Charged Particles, McCandless Dazzle with Quartet Show at Birdland


Pete McCandless performs at Birdland on Sept. 15 as a special guest with the trio Charged Particles.

(Photo: Gen Nishino)

The Bay Area trio Charged Particles, led by drummer Jon Krosnick and featuring keyboardist Murray Low and inventive electric bassist Aaron Germain, was in the midst of a U.S. tour with special guest Paul McCandless when they made a rare New York appearance at Birdland on Sept. 15.

The four struck a nice accord on several pieces that showcased McCandless (a founding member of Oregon, now in its 46th year) on soprano sax, oboe, bass clarinet and his trusty English horn while Krosnick’s precise polyrhythms on the kit provided the glue for their invigorating collaboration.

This edition of Charged Particles (the fourth incarnation since its inception 25 years ago, with Krosnick being the only charter member) opened this Birdland set as a trio, romping through a clave-fueled number (Low’s “Un Nuevo Dia”) that had Krosnick unveiling his slick Dave Weckl chops on the kit.

Germain, a post-Jaco, post-Patitucci burner on six-string bass, turned in some stunning chordal passages and fleet-fingered single note lines on this percolating Latin jazz number, while Krosnick soloed with authority and timbale-like phrasing over Low’s mesmerizing son montuno groove.

McCandless, who turns 70 in March and conveys a sage-like visage, made his entrance with English horn in hand and immediately jumped on his own “Punch,” which carried a surprisingly hard-hitting backbeat for someone associated for so long with the serene, New Age-y sounds of Oregon.

With Germain laying down a Jaco-esque groove and Krosnick putting up the funk, McCandless soared on this upbeat song that drifted into Yellowjackets territory.

Krosnick shifted to a lighter touch on McCandless’ as-yet-unrecorded “Ionia,” a beautiful number that featured a sparkling piano solo from Low and gradually built in intensity behind McCandless’ soprano solo.

Krosnick’s tender “A Smile of Love,” written for his wife Cathy when they were courting, had the drummer switching to brushes. McCandless played an uncommonly lyrical solo on bass clarinet before unleashing a dramatic cadenza at the end. Germain also contributed a lyrical bass solo on this piece that recalled Joe Zawinul’s Weather Report ode for Jaco, “A Remark You Made.”

McCandless’ “Queen Of Sydney”—named for a ship he remembers seeing emerge from a fog while traveling in Canada—had him doubling English horn lines with Low’s electric piano for a striking Zawinul-esque effect. McCandless also broke out his double reed oboe on this delicate number, which Krosnick underscored with gentle percussive colors, including rattling his fingers on the snare drum. Low also delivered a rhapsodic piano solo on this gentle, minimalist meditation.

Low left the stage while the rest played a trio rendition of guitarist Ross Traut’s “Trout Stream,” which had McCandless really opening up on bass clarinet. Germain added a virtuosic chordal solo on this upbeat number. McCandless returned to oboe, one of the most singular instruments in jazz, for his lilting 6/8 original “Musiverse,” which also had him blowing with abandon on a heated soprano sax solo.

They closed their set on a joyful note with McCandless’ countrified “Turning To You” before encoring with Ralph Towner’s off-kilter funk number “Creeper,” which featured a monstrous bass solo by Germain and also showcased McCandless’ sheer command on bass clarinet.

Charged Particles has previously played with other special guests, including guitarist Nguyên Lê and tenor saxophonist Tod Dickow. But this collaboration with McCandless was something special.

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