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Mundell Lowe Quartet Live At The Saville Theater

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Mundell Lowe Quartet
Saville Theater, San Diego City College
San Diego CA
July 13, 2010
Tuesday night's affair was standing-room-only for the rare appearance by Mundell Lowe, an iconic figure in the annals of jazz history. Lowe cut his teeth as an improviser in the Roosevelt administration—that he continues to perform with such vitality two years into the Obama era is nothing short of amazing. Lowe has the rare distinction of gigging with the legendary Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
1920 - 1955
sax, alto
, and in addition, his resume also lists work with such disparate icons as Benny Goodman
Benny Goodman
Benny Goodman
1909 - 1986
clarinet
, Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
1922 - 1979
bass, acoustic
, and Helen Humes
Helen Humes
Helen Humes
b.1913
vocalist
, to name just a few. He also spent 17 years as a staff guitarist in the NBC orchestra, appearing on the original Today show with host Dave Garroway.

This performance gives weight to the notion that "age is just a number," because at 88, Lowe's skills as a guitarist remain untouched by the ravages of time. Playing a blend of bebop originals and timeless standards, Lowe tossed off fiendishly knotty arpeggios and seamless bits of chord melody work with a cool, casual expression. His tone is everything you'd look for in a modern, mainstream jazz guitarist: it's warm, clear and full-bodied. His comping is vintage bop but never anachronistic. You can tell he's absorbed the developments in jazz guitar from the post Wes Montgomery
Wes Montgomery
Wes Montgomery
1925 - 1968
guitar
perspective.

As good as Lowe is by himself, (he played several unaccompanied standards that were superb), what really elevated this concert were the contributions of a veritable San Diego All-Star group supporting him. On piano: first call musician Mike Wofford. His c.v. is thick, having performed with master-arranger Oliver Nelson
Oliver Nelson
Oliver Nelson
1932 - 1975
arranger
, drummer Shelly Manne
Shelly Manne
Shelly Manne
1920 - 1984
drums
, alto saxophonist Lee Konitz
Lee Konitz
Lee Konitz
b.1927
sax, alto
and many others. His touch on the piano is completely unique and his ideas are always fresh—sometimes, startlingly so. Double bassist Gunnar Biggs has been a touchstone in the San Diego jazz scene for over thirty years. His tone is big and solid and his time-keeping is exceptional. On top of all of that, Biggs is a superb soloist: each time he got the spotlight—his messages were riveting. The versatility of percussionist Jim Plank is no idle hype: the man has played with everyone from Charles McPherson
Charles McPherson
Charles McPherson
b.1939
sax, alto
and Chico Freeman to the San Diego Symphony. He conducted the dynamics of this performance with control, taste and fire. He blended so perfectly with the group, it was simply a joy to watch.

The concert began, in swinging fashion with a take on the Mercer/Arlen classic, "My Shining Hour." After that was an arrangement of "Just Squeeze Me" with some very tasteful chord-melody work by Lowe. Charlie Parker's, "Scrapple From The Apple" was up next, and this was one of those chances for Wofford to really shine as he delivered a fleet-fingered, manic solo that was all over the keyboard. Following that was Lowe's solo guitar rendering of the Benny Golson
Benny Golson
Benny Golson
b.1929
sax, tenor
original, "I Remember Clifford" complete with gorgeous, somber, brush strokes from the master. The Parker connection continued with a pumped reading of "Steeplechase" featuring great solos from Lowe, Wofford, and Biggs followed by some explosive trading of "fours" with Plank.

The absolute highlight of this excellent concert though, was their rendition of a seldom heard Rodgers and Hart jewel: "There's A Small Hotel" that was performed at the perfect tempo for maximum swing. This spontaneous arrangement had the entire house snapping their fingers, or tapping their feet. Lowe took the microphone and intoned: "They say it's not a good programming idea to follow a ballad with another ballad... but let's do 'Darn That Dream' anyway." It was another perfect choice and the crowd encouraged the out of the box thinking. For the next piece, Biggs and Plank sat out while Lowe and Wofford performed as a duo on "The Way You Look Tonight" in waltz time. Then, Lowe turned the bandstand over to Wofford who took the helm for a romp on the rarely played Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
classic, "Veird Blues." This trio has played together plenty and it showed. Lowe returned for the Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
composition "Ask Me Now"—which was suitably dramatic.

The 90 minute concert drew to a close with a medium swing treatment of "Willow Weep For Me" that seemed to sum up all of the things that made this show so successful: superb musicianship, wonderful material performed by a very solid quartet—guided by a jazz legend. This was a performance that will linger in the collective memories of those fortunate enough to have witnessed it. As for the amazing longevity and vitality of Mr. Lowe, I'll have to paraphrase Bob Dylan: "May he stay forever young."

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