Mark Lessman Quartet live
The saxophonist capitalized on a rare San Diego visit from NYC pianist Rob Schneiderman, who was a vital force in the SD jazz scene back in the day.
There’s nothing quite as exhilarating as experiencing four masters create in the moment. Thirty years ago, some of the finest jazz heard in this city came from tenor saxophonist Mark Lessmanpianist Rob Schneiderman and a recent Iowa transplant drummer by the name of Duncan Moore. Bassist Rob Thorsen has been laying it down for almost as long, and even though Schneiderman left many years ago to make his mark in New York City, he will always be a part of that San Diego jazz history.
Sometimes, you can go back.
Lessman served as the nominal leader for the August 9 hit at Dizzy’s — but it really felt like a collaborative affair, especially with the band touching on a few of Schnederman’s excellent originals.
Opening with Sam Rivers’ “Beatrice,” an instant reverie was established by virtue of a perfect tempo that allowed the song to sing. Over the gentle swirl of Moore’s brushes and the deep gravity of Thorsen’s whole notes, Schneiderman’s tastefully sparse harmonies set a pristine backdrop for Lessman’s keening tenor, weaving through the contours with cyclic punctuations from his altissimo register. Schneiderman is a consummate pro whose own solo began with simple resonant chords that branched into a lush melodic dialog. I dig the subtle changes in Thorsen’s aesthetic recently — he seems more intent on cutting across the grain with unexpected challenges — creating exciting miniatures in the process.
An a cappella tenor exploration led into “There Will Never Be Another You,” and after the head, Lessman wound tight arpeggio-driven sequences into eruptive screams while Schneiderman’s right-hand choreography spun dazzling variations against the Herculean pulse of Thorsen and Moore’s wicked ride cymbal pings. A series of traded fours gave the drummer a chance to earn some love with concise, logical and explosive exchanges.
Pulsing harmonies kicked off “Here Today,” layered across an Elvin Jones cymbal groove, which afforded Schneiderman the opportunity to maximize his personal blend of block chords and effusive melodies while Lessman explored the emotional content of his horn.
There was a resonant grace in the pianist’s intro to “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” crawling into a lugubrious tempo illuminated by Thorsen’s mournful arco, Schneiderman pounced on the form with a super-charged , harmonically dense solo before Lessman reappeared dramatically — armed with wide vibrato, roiling trills and a series of evangelical squeals.
Special guest saxophonist Tripp Sprague, who shares a lot of history with Lessman, Schneiderman and Moore joined the group for an elastic romp through “Tenor Madness,” where each horn toggled between trying to squeeze the last note in — to finishing each others ideas to instant harmonized improvising. Sprague’s relaxed sense of burnished motion contrasted nicely with Lessman’s harder edge — more complimentary that the average “cutting contest.”
Photo by Barbara Wise