An Intense Ferber

Alan Ferber's quintet doubled up at UCSD

The Loft at UCSD is often home to incendiary pairings, and that tradition continued on Monday night when the local trio of bassist Kyle Motl, cellist T. J. Borden and Juan Rubio opened for trombonist Alan Ferber’s Quintet, which featured saxophonist Jon Gordon, bassist Matt Pavloka, drummer Mark Ferber and local piano master Joshua White.

Motl’s trio came out with the wicked force of a category five hurricane, and unfortunately, all sense of dynamics and blend suffered from a ridiculously loud stage mix that proved painful for those of us sitting up close. After making the sonic compensation, the music itself proved to be joyfully atonal, seemingly drawing much inspiration from the post-Albert Ayler tradition of “energy-music.” Everyone went all in, and therein lies the rub: It would have been a substantially richer experience had someone laid back a little.

Those reservations aside, Motl’s trio demonstrated a fabulous command of each respective instrument and a relentless pursuit of the moment. Had they chosen to go “unplugged,” their set might have achieved a zenith of ecstatic communication instead of a struggle for sonic dominance.

After a very short break, the Ferber Quintet took the stage to unveil a glorious set of modern music, beginning with Gordon’s “Sicily,” which reminded me a lot of the iconic Woody Shaw’s music. Gordon soloed with a deep blue wail before tossing the baton to White, whose reservoir of effusive ideas seemed ready to burst, despite the fact that he had just flown into town on a break from his national tour with Rudresh Mahanthappa.

Ferber’s original “Scenes From an Exit Row,” was next, which offered a chance for the leader to explore his cinematic approach to composition and his keen melodic improvising. Gordon knows how to build up a head of steam in thoughtful gradients, and everyone capitalized on the detailed pings of Mark Ferber’s ride cymbal.

Pavloka’s humorously titled “A Zagnut, a Dr. Pepper and a Reason to Live,” featured a beautifully poignant bass solo in the upper register, delicate trombone textures and a mind-boggling piano spot that sounded like White might be dealing with more than just 10 digits.

Monk’s “Evidence” began with a deftly designed and executed drum solo, leading into a furious groove from Pavloka’s bass and swinging commentary from Gordon (who quoted multiple fragments of other Monk tunes) and a tightly knotted White essay that somehow ended up on the theme from “Mission Impossible.”

Another highlight moment came on Alan Ferber’s “Magnolia,” a haunting ballad that turned first to White, whose pensive voicings were perfect manifestations of the sublime. Ferber’s trombone created arrestingly dark and intimate textures while Gordon’s honeyed tone and architectural ingenuity reminded me a lot of the late Phil Woods.

The Loft at UCSD is back in business with superb jazz content, and the next opportunity for sonic magic is coming on Nov. 3, when trumpeter Stephanie Richards leads a quintet with Chris Speed on saxophone, Michael Dessen on trombone, Mark Dresser on bass and Andrew Munsey on drums.

Unbelievably, this concert is free!

 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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