Mundell Lowe Handles the Handlery

Veteran guitarist Mundell Lowe leads spontaneous trio at the Handlery Hotel

Flute virtuoso Holly Hofmann is also a respected curator and concert promoter, and her latest turn in that direction has resulted in a series of excellent guitar trio outings held each week during the Happy Hour at the Handlery Hotel on Hotel Circle North in Mission Valley.

It’s always a cause for celebration when guitar legend Mundell Lowe comes out to play -- even at the age of 93 -- Lowe’s sense of harmonic fluidity is hard to top. Lowe was joined by fellow guitarist Joey Carano and bassist Rob Thorsen for an evening of standards in front of a large, appreciative audience on the evening of Aug. 7.

Carano opted to play unamplified Dobro guitar for the evening, which caused a few problems with microphone feedback, but I was surprised to hear how well he adapted to Lowe’s sophisticated harmonies and sense of daring.

The leader’s deft chord melody introduction to “Darn That Dream,” sliding into blue notes with casual grace was nothing short of sublime, and even though one sometimes had to strain to hear Carano, it was always worth the effort.

At times, the group seemed to struggle to find their center, and things were slightly scattered for much of “Watch What Happens,” but somehow Lowe, perhaps through sheer force of will, was able to pull each musician into a comfortable orbit and things began to gel.

A personal highlight for me came on “There Will Never Be Another You,” when all three players found their groove starting with Carano’s pre-bop ornamentation, continuing with the master’s synthesis of modern guitar language, and concluding with Thorsen’s wicked arco bass solo – which swung like nobody’s business.

There is a different guitar trio playing each week at the Handlery -- and with validated parking, no cover and no minimum, it just might be the best deal in town.

 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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