Mark Lettieri | New Morning | 7/6/23

Article Contributed by Jake Cudek | Published on Thursday, July 27, 2023

If you were discussing music with the casual listener or the hard-core fan who only follows a handful of bands on the regular and mentioned the name, Mark Lettieri, you would more than likely get some blank stares. If you continued the discussion and brought up groups like Snarky Puppy or The Fearless Flyers, some of those initially baffled would start drawing more recognition to the context of the conversation, but probably not many. Now if you put on some live footage of Mark Letteiri wielding his guitar like a samurai, the conversation would change entirely, the observers now asking ‘Who is this Jedi of the musical martial arts?’

Mark Lettieri | Paris, France

Mark Lettieri is one of those musicians that fall into that category of being ridiculously talented, played with a ton of well-known artists, and performs magic on a nightly basis, all while most have no idea who the heck is. Born on the west coast and migrating to the Midwest’s Lone Star state, Lettieri has been pumping out original music for over a decade and touts seven solo releases alongside more than fifteen albums performing with others since 2008. With accolades as a writer, producer, and performer, this guy does it all, and seeing him live, it is obvious from his energy that this creative force has so much in store for the future.

JT Thomas | New Morning

Daniel Porter | Paris, France

Speaking to the unending level of energy this musician brings to the stage, back in June, Lettieri announced a quick jaunt across the pond, hitting Europe for a quick week’s worth of shows. Performing seven gigs in nine days, including stops in the Netherlands, Italy, and The United Kingdom, Lettieri detailed getting on the road with longtime collaborators JT Thomas on drums, Daniel Porter on keyboards, and Eoin Walsh on bass, and that the quartet would kick things off at the historic jazz club New Morning in Paris.

Eoin Walsh | New Morning | Paris, France

Although most probably haven’t heard of New Morning, the nondescript, five-hundred-capacity club holds a rich tale of historic performances. The dawn of New Morning started in the late seventies, first opening in Geneva and run by Egyptian journalist Eglal Fahri. A woman focused on housing the brilliant improvisations of jazz at the moment, this Swiss site lasted only a short while, eventually closing shop due to sound ordinance complaints. With a determined vision in mind, Fahri and family transplanted to the French capital and reopened the doors with the same namesake, and, coming out of the gates like a band of horses in the steeplechase, employed Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers to inaugurate the new location. That was April of 1981 and since then, the intimate room has hosted over three thousand concerts and included some of the biggest names in jazz on its roster, such as Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Chet Baker, Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorius, and McCoy Tyner, as well as the likes of Bob Dylan and Prince. It has been noted that even when performers became too big for the club scene, many still returned to play the sacred halls behind its dark gray doors, reporting that the sound, the scene, and the moment were all too perfect to forget and this locale was certainly a place where magic was made between audience and performer. Eglal Fahri’s vision of doing her part in creating something special that has stood the test of time lasted the whole of her life after opening this space place. She continued to influence the programming and trajectory of its roster until finally passing in 2019 at the age of ninety-seven. Succeeded by her daughter Catherine, the family Fahri continues to this day to deliver on one woman’s dream and passion for live music and the experience it brings and thankfully so, as on July 6th, The Mark Lettieri Group got their chance to honor the legacy and be a part of its narrative.

Mark Lettieri | Paris, France

Performing in front of a packed house, the band initiated lift-off with the funky fusion piece “Bubinga”, firing up the engines with a lengthy drum intro by timekeeper extraordinaire, JT Thomas. Rattling the cymbals and popping that snare, JT got everyone’s, including his bandmates, heads bebopping. The crowd’s reaction to this one from Letteiri’s 2019 release Things of That Nature was inviting and welcoming, initiating the conversation between both sides of the stage early on. This tune set the mood perfectly and grabbed the attention from the start with its deep pocket and complex patterns.

JT Thomas | Paris, France

“Big Duck” came next and dared everyone to keep up with its waddle. Throttling in the offbeat, this fast-paced track put many into a seizure-like dancing state trying to maintain the time while observing what the rest of the band was doing around the head. “Lotus” followed the spastic fowl and breathed fresh air into the room. This one released on Lettieri’s 2011 album Knows, sat in perfect balance to its predecessor off the same album. With an ethereal and wide opening, this one morph multiple times over, climbing then resolving, again and again, spanning the spectrum between dream and hard-edged reality. Fine pedal and whammy bar work on the part of Lettieri here.

Mark Lettieri | Paris, France

Shifting deep into the blues, “Seuss Pants” was the next choice. Opting for another from Things of That Nature, the fiery finish on this one made the red interior of New Morning seem like it was on fire even more than the audio inferno lit by the band. Walsh’s bass lines shook the floor as Lettieri channeled Jeff Beck’s ghost in the most spiritual of ways.

