Night People Watching

Joe Garrison's improvising orchestra, Night People, soars through sound

The constantly evolving musical organism known as Night People -- an improvising orchestra helmed by the intrepid composer/conductor Joe Garrison -- logged another impressive outing on March 10 as a part of Jazz Live, the innovative performance series from the folks at KSDS Jazz 88.3 on the proverbial FM dial.

The ensemble unveiled some new charts, but Night People have the ability to make even their oldest material sound new -- such is the nature of Garrison's art. "The Forever Cats" boasted a Latin/funk feel from the bottom up as Doug Walker and Chris Duvall laid down a bed of groove on electric and acoustic bass, respectively. Alto-master Charlie Arbelaez ripped and roared with bluesy abandon as the band committed to making all forms of joyful noise with lush yet thorny harmonies behind him. Garrison loves unusual instrumental combinations, so the textures of, say, flute over trumpet or bass clarinet over bass trombone create swirling vortices of timbre that constantly engage the ear.

The way the composer voices his chords is richer than the so-called 1 percent, and on "South Door," the lyric palette took on a Gil Evans depth of landscape. Short vignettes from Derek Cannon, Ian Tordella and Doug Meeuwsen stuck to the ribs, and Lynn Willard's rippling melodicism pushed the excitement factor to a higher dimension, as did the orchestral blend of Scott Paulson's oboe over the flugelhorns of Cannon and Meeuwsen.

Meeuwsen also starred in a startling duet feature with the undulating electronics of Chris Warren to introduce "Cuando la Lluvia," another textural showstopper that capitalized on unusual strategies like the beautiful three-trombone soli from Jordan Morita, Kevin Esposito and Brian O'Donnell; Tonga Ross-Ma'u's slippery reverberant guitar feature; or the meaty, daring call-and-response dialog between the trumpets. The drums of Charlie Weller, always tastefully applied, closed the tune in unexpected fashion.

"Sun Soul," Garrison's dedication to the late Daniel Jackson, featured a long, emotionally revealing solo from Dave Millard's bass flute, treated with discrete electronic additions from Chris Warren. Full of extended techniques like growling and multiphonics, Millard's flute soared from fundamental to overtone with amazing facility.

"I Am Like an Idiot," another new composition, lurched along with a spooky Gamelan vibe from Willard's keyboard and the dark colors of trombones and bass clarinet, plus the outstanding orchestral percussion of guest Steve Solook. The whole thing had an unsettling "Twilight Zone" soundtrack feel for me -- indicative of the suggestive powers of creative music.

Garrison may have saved the best for last. Ariana Warren began "8/89" alone, creating a grating, metallic burbling from bass-clarinet multiphonics that rocked the house. A superb double double-bass soli from Walker and Duvall that reeked of raw, bluesy truth followed compact solos from Arbelaez and Cannon. A well-earned standing ovation continued for several moments as the lights came up.

Night People are Joe Garrison, composer/conductor; Chris Warren, electronics; Ariana Warren, bass clarinet; Scott Paulson, oboe; Kirk Johnson, flute; Steve Solook, percussion; Dave Millard, bass flute, alto violin; Charlie Arbelaez and Ian Tordella, alto saxophone; Derek Cannon and Doug Meeuwsen, trumpet/flugelhorn; Jordan Morita, Kevin Esposito and Brian O'Donnell, trombone; Lynn Willard, piano/keyboard; Tonga Ross-Ma'u, guitar; Doug Walker and Chris Duval, electric and acoustic bass; Charlie Weller, drums.

 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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