|JAZZ REVIEW; Two Bandleaders Try Innovation, Off the Record
Published: 04 - 04 - 2001 , Late Edition - Final , Section E , Column 1 , Page 3 NEW YORK TIMES
By BEN RATLIFF
Two bandleaders in their prime brought groups to the Blue Note last week that were a bit different, in interesting ways, from what their recent recordings suggest. Change in jazz can seem slow-moving; some people complain about the lack of formal innovation since the 1960's. But these performances were good examples of how inquisitive bandleaders keep changing and why it's important to keep up with live performances.
Brian Blade, the brilliant 30-year-old drummer who first became known to jazz audiences as part of Joshua Redman's band, has for the last few years been pursuing an original kind of country-gospel-jazz spread with hyperearnest emotion, with a band Mr. Blade called Brotherhood. But the band at the Blue Note last week, the Subterranean Sextet, is deeper into the jazz mainstream while still retaining the gentle, gliding, cushioned rhythmic feel of Brotherhood.
That comes mostly from Mr. Blade, one of those rare jazz drummers artistically powerful enough to direct the sound of a whole ensemble. Most of Thursday night's set flowed without stopping. The writing was less guitar-based than Mr. Blade's past work. But an unmistakable influence in the harmonies and the overall sound of the group was the West Coast jazz-pop sound, particularly that of Joni Mitchell, with whom Mr. Blade has collaborated. The music was bright and harmonically nimble but dynamically smoothed out. Monte Croft's vibraphone playing gave the music a sheen; Jon Cowherd's piano figures tended toward the reassuring and anodyne.
The second leader, John Scofield, the guitarist, has done good business in the last few years. He got involved with the new improvising jam-band scene -- which wasn't a stretch for him, as funk is in his background -- and the experiment delivered him a new audience. But his most recent album, ''Works For Me'' (Verve/Universal), brought him back with an older generation of A-list jazz players.
But on Thursday he played the new music with a younger cast: the saxophonist Seamus Blake, the bassist Jesse Murphy and the drummer Bill Stewart. From the first notes it was clear that it was a good night: the band was hot and restless, tearing into the new songs. Mr. Scofield, like Mr. Blade, is fond of throwing country music into his mix, and some of his fast licks twanged a little like Arthur Smith's or Roy Nichols's.
Mr. Scofield often bends and unbends strings, making a handful of notes curve together into true harmony and then curdle into dissonance. And there was genuine playfulness -- as opposed to just playing -- in his interactions with Mr. Blake. They came together on portions of melody, worrying high notes together, squeezing pathos out with variations of tone and timbre.