Sound Prints is saxophonist Joe Lovano and trumpeter Dave Douglas’s Wayne Shorter project, but it’s not exactly a tribute “covers” band. In fact, in the first of two sets that the band played at Scullers on Thursday night, there was only one tune by the iconic saxophonist and composer — and that was a relatively new one, written specifically for this band. So the show might have been “for Wayne and about Wayne,” as Lovano said regarding one tune, but it was really about making new music, and the 80-minute set crackled with the joy of spontaneous creation.
The band is touring behind the new “Live at Monterey,” recorded at that festival in 2013, but its gestation goes back to the leaders’ work together in the SFJazz Collective, and Sound Prints played one of its first gigs at Scullers four years ago. On Thursday, the players started with the first two tunes from the disc — the song by Lovano for which the band is named, and Douglas’s “Sprints” — and played them, as on the record, as an unbroken medley, from fragmentary phrases of overlapping horn dialogue (Lovano alternating tenor with soprano), to fanfare, and then Douglas’s punchy, Wayne-like theme.
It was during “Sprints,” just as you might have grown impatient with the patchwork-quilt of melody and chatter, that each of the leaders took an extended solo turn — Lovano on tenor going from gruff, blurry phrases to hoarse altissimo cries and then a big fat riff in the lower register; Douglas coming in on a phrase that he worried in his burnished mid-range before cutting loose. They shifted through double-time and half-time phrases, guided by bassist Linda Oh’s varied walks and drummer Joey Baron’s array of cymbal hits and crashes. Meanwhile, pianist Lawrence Fields laid down a soft carpet of shifting chords.
Shorter’s aptly elusive “Destination Unknown” came next, with multiple themes and antiphonal horn parts, followed by Lovano’s “Weatherman,” with its Ornette Coleman-like rustic unison line, Oh’s bravura solo, and eloquent blues choruses from Fields; Douglas’s lovely ballad “Ups and Downs,” with cinematic counterpoint between the horns; and Lovano’s “Newark Flash,” a bluesy flag-waver that took Shorter all the way back to his hard-bop roots.
Through it all, Lovano and Douglas listened closely to each other’s solos — a cocked eyebrow from Douglas as he looked up into the middle distance, or Lovano, standing off to the side, following Douglas’s phrases, gesturing wide with open palms, lifting his chin and opening his mouth, as if to sing along. It was for and about Wayne, but it was something else too.
Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas: Sound Prints
At: Scullers Jazz Club, Thursday