In April of last year, the all-star trio of pianist Geri Allen, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, and bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding performed at Scullers. Allen’s death two months later shocked and saddened the jazz world. But her sprit was very much present at the first of two sold-out sets Saturday, when Carrington and Spalding returned to the club with Nicholas Payton as the TEN Trio.
Payton’s contributions were substantial. His doubling on keyboards and trumpet transformed the trio into something resembling a quartet. He also provided two of the opening set’s compositions: “Geri,” a contemplative piece that featured lyrics sung by Spalding and Carrington playing her tom toms with her hand. “Kimathi,” from his 2017 album “Afro-Carribean Mixtape,” had a funk groove introduced by Payton’s Clavinet, included hornlike vocals from Spalding, and called to mind Miles Davis’s late electric bands when Payton blew his trumpet while accompanying himself on Fender Rhodes.
Payton’s pieces were preceded by two of Wayne Shorter’s, no surprise given that Allen, Carrington, and Spalding had been one of three groups (including Shorter’s own quartet) that celebrated Shorter’s 80th birthday at a Symphony Hall concert in 2013. “Virgo” was introduced with Spalding whistling a melody, and Carrington took her lone drum solo on “Fall” (a piece made famous by Davis’s second great acoustic quintet), accompanied by the recorded voice of Max Roach riffing on the words “dis” and “dat” and a stuttered d.
Allen’s own recorded voice (her words less easily discernible, alas) had been included on “Feed the Fire,” the Allen piece that opened the set. Payton’s strong solos on piano and trumpet bracketed an extended bass solo by Spalding that was especially energetic, impassioned, and adept, Carrington accenting her partners’ work throughout with brilliant freestyle drumming. Spalding has recently taken to performing in a white jumpsuit with the words LIFE FORCE emblazoned on the front, and she was one on Saturday, on both bass and vocals.
The three of them segued from tune to tune with hardly a pause, other than to introduce one another midway through. Spalding’s Harvard colleagues Henry Louis Gates and Ingrid Monson were seated together near the stage, the university having held a weekend-long series of events honoring Allen earlier this year. And the local flavor was further enhanced when Carrington, a Medford native and Berklee professor, dedicated the set’s final number to Pastor Kirk Jones of the Zion Baptist Church in Lynn.
That final piece was another of Allen’s. “We hope if we keep playing it enough it becomes a standard,” said Carrington. Payton’s solo on it was particularly bluesy, and Spalding’s wordless vocalizing began slow and meditative before building to its climax and concluding with the two words comprising the song’s title: “Unconditional Love.”
The TEN Trio
Featuring Terri Lyne Carrington, Esperanza Spalding, and Nicholas Payton
At Scullers, SaturdayBill Beuttler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.