On the News


May 31, 2013   

Guitar great Julian Lage returns

Feb 28, 2013   

Article by George Varga    Photo by Ingrid Hertfelder


Legendary jazz vibraphonist Gary Burton knows a great thing when he hears it, as befits a seven-time Grammy Award-winner who for 30 years served as a professor, dean and executive vice president at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music.

Over the decades, Burton’s bands have included such stars-in-the-making as guitarists Pat Metheny, Larry Coryell and Jerry Hahn. Six-string marvel Julian Lage, who performs Tuesday at The Loft@UCSD with his own group, is one of Burton’s more recent discoveries. He may be the best yet.

“I saw Julian on a TV show when he was only 12. Within 30 seconds, I could tell this guy had a natural talent,” Burton told me in a 2011 U-T San Diego interview. “I got in touch with him and his parents, and — by the time he was 15 or 16 — he was recording with me.”

Now 25, California native Lage played here with Burton’s New Quartet at a 2011 Athenaeum Jazz at Neurosciences Institute concert, which came a year after his duo gig at The Loft with Peruvian bassist Jorge Roeder.

Lage was not yet a teenager when he made his recording debut on mandolin great David Grisman's 1999 album "Dawg Duos." The guitarist has gone on to make memorable music with pianist Marian McPartland, singers Nneena Freelon, Sophie Millman Nicole Henry, pianist Taylor Eigsti, former James Moody drummer Terri Lynne Carrington and erstwhile Fallbrook violin great Mark O'Connor.

The guitarist's 2010 performance at The Loft@UCSD was a memorable one. With Roeder providing highly empathetic support, Lage dazzled with his remarkable instrumental command, pinpoint dynamic control and unusual combination of musical maturity and daring.

For his return engagement at the Loft Tuesday, he'll be leading a quintet that features Roeder, saxophonist Dan Blake, Venezuelan-born cellist Aristides and drummer Tupac Mantilla on drums. Expect to be dazzled, again. If you want to hear more of Lage, he'll return May 23 for a concert at the Scripps Research Institute Auditorium in La Jolla as part of the all-star Anthony Wilson Seasons Guitar Quartet

Joshua White & Spiral at The Loft

Feb 14, 2013   

Article by Robert Bush    Photo by Brian Ross


Wednesday, February 13, piano virtuoso Joshua White, celebrated the musical legacy of jazz icon John Coltrane before a sold-out house at The Loft--fronting an all-star aggregation featuring bassist Mark Dresser, trombonist Michael Dessen, saxophonist David Borgo and drummer Duncan Moore.

Mr. White's inexhaustible quest for growth as a musician has yielded tangible, and astonishing results. During several solo spots--the other players onstage--some of whom have 30 years on him--looked on in obvious amazement.

Dresser opened the concert with somber intervals, eking out a short, grainy solo that led into "Living Space," an angular, explosive theme from Coltrane's often-misunderstood "late period." It was a joy to hear Moore ratcheting up the tension in free-metrics as White dialed up the energy. By the time the horns entered-- White was channeling both McCoy Tyner and Alice Coltrane.

A short, roiling drum solo led into "Transition," where White activated a hard swing right out of the gates--joyously hovering over Dresser's sturm und drang and the wicked ride cymbal implications of Moore. Borgo surfaced with burnished tenor textures--twisting scalar ideas into hoarse cries before handing off to Dessen, who's braying, warbled vibrato was temporarily sidetracked by a problem with onstage feedback.

Moore's soft mallets triggered a remarkable synthesis of Elvin Jones on "The Drum Thing," and White's left-hand rumblings and piledriving clusters brought tangential commentary from Borgo while Dresser chopped huge chunks of time with windmill thwacks on the strings of his bass. Dessen toggled between the court-jester to the romantic and back with minute variations on timbre and degrees of vibrato.

"After The Rain" opened with Dessen cradling the melody--eventually pulling the form apart like saltwater taffy as each musician charted an independent course. White's splayed arabesques initiating a trance before yielding to Dresser, who massaged upper register fingering into a state of spiritual grace.

The tour-de-force moment came when White unraveled a breathtaking deconstruction of "Giant Steps," which began as a soliloquy of seamless voice-leading careening into waves of discordant textures and a freakish mix of Cecil Taylor and Errol Garner as bits and pieces of the intricate theme came flying off the stage and past the ears.

The slinky swing of "Big Nick," found Borgo dancing and chirping on soprano and Dessen blustering his personal vision of the blues as Dresser walked, skipped and stumbled while White's ebullient block chords kept it all swinging.

After a brief intermission the band launched into the loose modal swing of "Brazilia," where White teased an almost unbearable tension through repetition released by long strands of effusive velocity. Borgo and Dessen wrapped orbital trills around each other to take the tune out.

Other highlights included Dessen's blustery Dixieland swagger on "Some Other Blues," and the aching exchange between piano and bass on "Naima," where Dresser's arco suggested the cry of seagulls over White's ruminative arpeggios.

Early candidate for concert of the year.

Joshua White to salute Coltrane

Feb 05, 2013   

Article by George Varga    Photo by Pete Souza


In 2011, the jazz world at large learned what savvy San Diegans had already known for several years: Joshua White is one of the most gifted and distinctive young musicians in the country.

It was then that this El Cajon keyboard prodigy won second place honors (and $15,000) at the 25th annual Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. The judges included legendary pianist Herbie Hancock and saxophonist Wayne Shorter, both of whom accompanied White to a subsequent White House meeting with President Obama.

“Joshua has immense talent,” Hancock told me in a U-T interview. “I was impressed by his daring and courageous approach to improvisation on the cutting edge of innovation. He is his own man.”

