It was gratifying to see new jazz at Johnny D's again – a venue that's done it's occasional thing with acts as varied as local heroes Charlie Kohlhase and Garrison Fewell, and New York guitar genius Ben Monder, among others. Last Wednesday night (September 12), Boston guitarist Eric Hofbauer, under the banner of his Creative Nation Music, brought in his own quartet and cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum's sextet, for a broad swath of what used to be called the avant-garde.
Hofbauer's group had a retro-outta-space vibe due in no small part to Pandelis Karayorgis's Wurlitzer piano. With its wah-wah effects and whirligig figures, combined with Karayorgis's bold attack, it was equal parts electric Miles and Sun Ra. The set opener, Karayorgis's "Undertow," began with a loud keyboard smash and then went into a knotty, driving beboppish line of broken phrases in the right hand over a constant running throb from bassist Jacob William and the anchor of drummer Luther Gray, who continues to impress with his ability to be precise and loose at once. Gray was especially fetching in some of his drier solo moments – snares off, spare use of cymbal, and, in ensembles, always the occasional perfect quick "thonk!" exclamation at the turnarounds.
The tunes included the Eric Dolphy blues "245" as well as Hofbauer's own lightly grooving "Shift Option 9" and his funk-swing tribute to Wu-Tang Clan, "The Chump Killer," with guest Jim Hobbs as the alto foil.
Bynum's sextet premiered one long piece, "Navigation Abstract," which, as promised, lasted nearly an hour. Bynum used his band like a mini-orchestra, breaking them down into sub-groups and, in one lovely melodic passage, conjuring Ellington in his voicing of cornet, Hobbs's alto, and Bill Lowe's bass trombone. There were various chattering duets and trios, some astonishing bass work from Ken Filiano (especially in one passage where he bowed furiously both above and below the bridge), a "simple" but amazing drum solo from Tomas Fujiwara. Guitarist Mary Harlvorson blurred the distinction between comping and soloing with an endlessly inventive variety of sounds – watery reverb, big fuzz chords, cleanly articulated jazz-rock clusters.
The piece ended with a blues --- another nod from the present to the past.
It's going to be another busy week for jazz fans: Ralp Peterson's Fo'tet at Scullers on Tuesday night (September 18), the Fred Hersch trio at the same club on Wednesday, Natraj at Ryles and Jeremy Pelt at Scullers on Thursday, the John Scofield Trio Thursday and Friday at the Regattabar, and the big Ray Charles weekend bash at Berklee.
As Lovano might say, "Phew!"