The Top 12 San Diego Jazz Concerts of the Year

12 unforgettable jazz moments from 2016

Jazz is an experience that depends on live performance. Witnessing musicians in the moment, as they communicate with each other and the audience, is something that cannot be duplicated in other media. Fortunately, 2016 proved once again to be a wonderful year for San Diego music lovers. Here are 12 of my favorite concerts from this year.

1. Gary Peacock Trio, Athenaeum Jazz at the Scripps Research Institute (Feb. 13): I’ve been waiting more than 30 years for the chance to hear Peacock live, and that quest finally came to fruition when the legendary bassist made his San Diego debut with pianist Marc Copland and drummer Joey Baron. Every bass player in town was at that show, and 10 months later, it remains my favorite moment of the year. 

2. Bobby Bradford and Vinny Golia, The Loft at UCSD (Feb. 5): The spirit of Ornette Coleman was alive and well on this night at the Loft, when cornet master Bobby Bradford and multi-instrumental giant Vinny Golia lit up the stage with streams of unrestricted melody.

3. Trio M, Conrad Prebys Music Center at UCSD (June 25): Pianist Myra Melford, bassist Mark Dresser, and the exuberant drummer Matt Wilson, collectively known as Trio M, kept one foot in the tradition and the other dancing gleefully on the outskirts in this ebullient celebration.

4. Roscoe Mitchell, Conrad Prebys Music Center at UCSD (March 2): Free jazz saxophone legend Mitchell blew into town hosting workshops and starring in this concert leading a quartet with Mark Dresser, Anthony Davis and Mike Reed, as well as a larger orchestral group navigating Mitchell originals as he dazzled the house with his distinctive musical voice.

5. Gilbert Castellanos Trio, Westgate Hotel Plaza Bar (June 17): Trumpet master Castellanos turns this small room into a listening cathedral every Friday night with a revolving cast of trio associates. When that group includes legendary bassist Marshall Hawkins and the piano firebrand Joshua White, that cathedral also becomes an interactive laboratory for improvisation.

6. Diane Moser Quintet, Dizzy’s (July 8): New Jersey powerhouse pianist/composer Moser rocked the house at Dizzy’s with a monstrous ensemble featuring saxophonist Hafez Modirzadeh, bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Vijay Anderson through a beautiful evening of concentrated listening.

7. Ingrid Laubrock and Tom Rainey, Fresh Sound at Bread & Salt (Sept. 30): Laubrock and Rainey delivered one of the most stunning exchanges I’ve seen in years and in the second set, the addition of Mark Dresser cranked the intensity several notches higher. 

8. Dependent Origination, Bread & Salt (Nov. 5): Reed men Peter Kuhn and Dave Sewelson combined with cornet master Dan Clucas, bassist Scott Walton and drum phenomenon Alex Cline for a blistering evening of spontaneously improvised music that raised the roof at the industrial warehouse.

9. Joshua White (((codes))), The Loft at UCSD (Feb. 5): White’s Codes ensemble featured the dramatic baritone of Dwight Trible, the explosive drums of Marvin “Smitty” Smith and the pensive alto of Josh Johnson, all anchored by the reliable bass of Dean Hulett. When they added gospel vocalist Ann Leonard into the mix, I felt my chair levitating.

10. Joel Harrison Quintet, Dizzy’s (Oct. 17): Guitarist/composer Harrison brought a crack ensemble starring trumpeter Cuong Vu, bassoonist Paul Hanson, bassist Jeff Denson and drummer Brian Blade into the Pacific Beach performance space to navigate his intricate charts, including a stunning reading of “Chant for Jim Pepper” that I’m still humming in my head.

11. Vinny Golia and Nathan Hubbard, Bread & Salt (Oct. 15): Multi-instrumentalist Golia is one of the planet’s most arresting soloists, and this duo, with the ever-resourceful Hubbard, was riveting from start to finish. A small audience didn’t keep these two from giving everything they had.

12. Aruan Ortiz, Fresh Sound at Bread & Salt (Aug. 14): Ortiz delivered a mesmerizing solo piano concert to a large and appreciative audience gathered to take in an out-of-season, special event curated by the irrepressible Bonnie Wright. 

 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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