White, 27, tends to focus on his own, forward-looking, music, which is equally infused with grace and daring, precision and adventure. He is also very well-versed in the roots of modern and vintage jazz, as was evidenced by his Monk tribute concert last week at 98 Bottles and his work with top trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos.

On Wednesday, White will perform a salute to sax giant John Coltrane at the all-ages Loft@UCSD. The concert marks the debut of the all-star band Spiral, which also features trombonist Michael Dessen, drummer Duncan Moore and two renowned musicians who teach at UC San Diego, bassist Mark Dresser and saxophonist David Borgo.

Hearing White and company put their own spin on such Coltrane gems as “Miles’ Mode,” “Brazilia” and “Living Space” should be a treat. Ditto the chance to hear White tackle Coltrane pianist McCoy Tyner’s keyboard-thundering attack and use it as a taking-off point.

Giant steps, indeed.

Kamau Kenyatta at The Loft

Jan 23, 2013   

Article by Robert Bush    Photo by Brian Ross


UCSD's The Loft presented an all too unique opportunity to catch some of San Diego's less visible but no less vital jazz musicians last night with a performance by the Kamau Kenyatta Group, featuring drum pro Richard Sellers, bassist Antar Martin, saxophonist Ben Schachter, multi-instrumentalist Tonga Ross-Ma'u, and several star students joining Kenyatta's soprano saxophone and keyboards.

Martin's deep, loping bass vamp opened "Song From The Underground Railroad," layering with Seller's chilling ride cymbal pings and Ross- Ma'u's minimalist comping to set the stage for Kenyatta's languid exploration of the theme from John Coltrane's epochal album Africa Brass.

The saxophonist has a personal sound on the straight horn--somewhere between the dry cough of Steve Lacy and the liquid whimsy of Wayne Shorter. His ideas were very Coltrane-esque without resorting to mimicry. What was particularly great about the opener was how they made the tune their own--Kenyatta winding elliptical ideas into a layered vortex, then watching as Ross-Ma'u built his solo from micro-ideas into a compelling story. All the while, Martin and Sellers kept a trance-like groove in motion.

Ross-Ma'u switched to guitar, Kenyatta to keyboard and Schachter took the stage to interpret "Isis," a strong Latin groove that found the guitarist delivering a nice, squiggly John Abercrombie style solo. It was hard to get a read on Kenyatta's keyboard prowess, given the fact that no acoustic instrument was available-- I heard a lot of strong ideas--but wasn't wild about the sound of the instrument. Schachter is a burner, that much I can affirm.

Kenyatta's lilting original waltz "Shahida," was next, sublime chord movement eliciting breathy curlicues from the tenor, who laced tight melodic flurries while Martin's bass lines--stronger than Lance Armstrong's coffee--kept it all flowing.

Kenyatta brought a student, guitarist Daniel Mandychenko, to the stage for an upbeat romp on Billy Strayhorn's "Johnny Come Lately," letting the man loose for an excellent, swinging and bluesy solo that only bogged down when he visited the repetition well once too often, perhaps. Schachter tore into it, whipping scalar velocity into a froth bearing dollops of altissimo screaming--then Martin took off with a stealthy alacrity, keeping it low and resonant with a huge singing tone.

They closed the set with another Kenyatta original, "Detroit 1970," which sounded like a cousin to "Giant Steps," plus pedal tone sections. Over the yeoman -like walk of Martin and the garrulous drumming of Sellers, Ross- Ma'u bounced clear-toned tangential arcs around the changes while Schachter built layered geometric additions to a repeated idea before getting his 'Trane on in a duet with the percussionist. Sellers actually brought the volume way down to begin his solo--an architectural structure of pure beauty and logic that led right back into a furious reading of the head.

I wish I had caught the second set, and the rest of the guest musicians. Next time.

Terry Bozzio still drums up a storm

Jan 22, 2013   

Article by George Varga    Photo by Brian Ross


Before he achieved worldwide fame as a guitarist, band leader and genre-leaping musical visionary, Frank Zappa started out in the mid-1950s as the drummer in the San Diego R&B band The Ramblers. (See this coming Sunday’s U-T Arts & Culture section for an in-depth feature on Zappa, who died from cancer in 1993 and left an indelible legacy in his wake.)

From the late 1960s on, Zappa’s bands featured a succession of remarkable drummers, each seemingly more dazzling than the one before. But none made quite the impact of Terry Bozzio, who played with Zappa in the mid-1970s and performs here Friday with the Alex Machacek Trio at the Loft@UCSD.

Bozzio distinguished himself almost immediately by his ability to play even Zappa's most complex songs with equal fire and precision. His sense of time was near flawless and his pinpoint dynamic control was perfectly suited to Zappa's turn-on-a-dime

compositions and intricate (and constantly shifting) time signatures.

Zappa composed the deviously difficult “The Black Page” specifically for Bozzio (it’s featured on the 1977 live album “Zappa in New York”). Soon thereafter, "The Black Page" became a favorite selection at college recitals by percussion majors. Last time I checked, it still is, which is a testament to both Zappa and Bozzio.

After striking out on his own, Bozzio went on to work with a wide array of artists, including Jeff Beck, the Brecker Brothers, Debbie Harry, Duran Duran, The Knack and ex-Zappa guitarist Steve Vai, among many others. Pop fans who came of age in the 1980s may recall him as the leader of the band Missing Persons, which was fronted by his then wife, Dale Bozzio, on vocals.

For his Loft concert Friday, Terry Bozzio will play with a band led by by Austrian guitar wiz Alex Machacek and veteran James Taylor/Allan Holdsworth bassist Jimmy Johnson.

San Diego guitar great Mike Keneally, himself a distinguished Zappa band alum, opens the show with a solo set. It will be the first time he and Bozzio have shared a stage. While there are no formal plans for them to play together, it would be a shame if they didn't join forces for at least one impromptu number together.