FOR THOSE wondering what ever happened to the "creative" jazz-rock fusion of the early 1970s -- that abandoned musical offspring that seemed to burn itself out in directionless projects within five years of its birth -- it made a triumphant return to Artpark Thursday night in the form of Jack DeJohnette's Parallel Realities band.
This wasn't merely some carry-over from 20 years ago, however. It was the next generation. Somehow a long overdue evolutionary step had finally been taken, and its roots were still showing.
The band emerged from the darkness, individually, in true supergroup style, each in turn adding to the texture of total sound: first, drummer DeJohnette; followed by bassist Dave Holland, composer of the opener "Shadow Dance;" pianist Herbie Hancock and guitarist Pat Metheny.
They soloed long, and somewhat self-indulgently, playing with such frenzy their statements appeared almost senseless. But they always stretched at the fabric of the structure, almost to the breaking point. And they were having fun doing it.
DeJohnette said his intent with this band is to seek out "a discreet way of integrating technology with natural sound." It's something the bare electricity of '70s fusion never seemed to consolidate. But DeJohnette seems to have made some headway with his electric "Special Edition" bands. Who else could have gotten Holland to pick up an electric bass (on DeJohnette's "Indigo Dreamscapes") for the first time since quitting Miles Davis almost 20 years ago.
Hancock also favored acoustic sounds for most of the night. And while most pianists favor their right hand for soloing, Hancock did some pretty slick southpaw soloing while his right hand kept busy making sweet string-like synthesizer sounds. When he did turn to synth soloing, he often utilized a muted trumpet tone that could have been sampled from a Miles Davis record. When you realize that three from the quartet came from the Davis band, you'll have an idea where this all came from.
Also, consider this is Hancock's first major U.S. tour in a decade. Last stop was the VSOP tour. Since that time, his live performance schedule has been almost exclusively overseas.
"Nine Over Reggae," with its utilization of sequencers to cover the fanfare chords in the head, illustrates some of the new tricks of electric jazz, which lends itself to controlling this odd metered cycle.
Metheny played like a musician possessed. On "John McKee," he seemed intent on filling up all available spaces with non-stop ideas. The last time I saw him play that way was when he was guesting with Ornette Coleman's Prime Time Band at the 1988 Montreal Jazz Festival. He almost never records with such intensity.
His ephemeral side shone on acoustic showcases like "Silver Hollow" and "The Bat."
Just before intermission, the band knocked out the approximately 1500 attending with an electric version of Hancock's classic "Cantaloupe Island." During the second set (they played a total of 135 minutes, not counting a half hour break) Hancock's "Eye of the Hurricane" achieved the highest energy level of the night, with escalating trade offs between Hancock, Metheny and DeJohnette that brought some of the crowd to its feet.
Left almost for last, and complemented with a light show that borrowed imagery from Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," was Metheny's composition "Parallel Realities." The artsy juxtaposition of rising lines, suggesting parallel relationships, with rapidly changing colored backgrounds, silhouetted the band with a hypnotic, eye catching exercise, while the band played music bordering on electric free form. The audience watched entranced by the games the lights played with the music. I've never witnessed anything like it.
This stuff is available on record, but it doesn't approach what they did here live. They're on a World Tour that includes other dates within 400 miles. They may not be around again.