Children of the Light Trio Shines at Copenhagen Fest

Downbeat: July 22, 2014

The 2014 Copenhagen Jazz Fest, which ran from July 4–13, was chock-full of quality performances, but one of the superlative highlights was the Children of the Light Trio’s July 6 concert.

While pianist Danilo Pérez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade have been playing together in saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s quartet since 2000, their recent foray as a working trio was auspicious. Longtime Copenhagen favorites, the three musicians seemed quite comfortable onstage together at the Betty Nansen Theater, and their two-set program was an unqualified success.

The trio’s moniker nods toward a few different things, including a biblical verse and Shorter’s composition “Children Of The Night.” Indeed, Shorter’s influence on this group was obvious throughout the evening. These musicians have only worked in this particular format for a short time, but the familiarity, confidence and trust between the three-piece was fully evident and can be attributed to their amazing time working alongside Shorter.

Drawing on material from Pérez’s recently released Mack Avenue solo album, Panama 500 (on which both Patitucci and Blade appear), the band put on a clinic of spontaneous, virtuosic improvisation and compositional integrity. Latin, Caribbean and Brazilian influences all played a part in their performance, and the trio’s musical dialogue ran the gamut from lighthearted to explosively intense.

Drummer Blade stood out, mixing a soft touch on the brushes, aggressive bursts with mallets and powerful interludes in response to Pérez’s lyrical improvisations. Patitucci alternated between acoustic and electric (6-string) bass and was a wonder to behold on both sides of the low-end spectrum. Bowing sensually with intense concentration, the bassist was responsive to the slightest inflection provided by the pianist, and his near-telepathic connection with Blade made for some amazing rhythmic flourishes and joyful crescendos.

Working without any material composed specifically for this trio, the bandmates explored some recent Pérez pieces, such as “Panama 500,” “The Expedition” and the hard-driving “Melting Pot,” as well as an extraordinarily beautiful ballad written by Patitucci. Reading some of the new music off written charts didn’t slow them down, as their well-established rapport overcame any unfamiliarity with the material.

In the course of their improvisational voyage, the band suddenly found itself on the brink of the Shorter composition “Dolores,” from Miles Davis’ album Miles Smiles. Ever in the moment, they naturally dove right into the iconic tune. In keeping with the ubiquitous Shorter vibe were melodic traces of “House Of Jade” (originally from the saxophonist’s 1964 album JuJu), which the band finally played in its entirety during the evening’s second set.

Responsive to the slightest sonic opportunity, Pérez took another page out of the Shorter handbook by rhythmically mimicking an audience member’s heavy footsteps, and he delivered a playful, whistling call-and-response segment with the crowd.

Despite the reliance on compositions written by Pérez, this band is an intentionally leaderless trio with a nonproprietary sense toward the music itself. Their combination of composition and improvising—which they call “compromising”—is a souvenir of their long tenure with Shorter.

The Children of the Light Trio’s future will hold even more surprises once its members start composing tunes specifically for this collective. Until then, bring your sunglasses to the show, because there’s more than enough light to go around.