Saturday, February 4, 2023

Jon Cowherd's Mercy Project Comes to Portland's 1905 Jazz Club

Jon Cowherd

The pianist Jon Cowherd and his Mercy Project brought his formidable touring quintet to the stage of Portland's 1905 Jazz Club and Restuarant last weekend in support of his latest release Pride and Joy. Those who attended one of the six sold-out shows presented that weekend witnessed a masterful evening of creative music by some of the most exciting and accomplished musicians in improvisational music today. With Jon Cowherd on piano, the group included incendiary saxophonist Chris Potter, superb guitarist Steve Cardenas and the potent rhythm section of John Patitucci on bass and Brian Blade on drums. 

Cowherd's Pride and Joy is one of my top picks for jazz releases in 2022. He also released his outstanding debut Mercy in 2012 with Bill Frisell, Patitucci, and Blade. He is a sensitive, intuitive pianist as well as a creative and skillful composer. 

Since 1997, Cowherd and co-founder drummer Brain Blade formed the group Brian Blade & the Fellowship and have produced five highly acclaimed recordings. In addition to being an in-demand sideman, Cowherd has offered his pianistic and arranging skills to vocalist artists like Cassandra Wilson, Lizz Wright, Alexis Cole, Mark Murphy, and Jon Mitchell.  

When you look at the musicians Cowherd has assembled for this tour, you see the depth and breadth of these talents through their past associations. Patitucci and Blade have worked with icons like  Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and Chick Corea. Potter has collaborated with Dave Holland, Pat Metheny, and Steely Dan and Steve Cardenas' resume includes work with Paul Motian, Steve Swallow, Charlie Haden, and Adam Nussbaum. This is a present-day supergroup by most standards and a testimony to just how respected Cowherd is thought of by his peers. It is well deserved.

Jon Cowherd, Chris Potter, John Patitucci, Brian Blade & Steve Cardenas at the 1905 Jazz Club

I attended the first show of the first night at  1905so it was conceivable that there might be some opening night adjustments for the group to go through before they were fully warmed up and up to speed, but to believe so would be folly. These guys mesh together like the gears in a fine Swiss watch. Every note, every beat, and every cue seamlessly integrated between the five members. It was as if they all were connected by an invisible force that surged through their collective nervous systems. It was a treat. These guys were having fun playing together. It was great mojo and the music just ripped! 

Cowherd, who wrote all of the music on this tour, was often seen laying out while his bandmates went on a solo. Just taking it all in. He was a composer realizing his music's intent being realized in the hands of his talented compadres.

Cowherd started off the set with his composition "Colorado Experiment" from Pride & Joy.  The song, a reference to his recent relocation to Colorado, opens with Jon introducing a jaunty melody line on piano. After a few establishing measures, the group restates the melody line synchronously- piano, bass, guitar, sax, and drums-five disparate voices, musical colors meshing in clock-like unison.

Potter takes the first solo and plays with impressive verve. He has a powerful and fluid saxophone voice that draws from a seemingly endless well of creative ideas.

Chris Potter
Patitucci follows with his fleet, fascicle pizzicato on his upright that exuberantly carries the pace to a new level. He sometimes adds some unexpected snippets from other melodic ideas into the mix and they fit beautifully.

John Patitucci, Brina Blade and  Steve Cardenas at
1905 Jazz Club
Cardenas is up next, with a mellow, semi-hollow-bodied sound that floats above the pulsing rhythm like an aerial free-spirit loosened into the ozone to explore. Cowherd is the next soloist and he adds distinct block-handed chords and fleet single-note attacks that spell out this driven song, all supported by the rhythmic propulsion of Patitucci and Blades. The group ends the song, re-entering with their in-sync lines of repeated melody, as Blades creates a percussive whirlwind, a bilious cloud of interest and rhythmic magic that hovers beautifully to the finish. 

The group continued with Cowherd's "Baltica" and "The Columns"  both from his album Mercy. 

Patitucci changed to his six-string electric bass and Potter changed to soprano saxophone for the beautiful "Scorpo" from Pride and Joy, a song dedicated to Jon's daughter.

The music was appropriately light, the melody memorable and sensitive. Cardenas's guitar lines were effervescent and buoyant, demonstrating this guitarist's masterful sensitivity and fleet, inventive ideas. His playing is to me a cross between Jim Hall and John Abercrombie, but all his own.

Potter's soprano was silky, interweaving through lines like an unleashed spirit. Patitucci, on his six-string electric bass, added a new dimension to bass playing. An extended range with an expertly played pizzicato in the higher register makes Patitucci's electric bass another lead instrument here and the crowd responded to his virtuosity. He plays with just exuberance that it becomes infectious.

Brian Blade is another delight. He plays drums with sensitivity and aplomb. His drums and cymbals are like delicate expressive children in his hands. They are cajoled into creating the most fluid of percussive expressions I have heard. He is never bombastic but carries the pulse with a joyful sense of buoyancy and intent. 

The set ended with Jon's funky"Braun's Bronco"  from the album Gateway. 

You couldn't ask for a more satisfying performance from Cowherd and his cohorts we witnessed that evening. The audience was enthralled by the music and in awe of how just good these masters played together.

Jon Cowherd's Mercy Project Quintet will be playing this weekend in NYC at the Village Vanguard until Feb 5th. For those interested, make sure you get to see these guys before they finish.

No comments:

Post a Comment