Double Dose of Freedom

An exceptional local trio opened the night of free jazz at the Taoist Sanctuary

On June 25, the Taoist Sanctuary on Park Boulevard was the scene of a wild double-feature of free improvising. A local cooperative trio featuring Nathan Hubbard on drums, young maestro Kyle Motl on double bass and Peter Kuhn on reeds opened for the remarkable duo of percussionist Andrea Centazzo and clarinet legend Perry Robinson, visiting from L.A. and New Jersey, respectively.

Kuhn, Motl, Hubbard

Beginning with a raw rhythmic exchange, the opening trio immediately struck me with memories of Henry Threadgill's epic ensemble Air, powered by the loose swing of Hubbard's drums, Motl's visceral walk and the increasingly unhinged drama of Kuhn's scorching alto saxophone.

Dedicating the next piece to his friend and mentor, Kuhn began "There's a Perry in the House" by flexing a squeeze toy. Motl engaged in deep, sonorous bowing over Hubbard's asymmetrical brushwork, while Kuhn induced one epic crescendo after the other, where the kinetic energy culled and ignited like pools of lava confronting cold air. Motl's spidery fingerwork spun slurry glissandi and false harmonics, and Hubbard kept an explosive fit of agitation at a constant boil.

Kuhn's revival-tent tenor evoked an Albert Ayler sermon, prompting Motl and Hubbard to respond with street-fight malevolence that turned on a dime into a somber moment that found the reedman squeezing an unlikely quote from "In a Sentimental Mood" into the proceedings -- which worked, somehow.

This conglomeration has been functioning for about a year now, and they are rapidly becoming San Diego's premier free-music proponents -- they just seem to grow exponentially with each performance.

Andrea Centazzo and Perry Robinson

There is some history between these two master improvisers, and even though it has been three years since their last work together, any cobwebs disappeared immediately.

Centazzo opened with the ominous striking of several tuned gongs -- suspended from a large rack -- with soft mallets, occasionally activating bells with long decay. Robinson countered with slow burbles and warbled multiphonics as Centazzo turned his attention to eight graduated-frame drums (think tambourines without the jingles) and a tiny hi-hat no taller than a coffee table. With this setup and a variety of mallets, the percussion master conjured visions of tribal drum choirs and images beyond description, while Robinson's wailing clarinet actually quoted "Jeepers Creepers" for a second, sending waves of laughter coursing around the room.

Centazzo also employed laptop samples in the mix, setting up a groove and then expanding it with live percussion, at which point Robinson tilted the dialog into a manic discourse with gurgling overtones and Klezmer implications.

A table filled with inverted bowls and other percussive accoutrements provided a bed of rhythm above which Robinson's pentatonic-tuned pan-flute soared -- the degree of listening required for such a musical conversation seemed to border on the super-human level.

Either one of these sets would have made for an extremely satisfying musical evening on their own. The fact that they were combined is just something to be especially grateful for.

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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