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Legendary bassist awes audience at Jazz Café

June 2, 2011

As soon as John Patitucci touches the strings of his elegantly carved upright bass, the crowd goes silent.

The first notes of “Bohemia After Dark” ring out with a harsh staccato twang. Patitucci’s fingers fly across the fret board, transitioning from harsh, quick plucking to a smooth melodic crescendo, almost as if they were playing a piano. The entire house watches spellbound as one of the world’s greatest contemporary bass players feeds off his own energy, riding a wave of cacophonic sound into a fiery solo. Patitucci’s body convulses sporadically. He feels his way from note to note down the neck of his instrument and gives a little hop when he hits a particular high note.

As quickly and abruptly as the song began, it comes to an end. The crowd comes out of an awestruck daze with an eruption of applause.

Accompanied by world-class musicians Jon Cowherd on the piano and Adam Cruz on drums, Patitucci gave two performances last weekend at the Jazz Café in the western San José suburb of Escazú, in addition to a bass clinic on Saturday afternoon. If words could be used to describe the 52-year-old U.S. bass legend’s performance, they would be somewhere along the lines of “a powerhouse display of rhythm and bass.”

Patitucci’s second visit to Costa Rica came after a seven-year hiatus and didn’t quite fill Jazz Café Escazú’s two levels to capacity on Saturday night. At $50 a ticket, it would be hard not to think twice about attending the performance, despite Patitucci’s caliber. However, the audience made up for its size with rapt attention, a large display of vocal support and a unique composition of musicians, jazz enthusiasts and even one of Costa Rica’s own famed composers.

“I loved the performance,” said Culture Minister Manuel Obregón, an acclaimed pianist and music producer. “This is a form of expression I love and appreciate. He is an amazing player.”

Patitucci played until the early hours of the morning, combining a wide range of musical influences into a diverse and yet seamless show. He drew on the music of artists ranging from the great Thelonious Monk to the infectious, clap-your-hands gospel music of The Staple Singers.

Before every number, Patitucci gave the audience an idea of how he approached the piece’s composition. In the song “Calabria,” named after his family’s homeland along the Italian coast, he said he was trying to convey the feeling he got when he approached the town from a highway overlooking the ocean.

“I remember driving down the highway into town that overlooks the sea, feeling like I was suspended in the air,” he said.

After the concert, Patitucci said he was having an amazing time on his two-day trip to Costa Rica.

“I will definitely have to come back here for another jam session in the future,” he told The Tico Times. “This is a great music scene that has some wonderful fans.”

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