There’s no better example of the way that great rhythm sections have transformed jazz in the postmodern era than drummer Jack DeJohnette, who brought his latest (and one of his greatest) quartets to the Lobero on Tuesday, February 18. The Spring Quartet consists of DeJohnette on drums, keyboards, and melodica, along with Joe Lovano on sax and flute; Esperanza Spalding on bass, vocals, and sax; and Leo Genovese on piano, a variety of keyboards, and sax. Lovano and Spalding are well known — he as the genius reedman and top saxist of his generation, and she as the multitalented, Grammy Award–winning next big thing in jazz. Pianist Leo Genovese, who has worked closely with Spalding on several of her recent projects, ought to be better known, and it’s likely that his work in this jazz supergroup will make that happen.
Ever since he began recording and performing with his Special Edition groups in the late 1970s, DeJohnette has demonstrated a mastery of balancing experimentation with tradition. In this format, and with Spalding clearly egging him on, the mix veers toward the out-there, as on “Herbie’s Hand Cocked,” a brilliant DeJohnette original that had the group sprinting through suitably dense progressions with awesome precision. Some delightfully strange things happened; at one point, all the players except the drummer picked up saxophones for a tune, and the evening was rendered hauntingly beautiful by Spalding’s subtle, heartfelt contributions. We should hope to be hearing more from this promising new edition.