A jazz supergroup of sorts made its debut at Scullers this week. The Joe Lovano/Dave Douglas quintet, calling itself Soundprints, rolled into town for sets Tuesday and last night. Advance word was that this was a Wayne Shorter-devoted project, which Douglas confirmed from the stage Wednesday night. His own 1997 album Stargazer was a Shorter dedication, and this band’s name itself is an allusion to Shorter’s “Footprints.” But — seeing as Douglas and Lovano are themselves two of the most foremost composers in the music these days — this wasn’t just a covers band. Only one of the nine tunes the band played in the nearly 90-minute set came directly from Shorter — “Infant Eyes,” in an arrangement by Lovano. But you could say that Shorter was everywhere in the music — in the loose-unison themes for trumpet and tenor, in the odd-length phrases with their feints and stops, and in the free-flowing lyricism.
In a way, this was an ideal band of different styles brought together by a single purpose. Which you could say is true of any jazz band, but not if you think of the singled-minded syncopated jazz-rock grooves of Rudresh Mahanthappa’s quartet at the Regattabar a few weeks ago, or even the cohesive post-bop of Lovano’s Folk Art quintet. Douglas is all nervous energy, even when he’s standing still. Whereas Lovano is mellow and laid back, even when he’s pouring on the heat. Pianist Lawrence Fields tends toward florid chromatic chords and warm color. Bassist James Genus has an old-school firmness of articulation, but he plays his solos in long, breath-like arcs, and sings along with himself. Drummer Joey Baron is equal parts precise and loose.
Which is something you could say about the band as a whole. The set began with Douglas’s trumpet against Lovano’s soprano in extended counterpoint over a free tempo. Then they found a unison theme and a groove, segueing from Lovano’s “Soundprints” to Douglas’s “Sprits.” There were echoes of Shorter in various guises — Lovano’s “High Noon” might have been a revision of Eddie Harris’s “Freedom Jazz Dance” as it was played by Shorter with the Miles Davis Quintet: discontinuous rhythms, odd rests, headlong starts and stops. And Douglas’s “Hipatia” suggested the wave-like passacaglia of Shorter’s “Nefertiti.”
As soloists, Douglas and Lovano seemed more focused on meshing than standing out – their solos continually overlapped. But on “Infant Eyes,” Lovano’s tenor drifted into the kind of slow-rolling fireball he’s known for, and Douglas suddenly doubled the tempo, unfurling extended lines that would reach up and out before sitting on a single note for several bars and then propelling itself outward again. It was the explosion a lot of us were waiting for. And a promising beginning indeed for this band.