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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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Concord 0888072310186



1. Monk / Trane
2. Messiaen's Gumbo
3. Sonny Side
4. Meditations
5. Mali
6. Scenes from an Opera
7. Blues for Freddie
8. Safari
9. Joe Hen
10. Play Ball
11. Remembrance (for Michael Brecker)

John Patitucci - Acoustic bass, six-string electric bass, six-string electric piccolo bass
Joe Lovano - Tenor sax, alto clarinet (tracks 1-10)
Brian Blade - Drums (tracks 1-10)
Rogerio Boccato - Percussion (tracks 2, 4, 5, 8)
Sachi Patitucci - Cello (track 6)

When I saw John Patitucci playing in London a few years ago with drummer Roy Haynes, he was the bassist par excellence, doing everything with supreme skill and grace. That was a trio (with Danilo Perez on piano) and this new Patitucci album is also by a trio - but with a saxophonist instead of a pianist. The line-up of sax, bass and drums is unusual but not unprecedented. It has been used by (among others) Sonny Rollins (who is saluted in track 3) and Joe Henderson (the inspiration for track 9). John Patitucci gives the trio a slightly different sound by bringing the bass into prominence.

On many tracks, John is the dominant player, although Joe Lovano gets plenty of solo space. In fact it is a pleasure to hear the bass so clearly without having to turn up the volume every time it is featured. And Brian Blade is the perfect drummer for this setting: adding touches of colour to slow numbers and propelling the beat on faster tunes. In fact the three men work together admirably as a team - which originally came together by accident more than seven years ago, when the pianist couldn't turn up to a rehearsal and left the trio to discover how much they enjoyed working in harmony.

The first track is a good example of the convoluted compositions (which are all by John Patitucci). Sax and bass undertake a fragmentary dialogue, with occasional punctuation from the drums. Yet the interplay takes the listener on a fascinating journey - like working one's way through a maze. Many tracks on the CD have a similar free feel, although the composed elements avert the anarchy of some free improvisation. Messiaen's Gumbo has the more user-friendly rhythm of jazz-rock, laid down by bass and drums, with Joe Lovano adding decoration. Patitucci's electric bass mostly converses with the percussion, arousing an anonymous cry of delight halfway through. Lovano inserts some squeaks and swirling phrases, but much of the track could pass as an example of "drum 'n' bass".

Sonny Side is based on the chords of Sunny Side of the Street and it strolls along in leisurely fashion. Lovano improvises inventively, with hints of Sonny Rollins's fluency. In Meditations, Patitucci makes his electric bass sound like a guitar, and Lovano shadows him as they state the melody, which starts contemplatively but hots up when Brian Blade's drums roll in.

Mali is underpinned by a bass ostinato and clattering Latin percussion. The ostinato outstays its welcome by continuing for nearly four minutes before turning into a bass solo. Scenes from an Opera has "serious" stamped all over it, starting with arco double bass and introducing alto clarinet from Joe Lovano. Presumably created by overdubbing Patitucci's bass and his wife Sachi's cello, a string octet provides a gentle backing and then thickens the texture almost symphonically towards the end of the track.

Blues for Freddie is a jagged piece reminiscent of Thelonious Monk in its ups and downs. Joe emphasises the tune's bluesy qualities, and Brian Blade adds a drum solo which steers clear of obvious drummers' tricks. Safari takes us on a rather eerie mystery tour, with Lovano acting as guide. Joe Hen is more vigorous, paying homage to saxist Joe Henderson especially through the powerful drums of Brian Blade, who at one point is Lovano's only accompanist. Patitucci contributes a lucid solo, as does Blade - whose drumming all the way through this CD is as sharp as his surname.

After the sober ballad Play Ball, comes the most surprising track of all: a short but astonishing duet by John Patitucci with himself on electric bass and electric piccolo bass, making both instruments resonate like guitars.

Some of the music on this album may not be instantly accessible, but the participants hold the listener's attention with their empathy and unity of purpose.

Tony Augarde 

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