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Music Review

All-star Spring Quartet pulls together a stirring set

The group is bassist Esperanza Spalding, drummer Jack DeJohnette, saxman Joe Lo-vano, and pianist Leo Genovese (not seen).

Robert Torres

The group is bassist Esperanza Spalding, drummer Jack DeJohnette, saxman Joe Lo-vano, and pianist Leo Genovese (not seen).

CAMBRIDGE — The set list included two references to the ancient Greeks, but there was nothing neoclassical about the Spring Quartet’s show at Sanders Theatre on Thursday.

This newly formed jazz supergroup — boasting drummer Jack DeJohnette, bassist Esperanza Spalding, saxman Joe Lovano, and pianist Leo Genovese — did not announce a new musical direction. But it waded successfully through various progressive currents, suggesting it could indeed chart a course toward some newer destination if it chooses to.

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Playing custom-made tenor and soprano saxophones, Lovano sounded miles more soulful than in his hard-bop quintet with Dave Douglas at Symphony Hall in November. But the rhythm section’s particularly nasty groove was the real keeper here. Genovese is Spalding’s usual keyboard collaborator, and their tight-knit interplay consistently throbbed in lockstep with the different looks offered up by Hall of Famer DeJohnette.

The band peaked when it discarded the round-of-solos approach and melded into a three-or-four-headed monster, everyone and no one soloing at once. This reached its peak in an encore tear through Lovano’s “In the Land of Ephesus.” As the song’s 4/4 pulse pushed forward, DeJohnette periodically shifted the emphasis of the beat while the other three took turns introducing playful key changes. It never went “out,” but created the impression that this group can cook as hard as it wants to without trotting in easy circles.

In her own “Hippasus Shrugged,” Spalding veered in and out of a crisp, walking bass line as Lovano took his time with a mellow solo on soprano. But Genovese’s “Ethiopian Blues” was likely the highlight of the set, suggesting a more open direction while staying wedded to swing. It began with ghostly samples summoned on Genovese’s Yamaha Motif as Spalding offered wriggling bass phrases; her knack for supporting the groove with articulate lead lines was a consistent highlight. DeJohnette spat some breakbeats before leading one of the deepest-swinging grooves of the evening.

A languid, late-set reading of “Song for World Forgiveness” was poorly placed, but DeJohnette’s “Ahmad the Terrible” offered an emphatic punctuation mark to the set, again showcasing the rhythm section and a percussive piano solo by Genovese. The song’s outro bled into a little, searching groove — hinting at freer corners without quite stepping into them.

Spring Quartet already sounds more like a true working group than an all-star jam session. So one hopes it’ll move past this stage of synthesizing its members’ strengths and push toward a signature statement. This is one supergroup that adds up to more than the sum of its chops.

Jeremy D. Goodwin can be reached at jeremy@jeremydgoodwin.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremydgoodwin.
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