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Curtis Fuller/Gilbert Castellanos Quintet Live at the Saville Theater

Robert Bush By

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Curtis Fuller Quintet with Gilbert Castellanos
Saville Theater, San Diego City College
San Diego, CA
September 21, 2010

There was a palpable sense of energy in the air for Tuesday night's concert which sold out well in advance. The chance to see a former band-mate of John Coltrane, (and a legend in his own right), doesn't come along very often—especially in San Diego. At age 75, trombonist Curtis Fuller doesn't seem to be slowing down much. He's still on the road constantly, he's on the faculty of several prestigious university jazz programs, and still doing clinics.

The ravages of time, however, are devils we all must face. The Fuller of today has to be much more frugal with his physical resources. Fuller doesn't have the lung-capacity to deliver that full-bodied, warm sound of yesteryear. Today he must marshal his stamina in a way that allows him to continue what he obviously loves doing: playing jazz for live audiences and recording sessions. To that end—for this concert, he wisely chose local trumpet-phenomenon Gilbert Castellanos as his front-line partner. Castellanos, who is a major star in the making, afforded Fuller a strong musical shoulder to lean on—much in the same way that John Coltrane described the comfort he felt from the presence of Pharoah Sanders in his group. Fuller only took solos of two chorus' in length after which he would sit down, turning the proceedings over to the trumpeter. Assisting Castellanos was his excellent working ensemble of Mikan Zlatcovich on piano; Rob Thorsen on bass, and Brett Sanders on drums.

The concert began with a relaxed, swinging version of the Milt Jackson classic blues, "Bag's Groove." Fuller took a solo that proved that nuance, rather than velocity, is the key component of virtuosity. Fuller's ideas are still clear and inventive, and perhaps out of necessity, concise. Castellanos followed, and his note-choices, thick sound and quicksilver phrasing were a marvel. Castellanos has quietly made himself into a force-to-be-reckoned-with. Next was a Fuller original, "The Clan," which could have fit nicely on the recording everyone knows him by, John Coltrane's immortal Blue Note session: Blue Train, (1957). The tune is distinguished by a forceful pedal-tone that served as a touchstone for the soloists. Again, the trombonist took a short, sweet solo and turned to Castellanos who unleashed a scorching, rapid-fired turn filled with soaring trills and swoops.

Trumpeter Freddie Hubbard's, "Up Jumped Spring" was next, and the lilting waltz groove exacted an energetic and beautifully logical statement from Fuller. Castellanos opted for the Harmon mute on this one, exploiting its sound in an exciting solo that featured him racing through the scales in a back and forth, up and down series of sequences. Bassist Thorsen then took the spotlight with a nimble, pithy exposition that fed all of one's senses. Another Fuller original followed, a swift version of "The Court." Whatever Fuller has lost, stamina-wise, he made up for in his unerring sense of swing, which was always on display. Pianist Zlatcovich got an extended feature on this one, showcasing a fleet, bluesy right hand and a very busy left—constantly churning out intricate punctuations in perfectly timed spaces.

At that point, Fuller turned the stage over to Castellanos for a chance at leading the group for his own feature, "Blue Moon," which he performed on flugelhorn. The trumpeter really stretched out on this one—he's got a beautiful, warm sound on the larger horn, and he took a deep solo that quoted "Where Or When" toward the end. Thorsen was also featured, and again his growling whole notes, and pedal-tones, led to some splendid upper register fireworks in the thumb position.

For the concert finale, the whole quintet exploded with a wild, loose version of the Juan Tizol classic, "Caravan." The crowd, (who had blessed the trombonist with unconditional support the entire evening), stood up halfway through the piece, and started clapping on every beat. They remained standing, and cheering, for some time after the lights came up. photo credit: Anthony Cecena

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