Leader Rob Thorsen, like most of his crew here, is a San Diegan. Compared to LA, there's not enough studio work in the city that calls itself America's finest to keep jazz musicians well fed. And, though it's only a hundred miles South of Los Angeles, the political distance is roughly a hundred light-years. It's sort of the anti-Hollywood so it will surprise many to learn that San Diego gets to hear more than its share of top-flight jazz. This CD provides strong supporting evidence.
Playing the classic Charlie Parker tune "Dexterity" requires its name. After Thorsen states the bebop mainline in an unusual unison with Gilbert Castellanos, Duncan Moore taps out a bouncing chorus. Next it's the deserving-to-be-better-known Castellanos doing a fluent Dizzy Gillespie imitation. Then the first out-of-towner, Josh Nelson, is up and he maintains the bop groove. Perhaps to keep people from claiming Thorsen has gone entirely native, LAer Nelson splits the session's piano-bench time with Geoffrey Keezer--who recently moved to San Diego. Thorsen rounds out the solos before returning to bass/trumpet unison to take it out.
While it's no cinch to navigate "Dexterity," the harmonic maze of Coltrane's "Giant Steps" raises the ante. Still no problem; this time it's a piano-trio arrangement that begins with a leisurely, Latinish 6/8 that soon moves to a speeding 4/4. Nelson has most of the solo time. Thorsen has a tasty go as well, but realizes that, leader's axe or not, most listeners want the bass as solid support and accent rather than main solo-star.
Castellanos returns and is joined by Ben Wendel to round out the quintet that takes on Jackie McLean's "Little Milonae." The harmonic changes take another turn as McLean extends the language of his bebop ancestors.
Speaking of the ancients, "Smile" (1936, Charlie Chaplin!) never seems to disappear. Thorsen says it's one of his favorites. The arrangement returns to the trio format. Keezer has the bench and will bring an appropriate "smile" to your face with a brief reference to "I want to be happy."
Thorsen has produced an intelligent mix of arrangements. Unlike many albums which feature "guests" on just a few tracks, here one-to-three join the trio on six of the ten. A sextet is the most unusual (and largest) group. It plays a colorful and exotic arrangement of the bassist's "Cigarones," another nod to the Latin world. Wendel switches from tenor to bassoon and is joined by flutist John Rekovics to produce an almost chamber-music vibe. Maybe Thorsen's study with a bass player from the San Diego Symphony is showing through.
The concluding original "Wish on Us" is the only piece here for solo bass. It's the perfect exclamation point to a terrific album. Makes you want to visit San Diego and stop in at Dizzy's, Anthology, the Athenaeum or the North Park Theater. Highly recommended.