No Speed Limit: Fresh Sound at the Loft

The Chris Speed Trio lit up the UC San Diego venue

Easter Sunday might strike some people as an odd time for a jazz concert, but for the large contingent of listeners who made the trek to UCSD’s Fresh Sound at the Loft on April 20, the unusual scheduling paid huge dividends.

New York saxophonist Chris Speed led a trio featuring stalwart bassist Christopher Tordini and manic drummer Dave King through a perfectly paced set that reflected today’s jazz in its finest light. Tordini opened “Takedown,” with a languid 4-note vamp peppered by King’s relentlessly precise ride-cymbal pings and tom-tom outbursts. Floating above it all was Speed, whose tenor purred elliptically, ramping up the tension into a fit of hoarse screams.

“Really Okay,” found the bassist laying it down in two and making it swing while Speed wound his way up to the altissimo register. Tordini’s solo consisted of a swarm of short phrases connected in the low and meaty regions of the instrument and King powered the motion with skittering brushwork.

A furious bass/tenor unison erupted on “Nimble Demons,” yielding to a gale-force duet between King and Tordini that reminded me of Sunny Murray’s cyclic fusillades. When Speed returned, it was all fractal energy and violent repetitions that could have come from John Coltrane’s epic 1965 album Sunship.

A very different kind of energy marked the bassist’s intro to “Delaware,” comprised of a kalimba-like theme culled from harmonics, revealing a singable folk melody when Speed and King entered. King’s explosive intro to “Argento,” combined brutal martial cadences with Gothic drama, and when the whole trio engaged, it was Tordini that grounded everything, allowing Speed to course through the length of his tenor while King sparked like a Roman candle.

The finale, “Tamborino,” was a burner in every way, drawing fierce declamations from Tordini and King, and a wicked, squealing Albert Ayler-esque feature from the leader. I wasn’t super familiar with Speed’s work before the concert, but promoter Bonnie Wright’s inerrant taste rarely misses. Sometimes, horn-led trios can feel a little bare to me, but these three players didn’t need any additions to provide a full sonic curtain. A great way to spend the Easter holiday.

 Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years.

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