Noticing that I am on temporary or intermittent leave, Rifftides Washington, DC correspondent John Birchard leaps into the breach with a review.
Like Jimmy Blanton, Scott LaFaro died ‘way too young. But, in their brief times on earth, both men had an immediate and profound effect on the way jazz is played on the bass. It’s hard to overestimate their influence on succeeding generations.
One of the worthy successors to Blanton and LaFaro played the K.C. Jazz Club at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC on November 2nd. John Patitucci brought two friends – the guitarist Larry Koonse and the drummer Brian Blade. We caught the first of two sets.
The trio attracted a number of Washington-based musicians, including bassist Tom Baldwin. We sat next to Baldwin and his 8-year-old son Benjamin, a piano student. The program began with some bop for the people, Charlie Parker’s “Visa,” Patitucci digging in strong from the beginning on the acoustic bass and Brian Blade especially crisp and imaginative with his fills.
Though we tend to think of Patitucci as among the younger crop of jazz musicians, he has been on the national stage since the mid-1980s, establishing himself with Chick Corea over a ten-year period. His playing combines the strong time sense of the Blanton-Ray Brown school with the fleet-fingered dexterity of LaFaro. He has recorded extensively with everyone from Wayne Shorter to Queen Latifah and has more than a dozen recordings as a leader.
The Kennedy Center program included a number of attractive Patitucci originals. “Agitato” found Brian Blade setting the tempo with a Latin rhythm with the leader then stepping in and finally guitarist Koonse contributing a well-conceived solo made of up alternating single-note lines and interesting chords on the minor-keyed melody. Patitucci was again the muscular underpinning for the piece. He puts lots of body English into his playing and his expressive face shows the passion he pours into his performances.
Patitucci described his “Tone Poem” as sounding as “if Sibelius played 6-string bass.” He picked up the electric instrument and showed the chops of a guitarist (which he was as a youngster) on the unaccompanied, out-of-tempo performance. A quiet, lovely moment.
Next came “The Root”, another original by the bassist who stayed with the six-string. He smilingly sub-titled the piece “Bach Goes to Africa.” It’s a gentle melody with a feeling of ¾ time. Blade distinguished himself here with some sensitive dynamics in accompaniment.
Patitucci switched back to the acoustic instrument for the title tune from his latest CD, “Line By Line” and again laid down some firm, earthy lines for the others to build on.
On an adaptation of Manuel de Falla’s lullaby “Nana,” Blade laid out while the leader demonstrated his arco abilities. He produces a sweet, singing tone with the bow, a pleasure to hear. Koonse’s role on the nylon-string acoustic guitar was mostly in sensitive accompaniment.
It was back to the electric bass as the trio picked up the tempo with an unusual approach to Monk’s “Evidence.” We had never heard the tune done as a calypso sort of samba, but it sure worked. In the midst of Patitucci’s solo, he busted the high C string on his instrument, but he never missed a beat, continuing to play with the broken string flailing around as he moved. The capacity audience cheered both the tune and the bassist’s unflappable demeanor.
The set closed with an encore – the original “Folk Lore,” which Patitucci calls his “Irish tune.” It’s a slow and expressive waltz with a plaintive melody. Blade was effective again in accompaniment, using a combination of brushes and mallets.
The trio produced a varied and interesting set that was recorded for later broadcast on NPR’s Jazz Set with DeeDee Bridgewater. Koonse and Blade make valuable contributions and the leader is quick to credit them. John Patitucci combines a friendly, outgoing personality as a leader with his well-earned reputation as a first-class bass player.
Tom Baldwin and son Benjamin, the budding pianist, pronounced themselves pleased with the performances — and your fthful crspndnt couldn’t agree more.
A fine report. Thanks, John.
I’ve long been really impressed by Patitucci’s compositions; I guess they just get overlooked in view of his formidable gifts as an instrumentalist, but they shouldn’t be.