When most of us first heard bassist John Patitucci, he was playing thunderous and fusion-fast electric bass with Chick Corea’s Elektric Band. That band was talented, to be sure, but its sound was mired in a 1980s swamp of smooth. He played a huge-toned acoustic bass with Corea too, and in recent years jazz fans are used to hearing that Patitucci — particularly in his role as the astonishing bassist in Wayne Shorter’s quartet.
Brooklyn represents neither of those Patituccis, and it is a breezy, hip delight. On this recording, Patitucci plays only electric bass, along with two of the music’s coolest electric guitar players in Adam Rogers and Steve Cardenas. The tunes are mostly original, but they all reach back to Patitucci’s early years, growing up in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, where he first heard rock, pop, funk, blues . . . and jazz too.
Brooklyn has an easy groove to it that feels like a warm summer night. “Band of Brothers” is built on a danceable syncopation that will most certainly put a stutter in your step. Rogers and Cardenas harmonize the riff-like melody, which is the kind of memorable line that John Scofield writes to well. Drummer Brian Blade plays just a little sloppy, and the guitar solos are beautifully choked and chopped — strong blues playing that still moves across some really pretty chords. All the while, Patitucci stays right there on the bottom, rubbery and popping.
This kind of snappy jazz-pop doesn’t feel at all frivolous in this band’s hands. “JLR” is a slow groove with a big, buttery bass line, and when the first guitar enters, it could be Buddy Guy as easily as a jazz player. It’s greasy, not cheesy. When the band covers the spiritual “Go Down. Moses”, it is handled with a funky strut that could seem too easy if it weren’t played with such élan and conviction. The chiming, trimmed guitars are not the sound through which we usually hear this kind of music, and they make it beautiful in a new way.
The “jazz” content here, however, is equally important. A few songs in, Patitucci programs two tunes by Thelonious Monk in a row. “Trickle Tinkle” is played at a speedy mid-tempo, with Rogers and Cardenas loosely harmonizing the melody as Blade and Patitucci swing it with flowing ease. The guitarists trade improvised choruses, tossing the tune’s harmonies back and forth like it was a beach ball. Then, the band moves into a delicate, crystalline version of “Ugly Beauty”. They don’t handle it as a pure jazz ballad, however. Blade sets up a slow and simple Latin rhythm that keeps it percolating, and Patitucci takes the first solo. The tune just deepens as the guitars take the helm and Patitucci moves into a dance with the rhythm.
This band has at least a couple other interesting modes. “Dugu Kamalemba” is a cover of a tune by Oumou Sangare, from Mali, and it gives Cardenas and Rogers the chance to play complex patterns and chiming arpeggios against Patitucci’s bubbling Afro-pop bass line. The opening composition is more of a modern jazz anthem, with guitar lines winding like kite strings at the beach. On “Do You?”, the leader shows off his chops a bit, swinging uptempo on electric bass before a fast bop line takes over. And on Wes Montgomery’s “The Thumb” Patitucci and Blade play the whole thing as a duet. No need for anything else.
Brooklyn isn’t a great monument of an album, the jazz statement of the year. But its brilliant and funky playing has been the unexpected highlight of my summer 2015 listening — in the car, on the patio, just about anywhere. Like some of Pat Metheny’s music, it has a sneaky way of being both incredibly pleasant and then, actually, unique and marvelous too. Amidst a season of Big Jazz Statements from the likes of Kamasi Washington, Brooklyn is no Epic but something just as hard to render, a modest but considerable charmer.