The quintet that appeared Wednesday at Le Cafe's Room Upstairs in Sherman Oaks was billed as John Patitucci's Acoustic Group--no doubt to distinguish it from the bassist's other image (he will be back Thursday leading an electric quartet).
Basically this is a unit Patitucci has been co-leading with his brother-in-law, the valve trombonist Mike Fahn, often on for a year or two, though this remarkable team has yet to be represented on records. Far removed from the slap-bands that jam on stale standard tunes in some of the Valley clubs, their combo uses arrangements, most of them written by Patitucci or by the pianist, Tad Weed.
The effort that has been put into acquiring an organized group sound pays off handsomely for the most part, without limiting the extended improvisation that displays the expertise of the soloist.
Patitucci has taken the upright bass to its outer limits and seemingly gone beyond them. The technical and creative possibilities on the instrument in his hands are almost unbelievable. With the speed of a world champion runner, he wove a solo on "Night and Day" that tended to leave the listener slack-jawed in disbelief.
Fahn is almost as powerful. Not since Bob Brookmeyer came to prominence in the 1950s has a musician put the valve trombone to such potent use. His clarity, logic and dramatic contrast of phrasing were particularly well revealed in "My Love," a Tad Weed original. Weed, at the piano, displayed a rare ability to cross over from dashing bop lines to harmonically rich impressionism.
Peter Donald at the percussion command post was rhythmically en rapport with the band throughout. The absence of the regular tenor sax player, Bob Shepherd, was regrettable, since his replacement, John Gross, didn't quite meet the group's demands.