Lenny White: Lenny White Live

The late ’90s was not the most inspired period of Lenny White’s long career. Despite aligning himself with musicians beyond reproach-some of whom join him on this live Japanese set from 1997-White had more or less set aside his authoritative powerhouse drumming in favor of a restrained funk that gave him little outlet to do what one wants Lenny White to do: play his ass off.

Live draws mostly from the Return to Forever legend’s two most recent albums at the time, Present Tense and Renderers of Spirit. At its best, it’s got its share of dynamism and ingenuity, with both Victor Bailey and Foley filling bass roles, Bennie Maupin on saxophones, Mark Ledford playing trumpet and Patrice Rushen and Donald Blackman sharing keys duties. When the principals leave the straitjacketed rhythms behind, the sparks fly and the band transcends mere groove. “Pic Pocket” is soulful, and the lengthy “East St. Louis” and set-closing “Wolfbane” are impressive showcases. But then on “Dark,” the keyboardists are seemingly so intent on testing out every sound the synths can devise that impatience sets in and you just want them to cut it out. There’s way too much of that in general here.

As for White, he’s mostly lost and underutilized, even though it’s his outfit. He doesn’t need to prove himself via a showboating solo, but he does need space to be Lenny White. Fortunately, he’s since found his mojo again. But Live, like the studio recordings of the same period, documents a detour.