Sunday, February 7, 2016

ScoLo flight at the Palladium: Top jazz quartet plays two generous sets

With a history together reaching back over 25 years, Joe Lovano and John Scofield brought their current combination of forces to the Palladium Saturday night, playing two sets for a large crowd.

John Scofield, Lewis Nash, Joe Lovano, and Ben Street at the Palladium.
Joining the guitarist and saxophonist onstage were bassist Ben Street and drummer Lewis Nash, who replaced the announced percussionist, Bill Stewart. Much of the material was drawn from the leaders' current recorded collaboration, "Past Present," the source of a couple of current Grammy nominations.

Often Scofield and Lovano set out the tune in tight unison, but that was only the most obvious indication of their meeting of minds. On their respective instruments, both men displayed the ready-for-anything fluency that is notable in their styles. They handled exchanges and contrapuntal passages expertly; in fact, intense musical telepathy was characteristic of all four musicians.

The leaders avoided leaving an impression of glibness, because they reined in flights of fancy when the impulse struck them. Their solos typically explored wide terrain, but never aimlessly. They regularly rounded off their turns in the spotlight with a satisfying, conclusive phrase or two.

Their partners in this effort supported this kind of balance of freedom and restraint. Street was solid in the accompaniment role, as alert bassists have to be, and he exhibited a forthright personality in solos as well. The group's man on sound represented him beautifully. In all registers, the bass tone came through both fat and clear. The second piece in the first set, with a harmonized bluesy theme, drew from Street a solo statement so rich, funky, and well-articulated that it might have been the envy of any electric bassist in the  audience.

That same number offered a fine exposition of Lovano's style, which bears signs of the gutsy "bar walker" style of his youth. He's built so much on top of that, however, that keeping the blues alive in his solos never seems to limit him. When he ascends into the high register and flavors the line with split tones and semi-squawks, he gives the impression of simply extending the relaxed flow of his playing through an altered technique.

Scofield presented his trademark sound consistently, sometimes finding it useful to import the spicy dissonances of his 'comping into his solos. The lines were beautifully shaped, even with the wealth of staccato accents he gave them. The lyricism on Saturday night never abandoned his playing, with somewhat less of the "squinchy" tone evident on many of his recordings. I hasten to add that Scofield's squinchiness is fine with me; it's vinegary and bracing.

Exchanges with the drummer were always welcome. And in his solos, Nash sounded to me free of cliches.  Maybe they are his own cliches, but his mastery of the kit always seemed fresh. Drummers who favor lots of splashy cymbal work lose me; Nash worked his cymbals economically. Show-off passages of rapid cymbal interplay were crisply limited, and he added whimsical touches on the hi-hat to punctuate solos often based on bass drum and toms.

Variety in the mostly original set list was considerable. After intermission, the quartet opened with a poised jazz waltz, which featured a well-regulated diminuendo at the end. The band closed its rapturously received performance with "Chariots," a catchy, chugging blues original featuring some more of Lovano's keening, high-altitude playing. I'm betting it left everyone aloft in spirit, floating up near the Palladium ceiling.

[Photo by Mark Sheldon]