The Spring Quartet, Barbican, London – review

The Spring Quartet are a cross-generational, equal-partners jazz supergroup with a wide span of influences, a strong sense of history and a thread of connections to pull them together. Grammy-winning bassist Esperanza Spalding and saxophone great Joe Lovano spent five years playing together in Lovano’s group Us Five; 35-year-old Argentinian keyboardist Leo Genovese has played with Spalding since she launched her Radio Music Society project in 2012; and drummer Jack DeJohnette, who has worked with Miles Davis and Keith Jarrett, has influenced them all.

Such close bonds and common ground don’t guarantee that it will be all right on the night, but a warm-up lope confirmed that at least the nuts and bolts were in place. Joe Lovano’s “Spring Day” opened with melodious sax and a hint of rhythm, a flicked-out riff and medium-tempo walk established form, and the band flirted with abstraction while keeping everything in place. Joe Lovano alternated angular fragments with torrents of notes, Genovese delivered long-line cascades of piano and Spalding and DeJohnette marked structure and pulse while adding to the mix.

With core personalities established, the gig unfolded through a group ethic in which the obvious is assumed rather than stated. Drummer DeJohnette spoke volumes with a few sparse rimshots and rumbled to a climax with off-kilter rolls while Spalding riffed, double-timed and avoided over-decoration. But with the rhythmically precise and melodically inventive Lovano surrounding complex lines with a cushion of breath, the dense textures and intriguing detail needed the occasional full-blooded lift.

That said, the band have been touring since the end of January, are clearly used to each other’s foibles and are terrific when they click into gear. DeJohnette’s “Herbie’s Hands Cocked” was rhythmically poised between funk and jazz, there was a lovely ballad and the slightly odd “Ethiopian Blues” whizzed from free jazz to seductive ethnic groove.

And, with each musician a player of stature, there were several showcase highs. Genovese combined expressionist fury and rolling stride on Lovano’s “La Petite Opportune”, and Spalding’s bass/vocal duet was themed on not knowing all the answers – “I’m proud to be a shrugger” is how she introduced it. And each solo of the finale, DeJohnette’s tempo-shifting “Ahmad the Terrible”, flowed with invention and purpose.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from and redistribute by email or post to the web.