February 22, 2014
The stunning collaboration of drummer Jack DeJohnette, saxophonist Joe Lovano, bassist Esperanza Spalding and pianist Leo Genovese refers to itself as “The Spring Quartet”, and the musical possibilities suggested by this combo were very present at Royce Hall this Saturday. DeJohnette is the quartet’s “elder” and shows no signs of slowing down after his recent 70th birthday tour. His percussive mastery and approach are simply unmatched. Spalding is a melodic and elastic player who has crossed over to wide critical and popular acclaim through her Radio and Chamber Music Society projects, and Genovese her accompanist for these journeys. Joe Lovano’s hearty post-bop expressions can be found on dozens of his own Blue Note recordings over the past 30 years as a leader, and in support of like minded musicians unafraid of the fringes such as John Abercrombie and Paul Motian to name a few.
Playing to a capacity crowd in the stately confines of Royce, the Quartet’s 100+ minute, nine tune set covered material from all, drawing from the compositional voice and diversity of each player. The opener, Lovano’s “Spring Day”, came out jabbing with Lovano’s tenor leading the way and meshing intuitively with the others, especially Spalding. Early on, tunes found many free moments as on Lovano’s “La Opportune”. Genovese leading a seemingly boozy flight from the outside in, the ensemble never failing to stick a landing. Spalding introduced one of her compositions by way of Greek parable, the depth of “not knowing” and the human search for answers. The tune was full of promise and mystery, Spalding’s wordless vocals curling around her bass lines, Lovano’s soprano and Genovese’s piano cascading together like a slinky. Genovese’s “The Ethiopian Blues” had the composer going deep inside the box of his instrument, then bouncing between piano, Fender Rhodes and Yamaha Motiff for all kinds of aural color. Spalding’s mischievous “Shaking the Shark” became three horns and DeJohnette stepping into overdrive with Spalding picking up an alto, Genovese a soprano and Lovano his tenor. The Quartet really dug in with “TRF”, a tune that began with a straight on swinging, rumbling blues led by Genovese and found Lovano coaxing a perfectly eerie train whistle from his horn, and finally Lovano’s “Folk Art”, pulsing at what felt like a rapid fire 6/8, than deconstructing and rebirthing a few times over.
Lovano managed to work in clarinet and alto flute with his tenor and soprano saxes, and DeJohnette took an extended turn with a melodica in quiet counterpoint with Genovese. Genovese was always moving, bopping and swaying with a big smile, and Spalding’s presence and playing were simply luminous. DeJohnette, Lovano and Spalding all took turns engaging the audience throughout the set and the appreciation was felt from on and off the stage. This was a gorgeous night of music, from the quieter moments to flying fast and low to the ground. Spring has definitely sprung for this ensemble. Fresh, vital and in full bloom.