Wednesday night’s “The Edge of Jazz” program looked to be the most adventurous entry in the Hollywood Bowl jazz series by far — and by and large, it was. Indeed, the evening got deeper and deeper into da noise and da funk as it progressed, from Roy Hargrove dipping his toes into jazz rock and soul to John Scofield’s ecstatic long-established love affair with the groove to Medeski, Martin and Wood’s plunge into dense, evolving electronic thickets of dissonance.
For Hargrove, who originally came to prominence on the back of the Marsalis back-to-the-bop movement, this was another of his sporadic feelers toward something different. The set started with a humorous homage to an old trumpet hero as Roy emerged in cap and shades, his large band hitting a fine early ’70s-styled vamp on Miles Davis’ “It’s About That Time.” Then, after removing the lid and glasses, Hargrove moved through a series of competent jazz/funk displays, a couple of throwaway soul vocals by Rene Neufville and even a sometimes embarrassing attempt at singing by himself (“I’ll Stay”).
Immediately, Scofield tapped into a deeper pocket than anything Hargrove’s band could muster, and he stayed there for nearly an hour. Scofield has been knocking out one superbly tight jam-band CD after another for Verve lately — the newest one, “Up All Night,” is a killer — and he is totally at home in this idiom. His guitar danced all over the groove, carrying on self-dialogues with his electronic effects boxes and sparring with the samples from superb rhythm guitarist Avi Bortnic, who contributed a marvelous, revolving Nigerian Afrobeat riff on “Thikhathali.” It was a terrific set, one of those rare beasts where a powerful, creative groove was all that was necessary.
From this point, Blue Note renegades Medeski, Martin and Wood pushed the jam-band idea into avant-garde territory, producing some of the most raucous noises that ever shook this old amphitheater (provoking several walkouts). When not coaxing an encyclopedia of weird timbres from his museum of ancient, wood-cased keyboards and effects boxes, John Medeski would take a breather at the Steinway, whereupon the band relaxed into a nearly conventional piano trio mode. But mostly, this was a set of wild — almost out of control — complex, even majestic, stream-of-consciousness grooves, a back-to-the-future rebellion against the digital age.