Bass players do not usually make inspired leaders of jazz ensembles. John Patitucci, who appeared Sunday night at the Strand, is one of the exceptions.
Leading a sterling group consisting of saxophonist Steve Tavaglione, keyboardist John Beasley and drummer Vince Colaiuta, Patitucci brought his often cumbersome instrument into the spotlight with impressive results.
His work on six-string electric bass, especially on rhythm pieces such as his original "Change of Season," was a marvel of technical virtuosity. Fingers flying up and down the instrument's higher strings, Patitucci continuously assembled intricate, adroit solos without sacrificing his driving sense of swing.
He was equally effective on upright acoustic bass, with an improvisation on "Trane" that produced an explosive flood of notes. In fact, if there was a caveat to Patitucci's performance, it was that his extraordinary powers as a virtuoso occasionally obscured an attractive lyrical sensibility, one that was far more apparent in his compositions.
The interaction between Patitucci and Colaiuta, partners in various ensembles for years, was the keystone of the group's effectiveness. Their rhythmic accenting beautifully illustrated the state of the art in contemporary jazz time-keeping.
Beasley, as always, sounded probing and adventurous. Virtually everything he played revealed an effort to open up and explore the outer envelope of his music. Tavaglione, however, was given surprisingly little to do in Patitucci's musical scheme. To his credit, he made the most of his few opportunities to stretch out.