Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Plugged-in string wizardry: the John Patitucci Quartet at the Jazz Kitchen

Stability in jazz tends to be looked upon with suspicion. It brings with it the dangers of falling into a
John Patitucci at the Jazz Kitchen May 18.
rut, which can be defined as a groove that has started gathering cobwebs.

John Patitucci is a player who exudes stability of the good sort. His new CD is titled "Brooklyn" in honor of the New York City borough where he was born and raised. He referenced it several times in his second set Monday night at the Jazz Kitchen, to which he brought the "Brooklyn" group. Though he soft-pedaled his faith and his family, the unaccompanied encore he wrote in their honor, "Tesori" (Treasures), put a seal on those values, as did several "God bless you(s)!" he directed at the enthusiastic audience.

Further evidence: With his drummer, Brian Blade, Patitucci has been a member for about 15 years of the Wayne Shorter Quartet, which played a concert at the Palladium in March. (Pianist Danilo Perez, another recent Jazz Kitchen guest, is the fourth member of this unusually durable group.)

The much-laureled bass player just started a tour with his Electric Guitar Quartet. The ensemble lives up to its name in stellar fashion with Steve Cardenas and Adam Rogers as guitar colleagues supplementing Patitucci's wide-ranging electric bass (two of them, actually, creating a double rainbow across the sky of the leader's virtuosity).

The inspiration Thelonious Monk continues to give jazz players of all stripes — is there any other original bopper more influential? — was displayed in the first number: "Evidence" (today's secret word? You bet your life!). Patitucci's upper-register soloing took flight, and the stirring contrasts in the guitarists' solo styles added interest to the lengthy solos.  Generally speaking, Cardenas sounds more down-home, "fat" and centered; Rogers is more abstract, whimsical, and slightly ruminative. The stop-start theme was crisply executed, as the audience had every right to expect from such rhythmically astute players.

All four musicians showed their rootsy abilities in "Band of Brothers," so that even Rogers' style seemed right at home. The piece is a rocking original saluting another early Patitucci influence, the Allman Brothers Band. The well-chosen set would later give Rogers a showcase, the ballad standard "I Fall in Love Too Easily." Opening with a wispy Rogers cadenza, the performance coalesced gracefully around the regretful melody. After Patitucci and Cardenas solos, it was up to Rogers to round things off gently.

A slight programming misstep put "The Search" right after "Dugu Kamalemba," a West African churner that featured a masterly Patititucci solo, his nimble fingers never settling into a cliche pattern, despite the piece's reliance on lots of grooving repetition. Both pieces are on the new CD, but here  "The Search" didn't benefit, because of its similar tempo and textural density. It's a musically adventurous piece that would have sounded better in some other position.

(Great moment of one drummer looking out for another: One of Blade's drums became perilously shaky during "The Search" and Kenny Phelps, who was in the audience, rushed onstage, reached underneath and tightened it as Blade scaled back the pulse to let his local colleague make the fix.)

Patitucci's tribute to Shorter, "The Watchman," was well-chosen and well-positioned between "Band of Brothers" and "I Fall in Love Too Easily."  It's a subtle, off-the-beaten-track ballad. Patitucci's solo again focused gloriously on the upper register; Cardenas' was his best of the night, both florid and grounded. The protracted ending featured subtle interplay among everybody — further evidence of the special versatility of the Electric Guitar Quartet, a group that (despite its name) is about much more than ringing the rafters.

[Photo by Mark Sheldon]