Trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos continues to forge new pathways in the presentation of jazz through his association with the San Diego Symphony and the Jazz at the Jacobs concert series, with the latest installment coming on Feb. 19, opening for vocalist Dianne Reeves in another sold-out extravaganza.
Fronting a group he calls the New Latin Jazz Quintet -- which featured Irving Flores on piano, Omar Lopez on bass, Tommy Aros on percussion and Ramon Banda on drums -- Castellanos lit into "Tin Tin Deo" with an X-Rated plunger mute essay, growling and burbling a virtual compendium of blues scholarship. Flores took up the baton like a Latin Oscar Peterson, with waves of ideas flowing from his fingertips.
But it was on the venerable ballad "Nature Boy" that the genius of Castellanos really emerged, as he carved graceful arcs and tight spirals into the night -- leaning heavily on his cohorts for dense and empathetic rhythmic support.
Reeves’s band is well-oiled and battle-tested, and its opening instrumental highlighted the resourcefulness and interplay of guitarist Romero Lubambo and pianist Peter Martin, who also serves as Reeves’ musical director. Demonstrating a penchant for unusual material, Reeves launched into a surprising arrangement of Stevie Nicks' "Dreams," showcasing her supple multi-octave range and the melodic invention of Martin’s piano.
Reeves is a masterful storyteller, and on the autobiographical "9," she sang with true conviction about the vicissitudes of age through the perspective of a child, guided primarily by the lithe harmonic support of Lubambo, who seems to have a special hookup with the vocalist.
Bassist Reginald Veal also has a deep connection with Reeves, and his pocket-laden vamp on her interpretation of Miles Davis' "All Blues" was consistently delightful, as was the almost catholic voice-leading of Martin, whose accompaniment on "Our Love Is Here to Stay represented a personal highlight for me.
Jazz at the Jacobs represents collaboration and forward thinking at the highest levels, but there are still some bugs to be worked out. Drums tend to get swallowed up in the cavernous hall, and the intricacies of each drummer’s ride cymbal (Terreon Gully with Reeves and Ramon Banda with Castellanos) did not translate well.
If the series is to achieve its true potential, these issues must be addressed.