John Patitucci: Songs, Stories and Spirituals

John Patitucci
Songs, Stories and Spirituals

It would be patronising to use the cant phrase “concept album” for this outstanding jazz bassist’s musically versatile commentary, or essay on, or use the phrase as an image of his musical vision and the meanings underlying it. Out of the context in which I’ve been used to hearing him, here is something more like private music-making, on the model of some European chamber music festivals where the ensembles are of professionals pleasing themselves and audiences together. Jazz in a sense grew out of this sort of gathering, “after hours” being after the hours when the paid thing was done, and some of what matters in recordings of that was worked out (as can be heard from recordings made privately after hours and now variously available). This session isn’t innovatory except in working out in different ways what John Patitucci‘s music, as I’ve known it, has to do with it.

The insert’s reference to his Christian faith goes beyond the contents of a recording dedicated jointly to Jesus Christ and the memory of Ray Brown (sic! Why not?). It co-ordinates roots in black gospel music, Latin American song, European art (specifically chamber and song music) and the tradition to which Lorenz Hart’s “It Never Entered My Mind” belongs. Subsequent jazz owes much to the very much Russian Jewish harmonic foundations of a great period of “American” song-writing, and on the character of melodic line which underlay both vocal (including solo instrumental) expression and rhythmic innovation. I know Richard Rodgers provided the notes, but with hardly an exception his contribution to the jazz repertoire depended on Hart’s lyrics.

The opener “Tall Tale” (to the memory of the great bassist Chuck Domanic) is by a trio that keeps claiming it’s worth a separate session — Patitucci with the Venezuelan pianist Ed Simon and Brian Blade as percussionist. “Tall Tale” by its title remembers the Lester Young tradition of improvising on melodies while bearing the words in mind, which deepened the vocal character of instrumental playing, liberated timing and harmonically went to unusual places knowing only that the notes weren’t wrong. Leaving melody and words out of consideration and improvising on the underlying harmonic structure Coleman Hawkins spelled out his intention always to “tell a story”, and Patitucci gives a key to these more historical, too often forgotten considerations.

Carlos Jobim’s “Chorendo na Roseiro” is here with words as a sort of story: “Jobim’s lyrics speak of nature as a gift”, of a garden after rain. “Rain, which brings life, fills the river … brings Spring”, to further paraphrase a synopsis of the song by its Brazilian singer, Luciana Souza. This might be an allegory of a jazz performance, or of her beautiful singing of the words to this tune. The light baritone gospel singer John Thomas replaces her with the trio on “I Will Arise”, where Ed Simon switches to percussion. This isn’t Latinised, the rhythms imply a common source alive in the dancing salvationists and the idiom of Ms. Souza’s performance of Djavan’s “Lei”, which she says speaks “of love and passion as mysterious things. In love, things happen for reasons sometimes unknown to us.” Patitucci’s solos on 6-string electric bass, and Ed Simon swings.

The song cycle continues with Gustav Holst’s setting of “In the Bleak Midwinter”, the two singers alternating stanzas. (Mrs.) Sachi Patitucci is on cello in the string quartet, which her husband (who adapted the setting) augments on bass. The longing is intense. “Three Faces” (those it seems of Patitucci’s wife and two daughters) follows, opening to slightly predictable effect with Souza vocalese and guitar and flute. The ungilded lily would have had Patitucci opening and closing on cello-high bowed bass with just Simon and Blades. “Now the River” omits flute and after more virtuoso six-string electric bass Simon surges forth on piano, vocalese weaving in for a few bars with each of them. This is a much softer sister of some Steve Lacy performances whose theme Irene Aebi sings both fore and aft. Ms. Sousa’s “Soulmate”, theme stated on Mrs. Patitucci’s cello, is all about surrender and rebirth in love. Tim Ries’s flute does opening honours for the “Rhapsodic Journey”, whose title presumably if not ideally links rhapsody and journey as both story, but looks forward to “It Never Entered My Mind”. The vocal melody has been altered, fitting a modal scale creating an ethereal effect, stretching the voice. The trio sounds especially relaxed in comparison.

After the wordless singing into a fade-out ending, Ed Simon accompanies Sachi Patitucci’s cello in her husband’s “Love Eternal” and the two float perfectly coordinated between his playing in the jazz idiom of the preceding songs, and her European almost ecclesiastical performance. Words have been left behind, and the set concludes with a duet between Patitucci and Brian Blade, Coltrane’s “Wise One”, dedicated to Jimmy Garrison, who died far too young and was always far more than merely the bass player with John Coltrane’s classic quartet. Considered just as a collection of 12 lyrical and ever lively performances, this CD can also be well recommended.