Tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker's opening set at Blues Alley Thursday night was almost exclusively devoted to tunes that appear on his latest CD, "Time Is of the Essence," which features organist Larry Goldings, guitarist Pat Metheny and drummers Elvin Jones and Jeff "Tain" Watts, among others. The same musicians weren't on hand at the Georgetown club, but Brecker, Goldings, guitarist Adam Rogers and drummer Clarence Penn conjured a series of similar moods, laced with soul jazz grooves and blues-tinged balladry.
Brecker set the evening's casual but focused tone with an original composition, "Arc of the Pendulum." His full-bore yet fluid tone grew increasingly urgent over a series of choruses that served as a template for Rogers's linear improvisation and Goldings's scribbling runs and resonant chords. The quartet then moved from the insistent funk of "Sound Off," a tune by Goldings, to the after-hours atmospherics of Brecker's "Half Past Late" and the languid Metheny musing "As I Am." Brecker's remarkable harmonic agility was always evident, even when the tunes were dominated by deep rhythmic pockets, and for all the relaxed grooves, the ensemble engaged in some aggressive and razor-sharp interplay as well.
Penn, who had never previously performed the material, was also in terrific form throughout the show--subtly accenting the Metheny tune with brushes, forging exuberant New Orleans parade rhythms on "Delta City Blues," and occasionally creating tumultuous rhythmic swells that evoked Brecker's studio work with Jones and Watts.