White and Hawkins: Master Communicators

Joshua White and Marshall Hawkins and the magic of listening.

There is something inherently magical about the duo format in jazz and improvised music, and here in town, there are few duo relationships with the power and subtlety of bass legend Marshall Hawkins and piano legend-in-the-making Joshua White.

The two began their concert at Dizzy’s in Pacific Beach positioned in the center of a half-circle surrounded by listeners in ultra-pianissimo mode, with White eking out soft clouds of barely moving harmonies as Hawkins breathed a deep moan of indigo sighs. They seemed to toggle between crowded volleys of ideas into poignant, pregnant silences and the sound of seagulls crying in the distance. They played for almost 10 minutes before the theme of “Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise,” began to emerge, along with a White solo that brimmed with effusion. Hawkins then dialed down into a rich simmer, taking one note at a time, savoring each connection until he arrived at “You Are My Sunshine,” caressing the theme with loving delicacy.

Next up was an improvised-on-the-spot blues which strutted with aggressive trilling and angular stabs before shedding its skin and morphing into a sleek and muscular organism that shifted from hard swing to jangling clusters. This time, the Hawkins novella blended beautiful bow strokes with the sound of the human voice -- demonstrating a speed-of-light conversion from thought to action that was quite sublime in nature.

White can transport you from the sanctuary to the slaughterhouse in the blink of an eye, and on “In the Wee Small Hours,” the depth of conversation between the two achieved a degree of intimacy and almost unbearable sweetness. I was on the verge of an out-of-body experience.

Hawkins opened Monk’s “Rhythm-a-ning,” with a pizzicato solo rich in double stops, single lines and wicked glissandi, pulling at the edges of the form like saltwater taffy. White’s hands began crossing in an inspired debate between long stretches of groove and broken, nervous fragments.

Slow, funereal chords performed in a suspended haze with a haunted ostinato characterized the duo’s loving treatment of Daniel Jackson’s “Wisdom,” which also raised the bar on organic conversation, where each player’s idea built incrementally on the intentions of the other. The concert ended and the crowd erupted into a spontaneous and well- earned standing ovation.

To me, jazz is all about the power of listening, and it would be awfully difficult to find anyone who listens more attentively than White and Hawkins.

It doesn’t get much better than this.

 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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