Intent on Mystery, a Trio Finds Common Ground
G. Paul Burnett/The New York Times
Jack DeJohnette, Danilo Pérez and John Patitucci: Mr. DeJohnette, above, is performing as part of a trio at the Blue Note.
By NATE CHINEN
Published: April 15, 2009
For about the first 10 minutes of their opening set at the Blue Note on Tuesday night the drummer Jack DeJohnette, the pianist Danilo Pérez and the bassist John Patitucci seemed mildly adrift. Their interaction began as a formless wash with percussive grace notes: bell chimes played with soft mallets, left to resonate. Finally a rhythm emerged, and then a theme, played by Mr. DeJohnette on a melodica. The song, “Tango African,” was his, and it had a center. But its coalescence felt diffuse, like watching weather patterns form.
Perhaps the initial vagueness was a cost of transaction for a trio this intent on mystery. Perhaps it was meant as an invocation. Whatever the case, it was deceptive: once the band limbered up, its actions came as a series of jolts, locking fast into a groove. The musicians found common ground, along with sharp new ways of contesting it.
Their existence as a trio is a fairly recent development. They first joined forces four years ago at the Panama Jazz Festival, over which Mr. Pérez presides as artistic director, and reconvened just last year, in a studio in upstate New York. This week’s run celebrates the release of the resulting album, “Music We Are” (Golden Beams), which features pieces by each player, as well as some improvised group inventions.
There’s overlapping history here, and a prominent active partnership: Mr. Pérez and Mr. Patitucci make up half of the Wayne Shorter Quartet, one of the most magnificent working groups in jazz. But the busiest relationship onstage was the one between Mr. Pérez and Mr. DeJohnette, who each spent stretches of the set in serve-and-volley mode, applying sudden pressure and forcing quick response.
Operating briefly as a duo, they wrung a devastating performance out of “Soulful Ballad,” by Mr. DeJohnette. It moved from a marchlike chordal pattern to a more flowing progression, with piano and melodica swirling around its theme. Mr. DeJohnette imbued his melodica playing with acute expressiveness, a real sense of human breath, and the song, as it developed, grew ripe with emotional suspense.
Another ballad, a traditional Panamanian song called “Panama Viejo,” featured Mr. Patitucci’s bowed bass playing against a gentle stir. Beyond that the music surged and swung. During much of “White,” a faintly Latin-sounding tune by Mr. Pérez, it seemed as if all three of the group’s three virtuosos were soloing at once, but in an intuitive accord with one another.
And “Cobilla,” the closer, was a collective roil, with Mr. Patitucci nimbly playing his six-stringed electric bass, Mr. Pérez doubling on piano and synthesizer and Mr. DeJohnette thundering on his toms. If the set began in shadowy uncertainty, it ended with a definitive flash.
Performances continue through Sunday at the Blue Note, 131 West Third Street, Greenwich Village; (212) 475-8592, bluenote.net.