Given the amount of time they’ve spent together in the employ of Wayne Shorter, it comes as somewhat of a surprise that Children of the Light represents their first outing as a trio. Having made up the remaining three quarters of the Wayne Shorter Quartet, they’ve backed the tenor great for over a decade while also exploring their own individualized voices. Here, they step out on their own as a cohesive unit of some of the best players on their respective instruments working today.
Opening with the title track, a sprightly, rhythmically intricate mid-tempo number with occasional Spanish flares, the trio of pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade announce themselves as a force to be reckoned with. Intricately wound and full of dynamic and rhythmic shifts, “Children of the Light” proves to be a challenging opening number as the trio work their own unique lines within the primary melodic theme. It’s far from complementary playing, but it also feels as though they are sorting each other out, looking for their respective role within the group. Coming together for a handful of unison lines at the song’s mid-point, they begin to gradually settle in, comfortable with the improvisatory direction ahead.
Similarly, “Sunburn and Mosquito (dedicated to Carolina Perez)” functions as a sort of playful opening challenge for the trio as they begin to feel each other out. Heavily syncopated and with strikingly dissonant piano lines from Perez, it requires a clockwork-like precision that largely leaves the listener slightly on edge as they navigate Perez’s intricate melodic and rhythmic interplay. As with the preceding track, this too ends with an abrupt unison full stop. After the somewhat playful nature of the performance, these somewhat curt conclusions can be a bit off-putting.
It isn’t until “Lumen” that the trio really seems to hit their stride. With Perez on both acoustic and electric piano and Patitucci switching over to electric bass, the track sings and grooves in a way that goes beyond the somewhat perfunctory approach of the preceding standard trio tracks. By switching up the traditional instrumentation from that of strictly acoustic to a mix of the two, they manage a new dynamic that helps the melody stand out just that much more. Furthermore, as the track progresses you can actually hear to group starting to loosen up and have fun with the session, leaning into the rhythmic interplay and melodic give-and-take to create a sense of playfulness often lacking in overly traditional or reverential treatments of the form.
“Light Echoes-Dolores” opens with a bit of free playing from all three before locking into a central motif that features unison melodic lines from Perez and Patitucci. Coming as it does after a pair of stately ballads in “Within Everything” and “Milky Way”, “Light Echoes-Dolores” is a welcome change of pace and again finds the trio locking in and playing off one another. Blade here functions more to color the performances, artfully filling in the gaps with subtle rhythmic flourishes while Patitucci serves as the song’s pulse with a deep ostinato groove. In this, “Light Echoes-Dolores” plays more as a piano/drums duet as both Perez and Blade continually complement each other’s performance, creating a sort of frenetic dialogue between the two.
At nearly ten minutes, “Light Echoes-Dolores” essentially functions as the album’s centerpiece, allowing ample room for all three players to stretch out. Following the Perez/Blade interplay, all three join in on an abrupt stop-start figure that serves to break the preceding tension and allow the performance a bit of breathing room before embarking on an extended frenetic solo from Perez. Still functioning as the track’s timekeeper and center, Patitucci cedes the spotlight to Blade and Perez as the two continue to spar over the central motif.
With each afforded a chance to shine on their respective instruments, Patitucci takes center stage on the elegiac “Ballad for a Noble Man”. Switching back to electric, he delivers an intricate and melodically precise solo introductory performance backed by subtle strings before Perez and Blade gradually enters to add further layers of texture and nuance to the piece. Employing classical flourishes, Perez allows the track to build as Blade utilizes the full range of his toms and cymbal swells as the piece expands and grows before settling into a hushed outro restatement of the opening theme.
It’s in these textural variations that Children of the Light truly succeeds. Transcending mere piano trio, it serves as a showcase for three virtuoso musicians exploring their instruments together. Closing track “African Wave” brings back the instrumental lineup of “Lumen” with equally successful results. Here, Blade utilizes auxiliary percussion to help supplement his kit, adding an additional layer to the intricate interplay between Patitucci and Perez. Used more to add color, the electric piano takes a backseat to Perez’s acoustic piano lines while Patitucci splits the difference, jumping in from time to time on breakneck unison lines that seem to come out of nowhere. In these little thrilling moments Children of the Light is largely a rousing success.