White Christmas

San Diego musician Joshua White is the most exciting young pianist I’ve heard in the last 30 years -- and I’ve heard them all. There. I’ve said it. Seriously, I’ve caught Jason Moran, Brad Mehldau, Aaron Parks, Danilo Perez and Gerald Clayton, for instance, in the last two years, and to my ears, Mr. White displays a singular genius that extends far past mere virtuosity and straight into the indescribable.

On Dec. 13, White assembled a quartet featuring tenor saxophonist Ben Schachter, bassist Dave Marr and LA drummer Dan Schnelle for a wide-open set of exploratory praxis based upon the Miles Davis classic album Live at the Plugged Nickel.

This was a bold idea. That album is widely acknowledged for its elliptical dissemination of reconstructive, on-the-fly decision-making over material that serves as a springboard into improvisation at its purest level.

Beginning alone with pastoral harmonies, White soon hammered broken fragments into a knotty dissertation, and when Marr entered with rubbery glissand,i Schnelle and Schachter followed with a vortex tension that permeated the room. Only after a wholly satisfying, open-ended squall did a recognizable melody emerge, eventually coalescing into the Sonny Rollins tune "Oleo."

Each member got his moments in the spotlight -- from Marr’s woody asides to the screaming multiphonics of Schachter to the broken-time heroics of Schnelle, who continues to remind me of a young Tony Williams in his ability to shake things up.

Then, of course, there was White, whose power, swing and absolute command of the instrument enables him to transmit ideas at the speed of neurons firing. White traces the wide arc of dissonance to rhapsody with a seamless invention that is both distinctive and mind-boggling.   

 Robert Bush 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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