Mark Lettieri, JT Thomas, and Eoin Walsh

To close the set, Lettieri led the band through back-to-back selections from one of his newer productions Deep: Baritone Sessions Volume 2. Put out in 2021, Lettieri sought out celestial events as titles that best described what was going on musically in each piece. “Magnetar”, is named after a magnetar star, a stellar body formed by the collapse of a star considerably larger than our own and rotates more slowly compared to other neutron stars, emitting x-ray and gamma rays in bursts. At its core, the density is so much that a tablespoon would weigh in at 100 million tons. Like its definer, “Magnetar” is heavy on the baritone, but keeps it turning with its upbeat funky rhythm. Walsh and Lettieri played nicely off of each other, divided and independent at times only to return to the low end in unison, emitting their own radiation all the way through. Porter laid out some great Hancockian themes and certainly got multiple rounds of applause from the audience, drenching the room in synth greatness. Many have reported that “Tidal Tail” has a Prince feel to its device and hearing this for the first time, this recognizable flavor accolade rang true. Loaded down with the funk reminiscent of the Great Purple One, this one was still packed with enough difference to make it Lettieri’s own. Regardless, it certainly put the set into one final sweat before a happily exhausted audience got a break from their symphonic aerobic workout as the band closed out the frame.

Mark Lettieri | Paris, France

Returning to the mission, the band hit the stage, full of smiles and looking excited to give back the love they were getting from the crowd. Hitting another track from the Knows album, “Slide Rule” brought the funk. Like Godzilla destroying Tokyo, this one leveled the block. Walsh shook the fillings of all the dropped jaws with a great bass solo.

New Morning | Paris, France

The sweet embrace of “Point IZ” showed the diversity of this maestro. Soft and inviting, the delicate lines and intricate focus showed how sweet this man’s treat can be. Floating fingers all around, the delivery of each of the players showed that these brothers listen to one another in the conversation. Porter got classy with the piano sound and rattled off a nice solo that even had Lettieri calling out to the crowd for recognition at the close of the number.

Straight out of a movie soundtrack from yesteryear, the title track from Lettieri’s second album Futurefun, pulsed with a straight-ahead rock style, ballsy swagger, and got fists pumping throughout the room. Part metal, part 80’s hair band, this one was just fun.

Mark Lettieri | Paris, France

Reaching into the Lettieri galaxy once again, “Star Catchers'' came dangerously close to compromising the hull integrity of the New Morning spaceship. Bombarding the walls and its passengers with high-stepping funk, this one was the perfect melding of seventies rock and synth-filled jazz fusion. With flaming hot guitar and keyboard solos breaking the atmosphere, turbulent bass lines and drums hitting like meteors striking the fuselage, this one certainly reached the outer edges and had everyone hanging on.

Lettieri | JT Thomas | Eoin Walsh

Keeping it interstellar and hitting the calm of space, “Voyager One” also from Deep: Baritone Sessions Volume 2 brought more of a cruising speed to the mid-way point of the set. Jazzy, funky, and downright wicked, Lettieri shredded the head and channeled Stanley Clarke on the baritone guitar as JT Thomas continued to hit every change effortlessly, tastefully, and as though he was possessed. Porter’s synth explosion frayed the edges as Walsh kept the funk flowing, propelling everyone forward.

Mark Lettieri | Paris, France

Serving as the inspiration of the celestial Vol. 2, the album Deep: The Baritone Sessions, pulls from ocean depths rather than the void of space. Derived from the same baritone love that the sequel contains, “Gigantactis” would be the only track pulled from this album. Named after a fish that can be found at over a mile below the maritime surface, this one conjured more images of a shark or barracuda chasing down its next meal rather than the deep predator’s namesake. Darting and driving with its descending repeated line brought the grit back to the room and got the band making wide eyes as they pursued each other.

Daniel Porter on keyboards,  JT Thomas on drums, and Eoin Walsh on bass

“Naptime” closed the set on a high note. Ironically, the energy of this tune does not reflect anything about being sleepy or drowsy, so maybe the title’s intent is geared more towards the feelings one experiences after playing through this exercise of digital acrobatics. At the end of this funk-a-thon, Lettieri was beaming as brightly as anyone in the audience, a true kid in the candy store.

Mark Lettieri | New Morning | Paris, France

The encore slot was filled with back-to-back tunes from the 2016 release Spark and Echo. The title track took first place and this one carries so many dynamics. Vacillating in form and volume between laid-back surrealism to flashes of guttural rock, the midsection was textually diverse, Porter producing a great jazz piano solo that fits the atmosphere of the club’s history, eventually building into the weird, inciting a congratulatory riot on the floor. Closing out the night with one more, the rockstar “Little Minx” sent everyone off with a strut. Lettieri fed off the crowd’s enthusiasm, reaching dizzying heights before it all came down in an abrupt stop of sweat, applause, and everyone calling out for more.

Lettieri & Company bid adieus to the French crowd

Someone once stated that metronomes actually practice with Mark Lettieri to help them with keeping time and after seeing him perform alongside the talent of JT, Daniel, and Eoin, this remark is not far from the truth. His innovative creations reveal a brain that is constant, creating, changing, and trying to hook up with those around him, pushing it forward while listening with open ears for opportunities to come knockin’. Although one can hear the influences of the greats in his compositions, Lettieri continues to deliver with originality through his own instrumental voice. Offstage, the man is humble and accessible and seems genuinely flattered when anyone reports on his playing or thanks him for another mind-bending performance. His cohort demonstrates the same authentic personalities and communicates with each other as though they are more family than hired hands. For those looking to expand their horizons, this man and his bag of tricks will certainly do it, gladly taking you to the depths of the ocean to the outer reaches of space with a whole mess of stop-offs in between.