Rob Thorsen Packs Bread & Salt

Veteran bassist draws capacity crowd at Barrio Logan's Bread & Salt

Double bass specialist Rob Thorsen is one of the hardest working cats in show business, and also one of the most genuinely likable characters that I’ve encountered over the years. Those traits have earned Mr. Thorsen an incredible amount of goodwill in the community, so it wasn’t surprising to see a record audience gathered to celebrate the release of his solo/duos record “Bass is the Space,” at the funky, industrial-chic Barrio Logan multi-arts warehouse Bread & Salt on Julian Avenue.

Thorsen began the evening with two solo pieces, “Work Song,” by Nat Adderley, and “Inner Urge,” by Joe Henderson. The former began with piquant use of double-stops, glissandi and frequent ladling from the gutbucket while the latter combined deep resonant bow strokes with a pizzicato velocity that reminded me of bass giant Dave Holland.

Thorsen called pianist Joshua White to the stage for a surprisingly “inside” reading of Herbie Hancock’s gorgeous “Tell Me A Bedtime Story” full of wafting, dreamy Rhodes textures and gentle interplay. Much more representative of the duo’s potential (and much more satisfying as well) was the audacious treatment of “Someday My Prince Will Come,” which bounced off the stage and into the ear of the listener with considerable freedom, in an atmosphere where risk-taking became the lingua franca between the two musicians, anything seemed possible and the tune soon exploded into layers of deep exchange.

Next up was the sultry songbird Steph Johnson locking into an intimate dialog with Thorsen on Chico Pinheiro’s “Tempestade,” featuring her smoky delivery, spot-on intonation and dramatically improved guitar work. Even her Portuguese seemed flawless (not that I would know.)

Thorsen’s frequent employer, trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos followed, breezing through “Ornette’s Vibe,” in a loose tempo call-and-response mode over the monstrous quarter-note pulse in the bass. Castellanos squeezed certain tones and lofted others into the rafters, while Thorsen, in a particularly inspired moment, explored a Charlie Haden-esque path with profound folkish implications.

Castellanos stuck around for a deep romp through Charles Tolliver’s “Right Now,” as each player struck independent courses that converged in strategic locations, with the trumpeter growling like a hungry dog while Thorsen dug deep into the blues architecture with super grooving contributions.

Drummer Fernando Gomez has a powerful hookup with Thorsen, and together they performed the penultimate series of duos on this evening, a wonderfully sloppy version of Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance,” full of give and take and mad respect for dynamics, and the Latin “Tacos at Midnight,” which featured Thorsen’s lone performance on his vintage Ampeg solid-body “Baby Bass.”

Everyone reclaimed the stage for a languid pass at Wayne Shorter’s “Oriental Folk Song,” activating positive forces into motion one last time.

It should also be noted that local artist Susan Snyder exhibited a slew of abstract paintings that contributed a striking visual component to an excellent evening of music by a decidedly cool guy. A great time was had by all.

 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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