding scales into the ether, my head began spinning in appreciation. When the entire band jumped in (Alex Noice –guitar, Kai Kurosawa-hybrid bass, Gavin Templeton-reeds, and Dan Schnelle-drums) a nervous, jangling melange ensued. Extremely tight unisons were the norm, yielding to Noice’s extended exploration of distorted legato, followed by a screaming, squealing testimony from Templeton.
At times the band reminded me of Ornette’s Prime Time playing at a Bulgarian rave. The liberal dosage of odd-meters and compound meters also evoked the spirit of Mahavishnu, but there was also a splash of (I swear to god) Black Sabbath tossed in for good measure. All of this would have been impossible without Dan Schnelle’s astonishing blend of reliable meter and explosive motion.
Much harder to codify was the work of Kurosawa (whose instrument was basically a 12-string electric bass played with independent two-handed tapping). The guy is obviously a virtuoso, with a mind-boggling right/left brain command, but he was also extremely difficult to hear, and I found myself digging his contribution more with my eyes than with my ears. When Kurosawa did get a solo feature -- on an unannounced heavy fusion piece -- he definitely got down, sounding like an amphetamine driven Alphonso Johnson underwater. That same piece found Rosenboom cranking out his most impressive solo – imagine Freddie Hubbard gigging with Henry Threadgill in a Slavic mashup group, and you get the idea.
Joshua White / Peter Sprague Group (pictured, below): White played the entire concert on the Fender Rhodes electric piano, providing an unusually retro vibe to his aesthetic. He opened “Memories of Motian,” alone, playing very free rhythmic fragments that had a Chick Corea circa 1970 Miles Davis connotation. The band joined in -- firing jittery nets of discourse around a slippery notion that never fully caught fire.
Most of the evening featured very skeletal arrangements on minimally notated material – aggressive, even violent challenges tossed at the participants’ feet like a rattlesnake hurled from a hot-plate. In this deliberate chaos, White went all in – toggling fragments of dissonance balanced by breathtaking melodicism. Tenor saxophonist Ben Schachter tossed smoky spirals of post-Trane angst that cranked the intensity up a few notches, while Hamilton Price’s deep basso profondo acted as the cosmic glue.
Sprague took it all in, watching with a look of gleeful wonderment, and approaching his own takeoff with a tandem course of patient development and deliberate provocation. Schnelle, pulling a double drum shift, was a marvel of loose motion throughout. A marked change in direction was foreshadowed in the amazing bass soliloquy offered by Price to introduce Coltrane’s “Mr. Syms.” All turbulent indigo, Mr. Price’s bass sings, groans and moans with a tone voluptuous enough for a triple-x rating. Interpreting the minor blues in 5/4 (with key phrases in 4/4) twisted the familiar theme into a rubbery density and yielded a hoarse, screaming postulation in multiphonics from an inspired Schachter.
White and Sprague engaged in their most spirited dialog of the evening, trading whole choruses down into fragments and eventually finishing each other’s thoughts. White’s yearning ballad, “Curiosity Landing,” served a banquet of opportunity for the development of dreamy ideas, first, from the echoing Rhodes, and then from the melodically cascading guitar. The hyperactive blues, “The Lower Case,” proved a winning finale, drawing superb, risk-taking solos from Rosenboom (returning to the stage), White, Sprague and Schachter – but it was Schnelle who stole the show on this one with an audacious fusillade of rumbling commentary, capped off by a perfect allusion to the melody.
Two very different, and equally exciting visions of where the music is heading.
Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years.