HBC – Scott Henderson, Jeff Berlin, Dennis Chambers (2012)

An all-star trio of jazz-rock veterans, HBC offers resourceful, focused, and — turn it up! — often ferocious take on the old-school fusion of Weather Report, Billy Cobham and Herbie Hancock.

Henderson, Berlin, Chambers opens with guitarist Scott Henderson (Elektric Band/Jean Luc Ponty/Tribal Tech) on a series of tightly organized, white-knuckled runs through “Actual Proof,” the Hancock composition. Meanwhile, bassist Jeff Berlin (Bruford/Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe/Allan Holdsworth) and drummer Dennis Chambers (Santana/Mike Stern/Brecker Brothers/John Scofield/John McLaughlin) are at the top of their respective games — starting and stopping on a dime through this tricky arrangement.

“Mysterious Traveler,” the first of three Wayne Shorter cuts, begins with a suitably meditative atmosphere before catching a nasty groove. Still, maintaining the delicate balance between power and, yes, mystery on such a complex tune is no easy thing — and HBC handles the juxtaposition with a canny ease. Shorter’s “Footprints” becomes a showcase for Chambers’ layered rhythmic asides, as Henderson shifts to a more contemplative mood.

“D Flat Waltz,” from Joe Zawinul, unfolds like a series of blunt questions — each more pressing, and more engrossing, than the next. “The Orphan,” also from Zawinul, then tracks back into a twilit poignancy, with Berlin’s rippling contributions only adding to the sense of growing darkness.

“Sightseeing,” the third and final tune composed by Shorter, underscores this new trio’s symbiotic brilliance, as they begin with an eye-popping tandem sequence before Henderson steps to the fore. Yet, even as he begins examining and embellishing the theme through a series of distortion-filled exclamations, Berlin and Chambers provide an active, intrigue-filled underpinning. Their smart improvisations are just as important to the track’s propulsive energy as are Henderson’s more obvious fireworks out front.

A pair of originals follow — first the pan-fried blues-rock of “Wayward Son Of Devil Boy” and then plangent mysticality of Berlin’s “Threedom” — before the set closes with Cobham’s “Stratus,” a final funky-as-hell opportunity for HBC to blow the roof off. And they do.

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Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.