Sometimes, the best listening experiences come from unheralded players, in unlikely venues, with unjustly small audiences. Sunday night proved to be a striking case in point as composer Nathan Hubbard led a prodigiously talented quintet through his challenging, yet hyper-lyrical music at the Taoist Sanctuary on Park Ave.
Although he is a breathtaking drummer, Hubbard appeared on vibraphone for this set, an instrument he knows his way around – joined by the twin horns of Ellen Weller on flute and soprano, J.P. Balmat on alto and baritone saxophones, Harley Magsino on double bass and Laurel Grinnell on drums.
Opening with “Remembrance,” which featured a majestically languid melody, Weller took the first solo, plumbing resonant depths above Magsino’s probing input and the skittering percussion of Grinnell. Hubbard’s cloud-like vibraphone textures steered the tune and added thematic nuance at every step of the way.
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Dreamy suspensions characterized “Clock Noticing the Few Moments Left,” which found Magsino expositing short phrases punctuated by wide glissandi and rapid-fire sequencing and Balmat ripping through freebop filigree on a dramatic alto statement.
The slow boiling agitation of “Indianhead Canyon,” proved to be an excellent vehicle for a duo between Weller’s soprano and the remarkable drums of Grinnell, who both explored dynamics in a way that exposed the nuances of each instrument in bold detail.
Grinnell also shone on a short drum feature, “In Her Garden,” which exploited her facility with mallets in a Max Roach / Ed Blackwell-style vein. Hubbard’s skills on the vibraphone added a reverberant sheen to the whole affair, with piquant harmonies and deft solos, and on “Walled Garden”, he and Weller -- after dispensing with the gorgeous head -- dove straight into a simpatico duet, where each raspy cry from her horn was matched by a corresponding comment from the composer.
Wonderfully creative, accessible music performed by musicians who should be San Diego household names, Hubbard will be returning to the Taoist Sanctuary soon (it has terrific acoustics, by the way), with a different ensemble.
I’ll keep you posted.
Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years.