Joshua White Trio Explores Billy Strayhorn

Blending tradition with innovation

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Richard White

San Diego piano master Joshua White continued his monthly residency at Dizzy’s in Pacific Beach with a nod toward the music of composer Billy Strayhorn, locking in tight with a trio comprised of drum veteran Duncan Moore and double-bass man Dean Hulett.

Moore began “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing,” by lightly striking the surface of his kit with his bare hands as Hulett crafted a meaty ostinato in support of White’s lush keyboard harmonies and rhythmically dense motifs -- all three aspects converging into a unified whole.

A slow four pulsed in quarter notes on the ride cymbal to set up a feeling of tension on “Passion Flower,” as the bass sang its own song and the piano careened from insistent hammered single-tones to orchestral slabs of swirling harmony.

Especially impressive was “Upper Manhattan Medical Group,” which White began a cappella in a dizzying display of rapturous voice-leading ricocheting into dark clusters and significant time ruminating on a single chord. Hulett remained resolute in the center, holding his ground with clear, memorable lines while Moore issued a long, explosive and architecturally sound solo, receding quietly into a pensive pianissimo.

“Chelsea Bridge” bristled with kinetic energy from the very first bar, as White tossed brutal alacrity into a cauldron balanced by the deep strokes of Hulett’s arco and the waves of mallet-driven alchemy from Moore.

It all came to a delicious swing-fest climax on “Take the A Train,” driven by Moore’s irresistible Jack DeJohnette-ish ride cymbal pings which suggested multiple gradients of tempo -- upon which White layered everything from broken stride implications to Pentacostal testimony to unfettered swing -- all in the course of one joyous solo anchored by the unwavering commitment of Hulett, standing tall against the storm.

Another superb evening from Chuck Perrin, the one-man show behind Dizzy’s, where quality music is always the first imperative.

 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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