Charles Owens: Keeper of the Flame

Owens, joined by Joshua White and others, unfolded in energy

Bonnie Wright

Los Angeles tenor saxophone giant Charles Owens braved the southbound Interstate to make a gig at Dizzy's on Sept. 19, hooking up with pianist Joshua White, drummer Brett Sanders and the legendary contrabass wizard Marshall Hawkins for an evening of reflective, post-Coltrane conversations conducted, as it were, "In the Heat of the Night."

Beginning with Hank Mobley's "Take Your Pick," Owens established a clear, modus-operandi -- gliding over the changes with minimal friction and maximum swing, propelled by the buoyant lilt of the rhythm section and yielding to White for an essay of unbridled ebullience.

The saxophonist continued with "Stella by Starlight," outlining the harmonies with expert aggression, while White seemed to pounce on his opportunity, producing cascading melodies dotted with dashes of the blues and pneumatic block chords for good measure. Then it was time for the master: Performing in duet with his own voice, Hawkins followed with his rich and sonorous bow -- producing a singular experience that challenged all norms of conventional description.

White's complete mastery of creating tension through repetition really came through on "Kilimanjaro," where his ecstatic hammering opened the door for a truly brilliant series of fusillades by Sanders, who remains one of San Diego's best-kept secrets.

Owens removed the neckpiece of his tenor saxophone, and, using it alone, composed a letter of extreme, extra-musical effects before reassembling for a poignant look at “Body and Soul.”

White has this uncanny ability to refract the energy of those around him into a more illuminative process, and the things he discovers along the way both reinforce the original intention as well as open new doors to explore. In the end, there’s an obvious transformation -- even when you don’t know how you got there.

The tradition inherent in real jazz isn’t a static thing; it also requires the imperative of transition -- that struggle is what makes the music come alive.

 Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years. Follow him on Twitter @robertbushjazz. Visit The World According to Rob.

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