''What Is Jazz" was the title of the three-hour music extravaganza at Berklee Performance Center Saturday night, and the genre-bending artists involved -- the Christian McBride Band, the Charlie Hunter Trio, DJ Logic, and Bobby Previte -- offered an intriguing, chops-heavy testing of the music's boundaries reminiscent of jazz-rock fusion's 1970s heyday.
Previte and his electronic drum set were served up first as an appetizer, the drummer building an eerily futuristic composition by striking his sample-linked drum pads. Previte's piece was the furthest removed from familiar jazz of anything played all night, and at a half-hour in length it sometimes seemed overlong. But every time one's attention would begin to wander, Previte would call it back with some surprise. At one point, a disembodied voice intoned, ''We have the terrorists on the run. Keep them on the run" several times, which bled into the drone of a muezzin calling the Muslim faithful to worship.
Logic explained he'd be spinning discs between acts, proceeding to fill the time Hunter spent setting up with a collage of a few notes of John Coltrane playing ''Naima," snippets of mid-'70s Miles Davis, and other tidbits from his big bag of tricks.
Hunter's set was easily recognizable as jazz, albeit a sort of hybrid of the organ-oriented groove music of the late '60s and the guitar-powered fusion that cropped up just afterward. Joining him were John Ellis, who primarily played bluesy, angular lines on tenor saxophone over Hunter's accompanying guitar, and drummer Derrek Phillips, who stuck mostly to a steady, understated groove. Hunter was phenomenal on his eight-string guitar. Every generation deserves its guitar hero, and Hunter looks like the prime prospect for the teens and 20-somethings packing the hall Saturday.
McBride's band was the jazziest of the night, despite being tricked out with Geoff Keezer's electronic keyboards. Berklee professor Bill Pierce, the closest thing to a jazz purist onstage all night, filled in for Ron Blake on tenor saxophone. McBride played his set's first half on upright bass, then switched to electric. Terreon Gully kept everything in motion with propulsive drumming. McBride's ''The Wizard of Montara," especially, had the feel of straight-ahead jazz, with its rapid-fire bass line and Pierce's authoritative solo.
Logic joined the McBride band for an encore and crafted a bona fide solo, making his turntable sing almost like a horn line. Was it jazz? Judging by the way Pierce grinned at Logic with admiration as he did his thing, you bet it was.