Debuting original material from his brand new “On the Corner” GRP release, bassist John Patitucci led a quartet at Le Cafe in Sherman Oaks on Tuesday in a performance that was, if not state-of-the-art small combo contemporary jazz, pretty darned close. Working with keyboardists John Beasley and Dave Witham and drummer Alex Acuna--a very tight crew, indeed--Patitucci animatedly explored a variety of modern, jazz/fusion formats in the opening set of a two-night engagement that were enlivened by the multiplicity of sounds his partners elicited from their electronic keyboards.
Patitucci, a local player who has gained renown for both his Grammy-nominated “John Patitucci” GRP LP and for his playing with bands led by Chick Corea, started with “On the Corner,” a popping, funky number. Here Witham and Beasley, both influenced by Herbie Hancock--these days, who isn’t?--soloed, collectively issuing curving lines, wham-wham-wham chords and spinning trills, all underpinned by Acuna’s hard-smacked back beat.
“Venetian Moonlight,” which began softly and gradually grew louder, found Beasley’s electronic piano sounds underscored by kalimba-like tones from Witham. Later, Witham and Patitucci, who throughout the show favored the high range of his six-stringed electric instrument for his fleet-fingered improvisations, engaged in a musical conversation, throwing attractive, cascading lines at each other.
The reggae-ish “Kingston Blues” heard Witham getting a whiny, string section sound before going into more hand-to-hand chitchat with the leader, while “Flatbush Avenue” had Beasley electronically imitating Miles Davis’ patentable Harmon-mute sound, dancing agilely over a crisp, funk background.
Ultimately, the evening--which was videotaped by Evangelical Broadcasting of Holland for eventual airing on Dutch television--was like manna for the jazz/fusion crowd that packed the room but a mainstream-minded person might have wondered what the hubbub was all about.