Veterans' Benefits

Collective wisdom from years of experience.

Athenaeum Jazz at TSRI opened the spring concert series in style, with an illuminating performance by the Randy Brecker Quartet, featuring pianist Allan Pasqua, bassist Darek Oles and drummer Peter Erskine.

Brecker’s illustrious career c.v. nevertheless found me quite unprepared for his glorious tone, relaxed confidence and laser focus. His performance was a prime example of everything you hope to hear from a true jazz veteran. Opening with the cleverly titled "There’s a Mingus Amonk Us," Brecker’s sound was mesmerizing, smoldering and burnished; I had to keep checking to see if he was playing the flugelhorn.

Avoiding speed for the sake of speed, the trumpeter wasn’t afraid to take a breath and reflect, as Pasqua’s flying fingers and the resonant pull of Oles’ walk locked gears with the shimmer of Erskine’s cymbals. Even on material of a lighter fare, such as the attractive Latin groove of "Shang Hai," Brecker’s fluid ideas and muscular chops elevated the process. Pasqua’s improvisation was lyrical and clear, and laced with traces of the blues.

Oles is one of my favorite bassists: He’s got a huge, woody sound, and like his mentor, Charlie Haden, every note sings in rich detail. On the warhorse "Invitation," Oles' dark pulse created an irresistible flow for Brecker and Pasqua to dance upon. In any register, Brecker’s notes have meat on their bones, whether he’s quavering in the French horn range or soaring into Dizzy Gillespie-land.

Especially fascinating was the modal "Moti." Pasqua picked up on the last phrase of Brecker’s melody and ran with it, constructing a dazzling cascade of similes before the trumpeter returned with his own blue-hazed exploration. But it was Oles, with his patient, indigo soliloquy, who stole the tune, even as Erskine threatened to overpower the moment with some unnecessary hi-hat cliches.

Other than that bit of perplexing grandstanding, Erskine was light-touched and marvelous throughout, especially his propulsive brushwork on "Falling in Love With Love," on which he also knocked a drum solo out of the park.

Brecker’s finest tone sculpture occurred on Pasqua’s "Agridulce," a gorgeous ballad that had people gasping at the beauty, logic and power of it all.

I’ve seen a ton of great concerts in this room, but this show by the Brecker Quartet was one of the finest. Experience, it seems, sometimes pay big dividends.

 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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