Pianist Joshua White kicked off the Black History Month celebration at UC San Diego’s the Loft on Feb. 5 in style, with a reprise performance of (((CODES))). Dedicated to the art of African-American poets, White's performance was armed with a truly dangerous ensemble featuring the deeply resonant vocals/ narration of Dwight Trible, the explosive drums of Marvin “Smitty” Smith, the introspective alto saxophone of Josh Johnson and the thick bottom end of Dean Hulett.
The band opened with Langston Hughes’ “Spiritual,” capitalizing on the soulful a cappella of Trible, whose ability to inhabit the narrative intention was nothing short of amazing.
Next up was gospel vocalist Ann Leonard, who delivered a heartfelt version of “Precious Lord.” White’s gospel chops are breathtakingly authentic, and I felt myself levitating in my chair as he accompanied Ms. Leonard -- that’s how powerful their duet was.
Things really began to heat up on Amiri Baraka’s “Ka Ba,” with Hulett’s Jimmy Garrison-esque introduction laying down a wicked vamp that got everyone involved, including powerful input from Johnson, Trible and Smith, who cranked the intensity incrementally higher when the group exploded into a free section.
Smith’s viscous backbeat pulled against the pensive obbligato of Johnson on Baraka’s “Three Modes of History and Culture,” creating a tension that served the narrative well. But it was White’s original “Curiosity Landing,” with its heavy ECM vibe and irresistible “hook” that had the audience swooning. White’s manic kinetic energy sent all 10 digits flying everywhere before receding back into that gorgeous hook.
“Southern Cop,” by Sterling Brown, featured a horrifying narrative, brought to a boil by Trible’s anguished vocals and the screaming ’65 ’Trane feel of the ensemble, and Coltrane was also a focal point on the set-closing “Coal,” by Audre Lorde, which danced on a suspended groove powered by the rubbery glissandi of Hulett and the powerful jabs of the pianist.
Wonderful music that really made you think.