You Gotta Hear this Quartet

Jazz is a conversation. And the Gilbert Castellanos Quartet offers among the most playful and earnest discussions you’ll overhear in San Diego.

Sunday, February 16th, “GC” and his group performed at a packed 950 Lounge, at the Handlery Hotel in Mission Valley, from 4:30 to 6:30pm. Quartet members were Castellanos on trumpet, and Joshua White, Dean Hulett, and Tyler Kreutel on piano, bass, and drums, respectively.

The group literally set a beautiful tone in the room. Their delivery was sincere. Round, warm sound filled the space.

And they swung. Hard.

For the uninitiated, swing is a rhythmic bounce that makes you want to tap your foot and feels like the best part of a roller coaster ride.

To “swing” in jazz is a good thing. The best thing. The point, actually.

Castellanos, a legend in San Diego, guided the roller coaster and showed tremendous range as he adapted Miles Davis’ sparse approach over Herbie Hancock’s Oliloqui Valley, dug into the blues on the standard Lover Man, danced atop the up-tempo latin Lotus Blossom, by Duke Ellington, and demonstrated the power of his horn while trading fours with Kreutel over Melody for GC, composed by the group’s pianist.

Castellanos’ playing was steeped in jazz’s history. He delivered a generous portion of musical quotes with such ebullient cheekiness that Louis Armstrong would’ve been proud. Fascinating Rhythm, Surrey with a Fringe on Top, and many of Satchmo’s favorite lines. And he finished Lover Man by reciting Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie’s famous tag to that song.

It is impossible to describe the quartet’s piano, drums or bass without mentioning all three. This is the best compliment paid to a rhythm section. Think of the greatest units in jazz’s history. Count Basie, Jo Jones, and Walter Page in the pianist’s big band. Wynton Kelly, Philly Joe Jones, and Paul Chambers with Miles Davis in the late 50s. And, most fittingly, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, and Ron Carter from Miles’ early 60s’ explorations. Jazz fans simply don’t think about one member without subconsciously experiencing the others.

The piano – drum tandem of White and Kreutel reminded me of two enthusiastic kids telling the same story at the dinner table over Will You Still Be Mine, by Erroll Garner, Oliloqui Valley, and Melody for GC.

They interrupted to finish each other’s sentences, pinched each other when the adults weren’t looking, drew out moments by hysterically arguing over details, traded inside jokes, poked fun at the other’s telling, and kept building the narrative until the plot was thick with tension. Then, out of nowhere, they landed the punchline together. These moments were literally followed by audible gasps and applause from shocked listeners.

The dynamic duo took us to church and preached during Lover Man. White’s solo felt every bit of Horace Silver with The Jazz Messengers. Like his predecessor Art Blakey, Kreutel led the way through the sacred service and turned all the hymnals upside-down for fun.

And they flew through Lotus Blossom until White’s cadenza left the room speechless.

The “adult at the table” was bassist Dean Hutell. He anchored the proceedings, gave the audience a fulfilling pulse and explored the range of the instrument, as on his double-stop filled solo over Oliloqui Valley or relentlessly melodic solo on Will You Still Be Mine, the latter reminiscent of the great Rufus Reid. And he showed his mettle while driving the first set’s final piece, a rhythm changes outro at roughly 500 beats per minute.

Whether fast or slow, on latin, standards, or homemade tunes, Gilbert Castellanos and every member of the quartet had an endlessly entertaining and engaging chat last week.

Look ’em up and eavesdrop next time they’re in town. They won’t mind and you’ll be pleased at what they have to say.

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