By Don Heckman
Catalina Bar & Grill was packed to the gills Tuesday night. If there was an empty seat anywhere in the big, comfortable L-shaped room, it was hard to locate. Why such a crowd for a mid-week night? Easy answer: The band on stage consisted of a trio that can pretty much be expected to draw a lot of attention: Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Jack DeJohnette.
All-star jazz groups – especially those consisting of artists with well-established careers and styles of their own – can sometimes be more appealing on a marquee than on stage. Iconic egos don’t always fit well into the same groove.
But no such problems for this group of stellar players. In a set that was largely oriented toward extended solos woven into ensemble textures, the results were memorable on every count. Reaching from originals by some of the group members to Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” (arranged by Corea), each number was a study in world class music-making.
The evening was billed as a celebration of DeJohnette’s seventieth birthday. So it was appropriate that the opening number offered a wide open space for his impressive skills to be on full display. DeJohnette’s versatility is well known to anyone who’s heard him with the Keith Jarrett trio, or on his own stylistically far-reaching recordings. And in this performance, as elsewhere, he transformed the basic jazz drum set into a virtual collection of musical instruments, employing them as a fascinating, rhythmically dynamic percussion orchestra.
Corea and Clarke have worked together frequently over the years, most recently with Lenny White in the Grammy-winning “Forever” ensemble. And what happens between them can best be described as a musical symbiosis, in which their individual creative perspectives become completely blended. That quality was especially apparent in “Lush Life,” with Clarke’s ostinato pattern weaving intimately around Corea’s soaring melody lines.
With DeJohnette added to the Corea/Clarke mix, the musical palette became even richer. On “Summer Night,” a rarely heard tune from Miles Davis’ Quiet Nights album, improvisational complexity was placed fully at the service of a compelling, multi-layered musical expressiveness. In passages like this, the real essence of musical fusion, with all its far-reaching emotional possibilities, came vividly to life.
As I suggested earlier, a memorable night of music-making, to be sure. And a rare one, at that. Fortunately DeJohnette, Corea and Clarke will continue their musical magic through Sunday night at Catalina’s. Don’t miss the opportunity to help celebrate DeJohnette’s 70th in such a mesmerizing musical fashion.
Jack DeJohnette, Chick Corea ant Stanley Clarke at Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210. Tonight Through Sunday.