92 Candles for Mundell Lowe

Still swinging after all these years

Guitar legend Mundell Lowe dropped into Dizzy’s on April 19, for a concert celebrating his 92nd birthday, drawing an enthusiastic, capacity crowd – on hand to witness the master surging ahead of a band almost half his age.

Opening the set were fellow six-stringers Jaime Valle and Bob Boss, with the veteran rhythm section of bassist Gunnar Biggs and drummer Jim Plank. Valle and Boss traded ornaments on “Angel Eyes,” with the former showcasing a relaxed and resonant aesthetic and the latter rippling with an acoustic sound and dizzying chops.

Biggs got the first solo on “Tin Tin Deo,” characteristically thick and meaty, followed by Boss’s elliptical velocity before Valle’s warm, reverb drenched essay brought it all home with an attractive mix of single-note phrases, octaves, and block chords.

When Lowe took to the stage, Valle and Boss stood in the wings as the master reminisced about leading a trio with Red Mitchell and Bill Evans before launching into a version of “Waltz for Debbie.” Lowe began alone, sourcing about a thousand chords in two minutes – each of them flawlessly conceived.

An unannounced bebop title found Lowe improvising with taste and inerrant swing over the yeoman-like walking bass of Biggs and Plank’s gently swirling brushwork. Valle and Boss returned for a long, exploratory “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise,” and, amid the onslaught of virtuosic solos – the purity of his lines dominated.

As a special treat, Lowe’s daughter, violinist Alicia Previn, joined the band for “When the Sun Comes Out,” revealing a soulful vibrato and beautiful sound.

I had a nice chat with Lowe before the concert, and I continue to be amazed not just by his guitar mastery, but by his wit and enthusiasm. Although his eyesight is troubling him, Mundell Lowe’s spirit remains forever young.

 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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