It was a hot night at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library on Thursday, July 22. Gilbert Castellanos and his Hammond B3 Quartet were playing improvised jazz at a furious pace, and the air conditioning was kaput.
There was a rumor that it had been blown out by Joe Bagg's Hammond B3 organ. "We don't think so, but it might have been," said Dan Atkinson, organizer of the series of jazz concerts, "It's le jazz hot!"
Castellanos looked too youthful to be the trumpet master who has played with Dizzy Gillespie Jimmy Smith, John Beasley, Poncho Sanchez, Wynton Marsalis, Daniel Jackson, Francisco Aguabella and Charlie Hayden. In his natty black three-piece suit, somehow the impish smile that shone up from under his center-parted mop of wavy jet-black hair gave him the appearance of a naughty boy who had neglected to polish his trumpet.
The custom-made instrument was dull only in appearance. Castellanos blew with a sparkling precision no matter how fast the tempo. The quartet's line-up of sharp-looking young men shed neither tie nor jacket through most of the first half of the evening despite the sweltering heat.
Two couples in the audience seemed unable to cope, however, and made their exit, surely no reflection on the music. During the half-time intermission Castellanos called it "postmodern bebop," and that is as good a term as any for an approach to jazz that was ahead of its time in the 1950s and whose creative opportunities show no sign of drying up.
The quartet closed the first half with an arrangement of Duke Ellington's "Caravan." Joe Bagg's Hammond organ bubbled along with a riff beneath the three brass instrumentalists who stood side by side to harmonize the chorus.
Tenor sax player Brian Levy has been playing professionally since the age of 14 and the sound he makes shows an experience that seems at odds with his fresh-faced appearance. Drummer Mark Ferber, bespectacled, with the nerdy look of Woody Allen's long-lost love child, drove the frantic rhythm along as the shaven-headed guest player Matt Otto's tenor sax made swooping phrases across the beat. It was bebop played with a postmodern attack. And yet this was an Art Blakey arrangement from 1963.
Otto's performance seemed all the more remarkable because he was standing in for the billed alto sax player, Christopher Hollyday, who is still recovering from a serious car accident. It was fortunate for the Athenaeum audience that Otto happened to be in Los Angeles and available for the Thursday gig.
If Otto sounded a touch reminiscent of Stan Getz during Claire Fisher's "Pensitiva," this may just have been the bosa nova rhythm.
During a medley of ballads he showed a sensitive side, playing a breathy, buzzy interpretation of John Coltrane's "Naima" to which Castellanos led the applause. Over Bagg's cool organ chords and Ferber's delicate brushwork, Castellanos's trumpet played "When Somebody Loves You."
The windows of the library's rotunda were opened during the intermission and the second half of the set must have been heard in La Valencia Hotel. "I've never seen people leave before. But it's the heat," one audience member remarked. Another referring to the sauna-like atmosphere said, "It's the Bathenaeum!"
The second half opened with an original composition entitled "Manny Brown" in honor of Mr. Brown, who, despite the heat, was still seated at the back row of the audience. All the solos kept the audience nodding along to the rhythm and when the chorus came back with Otto, Castellanos and Levy blowing shoulder to shoulder, the effect was apocalyptic. ...And very hot.
The Gilbert Castellanos Trio will play at The University of San Diego's Shiley Theatre on Friday, July 30, and Saturday, July 31. Call (619) 260 4659. On Thursday July 29 the Arthur Blythe Duo will play at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library 1008 Wall St., La Jolla. 454-5872.