The Westerlies Blow Into Town

Brass band quartet the Westerlies made good at Bread & Salt

In her endless quest to expose San Diego music fans to something entirely different, concert promoter Bonnie Wright hit another one out of the park on Feb. 27, when she brought the Westerlies into town for a mesmerizing concert at Bread & Salt, the multi-arts complex in Logan Heights at the old Weber bread factory.

The Westerlies are a brass quartet featuring two trumpeters -- Zubin Hensley and Riley Mulherkar -- and two trombonists -- Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch. According to their mentor, Wayne Horvitz, “You could call them jazz, and you wouldn’t be wrong, but you wouldn’t be right either.”

Trumpeter Mulherkar thinks they are closer to a string quartet than a “typical” brass band, but how they sound is what really matters -- at least to me.

And they sound gorgeous. The Westerlies took advantage of the high-ceiling industrial warehouse as a sonic landscape in ways I have not experienced before. Eschewing microphones, they found their blend in the room, and the results were stunning.

The group didn’t engage in solos, per se, and they kept all of their compositions surprisingly brief, which really kept the flow going. Especially interesting were the hypnotic layers of “Double Situation,” where four independent voices cycled in “round” motion, each sneaking in the occasional growling commentary.

Other highlights included “So, So Shy,” which featured violent Stravinsky-esque stabs and the more traditional sound (in brass-band terms) of “The Bee Keeper,” which made effective use of staccato, Dixieland blasts.

Horvitz’ “Sweeter Than the Day” was slow, aching and slightly dissonant, like a eulogy for a really hip friend, and “Lopez” nearly drove me crazy trying to recall a very familiar melody it shares with a 1950s instrumental radio hit.

But it was the short exploration of the spiritual “Get Away Jordan” that left me gasping, as the sound of bluesy ornaments wafting into the rafters proved to be the substance of which dreams are made.

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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