One pleasant consequence of so many independent CDs on the market is the opportunity to hear regional musicians who otherwise would have gotten little or no national exposure. It is exciting to find groups as good or better than nationally known variety. Rob Thorsen's quartet is but one example.
When he was 18, bassist Rob Thorson began playing in San Francisco blues and street bands. Over the next several years, he was exposed to the artistry of numerous jazz musicians, including Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Horace Silver, and Joe Henderson. Since completing a seven-month gig on a cruise ship and moving to San Diego in 1990, Thorsen has played with such luminaries as James Moody, Laurindo Almeida, Louis Bellson, Jon Hendricks, Mark Murphy, and Bucky Pizzarelli.
He currently leads his own group several times weekly and plays regularly with the Gilbert Castellanos Quartet and the Holly Hofmann/Mike Wofford Quartet. Wofford, to my mind a considerably underrated pianist, appears with Thorsen here, and the arresting Hofmann appears on one track, Jobim’s hauntingly beautiful “Mojave.”
This quartet outing provides an overall satisfying musical experience. The playlist is varied and eclectic, but each of the tunes selected seems to fit effortlessly into a seamless whole. The original opener (called “Wood You?” by Thorsen, despite the other spelling on the CD) is up-tempo, a bop line based on the changes of Gillespie’s “Woody n’ You” and featuring Manning’s sterling tenor solo. “Besame Mucho” highlights Thorsen’s arco bass. A Latin beat and an interesting harmonic interlude endow Arlen’s “Let’s Fall in Love” with just the right spice.
“Disarray” is a brief original tone poem for bass and tenor sax that is less chaotic than its name suggests. Two less-familiar Billy Strayhorn compositions grace the set: the first, a classic blues; the second, an elegant, gently swinging trio delicacy, in which Thorsen and Wofford share the spotlight. Monk’s “Evidence” introduces Kenyatta on the soprano sax and provides Wofford and Mason with opportunities to sparkle; the quirky composition inserts just the proper tang into the mix.
The album concludes with two more Thorsen originals. The first is a lop-eared blues with the refreshing title “Blues Clues,” which provides delightful solos all around, a portion of Wofford’s being unaccompanied. Finally, “Sad Guy” is a pensive minor/major study in 6/8 time, mysterious, compelling, and bound to leave a fellow wanting more.