Lenny White can bash it out with the best of them – he recently won a Grammy with re-formed power-fusion heavyweights Return to Forever. But at this gig, the middle show of three full houses, he kept the stadium-shaking drum solos on hold and his precision technique was applied to supple jazz-funk grooves with a strong 1970s vibe.
White’s band are long-term acquaintances whose paths frequently cross and from the word go they locked down the groove with ease. Members’ credits include Miles Davis circa Bitches Brew as well as Weather Report and The Headhunters. Two bass guitars in the line-up give an extra incentive for restraint.
White plays snare with a brittle snap and decorates the pulse with a broken-beat chatter, and the two bass guitarists slap and pluck as one, sometimes doubling up for extra power, at other times decorating each other’s line. Victor Bailey is a superb technician while Foley, a somewhat mysterious figure in a snow-white hoodie, is a master of texture and sound. Throughout this set, grooves changed by inner cue, and gritty funk tensed into the walking lines of modern jazz swing.
The solo strength was equally high. Bennie Maupin on saxes and bass clarinet worries, frets and then unleashes tense, disciplined streams of notes that build to a peak. Patrice Rushen’s keyboards combine rhythmic Rhodes and smoky strings with the bendy wail of fusion synth. She also plays with an unerring sense of form and an exciting sense of purpose.
They opened with a funky rat-a-tat-tat and switched metre and time, took in “So What” and delivered a bass clarinet highlight. Maupin started with a two-note mumble, screeched into the upper range and subsided over a wisp of synth. Mid-set, White introduced the band, detailed its lineage – Madonna got mention in a guilty-secret moment – and explained that this was the band’s first outing as a unit since a one-off tour of Japan some 15 years ago.
They continued with a downscale “Butterfly”, a two-bass feature that confirmed both Bailey’s virtuosity and Foley’s inner Jimi Hendrix, and then a ballad that rippled with arpeggios and warmth. The finale was high-energy, ending with a thunder of White’s drums.