John Patitucci Electric Guitar Quartet – Brooklyn (2015)

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John Patitucci is an all-around prime bassist who I first encountered with Chick Corea’s Elektric Band back in the mid-80s. Looking back on such a substantial career both as a leader and a sideman (including his current gig in Wayne Shorter’s band), those days of thumb-popping bass amid mullets and Korg synthesizers seem so long ago. Patitucci’s virtuosity and diversity had made him a jazz star and one of the most in-demand bassists of the last several decades. His latest project puts even more distance between his early career in fusion and the present with a brand new band and a brand new bass guitar.

Brooklyn (May 19, from Patitucci’s own Three Faces Records) is credited to the “John Patitucci Electric Guitar Quartet,” a statement in itself about his current intentions. He’s assembled a new band starting with fellow Wayne Shorter Quartet cohort Brian Blade on drums and completed with two rising star guitarists — Adam Rogers and Steve Cardenas – taking the place of the piano. The picture of the CD cover reveals something else that’s up with Patitucci these days: he’s seen sitting down with a six-string, semi-hollowed bodied instrument resting on his lap. No, that’s not a guitar but a specially designed bass guitar from Yamaha.

The significance of that guitar-looking bass becomes palpable on the opener “IN9-1881/The Search”, a straight-ahead jazz number from Patitucci (who is responsible for all of the eight originals here), where he nimbly straddles the lines between bassist and third guitarist. Cardenas and Rogers both play fluidly, a smoothness that’s challenged by Blade’s controlled restlessness.

Patitucci’s upper register afrobeat bass line on “Dugu Kamalemba” provides harmonic counterpoint that sets a contemporary West African tone for song. Later, he is heard on an overdubbed lead line in unison with a guitar line, followed by a bass solo that remarkably resembles an ngoni, a stringed instrument native to Africa. But there are several other stylistic turns. A couple of tracks resemble the street-wise funk and gospel of John Scofield (“Band of Brothers,” and the traditional spiritual “Go Down Moses”). “JLR” is slowly simmering blues-rock funkified by Blades’ nifty kick-drum/snare/hi-hat coordination. On here, Patitucci displays the range of that bass which allows him to reach for the higher notes with greater ease. The guitars counter with stinging and soulful lead lines.

Jazz itself remains the most dominant form used, though: Patitucci swings on Thelonious Monk’s “Trinkle Tinkle” with the precise verve of Steve Swallow and Rogers and Cardenas take turns on pretty, succinct solos. Monk’s lesser-known “Ugly Beauty” is an opportunity for Patitucci to use a rich counter-harmony to bring out the beauty of the melody. “Do You?” swings with the authority of Basie’s band with merely the upper register of Patitucci’s bass and Blade’s cymbal taps before Rogers and Cardenas trade fours. Wes Montgomery’s walking blues “The Thumb” dispenses with the guitars altogether, and the bassist plays with a relaxed, confident groove, content to mostly carry the melody. The band is finally stripped down to just its core member for the closing number “Tesori,” a solo bass performance. Again, there’s nothing flashy, just rich in melodicism, with an improv part is dubbed over it unobtrusively for the latter part.

A major presence in the LA studio scene for a long while, John Patitucci had since returned to his native NYC borough to firmly establish himself on the East Coast, too. Brooklyn brings him back to his youth at his East Flatbush neighborhood, playing electric bass exclusively while he discovered the treasures of Montgomery, Monk and Shorter’s old boss, Art Blakey. Brooklyn is a fresh direction for him to be sure, but also a direct reconnect with his roots.

Upcoming JOHN PATITUCCI Performances:

All dates to feature the John Patitucci Electric Guitar Quartet
Featuring Brian Blade, Adam Rogers & Steve Cardenas

May 13-16 / Iridium / New York, NY
May 18 / Jazz Kitchen / Indianapolis, IN
May 19 / SPACE / Evanston, IL
May 21-22 / Dazzle Jazz / Denver, CO
May 23-24 / Blue Whale / Los Angeles, CA
May 27-30 / Cotton Club / Tokyo, Japan

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