By Andy J. Gordon
Lettuce, the six-piece funk, jam-fusion band is finishing up their Vibe Up Winter tour and have joined forces with one of their heroes, modern jazz guitarist John Scofield for a few shows. On March 20, 2019, at The Theatre at Ace Hotel (the beautifully restored concert hall in downtown Los Angeles), the combined band put on a two-hour masterpiece of tight arrangements, improvisational solos and hip-shaking, funky beats. The rabid crowd ate up everything the musicians were serving.
Lettuce has been together for over twenty years. After forming as students at the famed Berklee College of Music in Boston, the band built their well-earned reputation as a prolific live ensemble that crosses genres but is deeply rooted in funk and jazz fusion explorations. Scofield is a three-time Grammy winner who also hails from Berklee College of Music, but a generation earlier than the Lettuce guys. Sco’s playing spans jazz fusion, funk, bebop, blues, soul and rock. He has recorded and played with titans like Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Charles Mingus, Gerry Mulligan and Pat Metheny.
The Ace Hotel show opened with an explosive and lengthy workout of “The Force” that segued into “Phyllis,” both from Lettuce’s 2015 album Crush. Led by trumpeter Eric Bloom and saxophonist Ryan Zoidis, the tunes set the mood for a long night of brilliantly synchronized arrangements and creative solos. Guitarist Adam “Shmeeans” Smirnoff, bassist Erick “Jesus” Coomes, keyboardist Nigel Hall and drummer Adam Deitch are all exceptional talents and they crushed from the opening notes.
Scofield did not come out until the fifth song, but the crowd went crazy when he came on stage. Sco said it was an honor and pleasure to play with Lettuce before he launched into “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get,” from his 2003 album Up All Night. Lettuce drummer Deitch recorded that album with Sco so their history together goes way back. The jazz guitarist icon’s unique sound filled the theater for the rest of the show.
The combined band followed up with two songs from 2002’s Uberjam, another celebrated Scofield album that he recorded with Deitch. “Pick Hits” is a thumping groove that featured Coomes’ magic fingers on the bass. The song also contained excellent solos by Zoidis and Hall. “Jungle Fiction” gave Deitch a chance to show off his amazing skills. He pounded out the beat while Sco played the killer riff and late in the song took a heart-pounding drum solo.
Near the end of the set, Hall introduced “Kron Dutch” as his favorite Lettuce tune. The track is from their 2004 Live in Tokyo album and Hall played a long, melodic organ solo during the song. Sco added a sultry solo and tried to leave the stage when the song ended, but the Lettuce guys would not let him as the crowd begged for more.
The set wrapped up with Coomes saying “Let’s get weird!” before they launched into the fusion heavy “Flu the Coop,” also from Live in Tokyo. Bloom and Zoidis played the infectious, repeating horn riff as Deitch pummeled the skins. Sco blasted another memorable solo before the band ended the song and left the stage.
They came back out quickly as the excited L.A. crowd applauded loudly. Coomes thanked Scofield for joining them and said it was an honor to play with him. They closed the show with another Sco tune, “Every Night Is Ladies Night,” from Up All Night. Smirnoff played the very funky rhythm while Sco played lead.
Bloom and Zoidis traded solos and the show came full circle as the super-talented band finished up with a sonic blast of amazingly tight sounding music. The seven excellent musicians and longtime friends wrapped their arms around each other at the front of the stage and took a few bows to loud applause before finally leaving for the night.
All photos courtesy of Stevo Rood /ARoodPhoto.