Jack DeJohnette: Oneness (ECM 1637)

Oneness

Jack DeJohnette
Oneness

Jack DeJohnette drums, percussion
Jerome Harris electric guitar, bass guitar
Don Alias percussion
Michael Cain piano
Recorded January 1997 at Right Track Recording Studios, New York
Engineer: Tom Mark
Produced by Manfred Eicher

It’s safe to say that drummer Jack DeJohnette has not only changed the face of modern jazz, but has long been one of its greatest physiognomers. While his earlier and more eclectically minded Special Edition has received due (re-)recognition with an Old & New Masters box of its own, be sure to follow its trajectory to the Oneness of both group name and album title. Fellow percussionist Don Alias fleshes out DeJohnette’s already rich sound, joining Michael Cain, whose lyrical pianism graces his own leader date for ECM, Circa, and bassist Jerome Harris, whose collaborations with Sonny Rollins (through which he first met DeJohnette), Bill Frisell, and George Russell have lent a likeminded universalism to his sound.

The percussion-only “Welcome Blessing” says it all: here, in the heart of music-making, lies an empty floor just waiting for the kaleidoscopic patter of feet and light to make its creaks and imperfections known. These are the spaces that seem to fascinate DeJohnette, who makes of each a full-handed gesture. The brevity of this blessing is also its message: that, in a world where freedom of speech runs rampant, sometimes the shortest statement is the strongest. At the other end of the spectrum is “From The Heart / C.M.A.” This nearly half-hour diptych closes the album with an album, and proves that even the broadest sentiments can have the simplest philosophy. Carrying over some of the delicacies of preceding tracks while also blending the protracted testimonials more familiar to a Keith Jarrett session, Cain’s jigsawed pianism undoubtedly draws influence from DeJohnette’s longtime band mate in characteristic progression from a low, earthy drawl to sparkling dandelions of exposition. If there is oneness to be had, it is here in DeJohnette’s mind-meld with Harris, each providing as much rhythm as melody. The surprise entrance of acoustic bass guitar lends tactile flavor.

In the liminal tracks, we find ourselves first “Free Above Sea.” Evanescent and hopeful, DeJohnette’s steadiness here insures that the roiling pianism finds its path. The free-flowing “Priestesses Of The Mist” reveals the heartbeat of DeJohnette’s craft. It begins with a whisper, a wind, a sweep of the minute hand. The pianism is ever so fragile here, moving weaver’s hands through strings as invisible as they are audible. “Jack In” is a smoother train, gliding along tracks of felt-lined hand drums and cymbals. Cain soars, open-throated, and inspires the album’s grooviest passages, especially in Harris’s picking.

A free and easy session that is equally comforting to listen to, Oneness makes no demands. It is a calm breeze flowing within and a huge step in the progression of DeJohnette’s sound, for it is he who maintains the most color and downright melodic sensibilities. He is the music’s conscience. Thus defined, each piece billows like tattered cloth with stories to tell, histories emanating from every fray.

This is one of DeJohnette’s most personal. You can feel it.

A second look: Pirchner/Pepl/DeJohnette (ECM 1237)

Werner Pirchner / Harry Pepl / Jack DeJohnette

Werner Pirchner tenor vibes, marimba
Harry Pepl ovation guitar
Jack DeJohnette
 drums
Digitally recorded on a Sunday afternoon in June 1982 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Writing these reviews has been as much an opportunity to learn about the many fascinations of ECM (and music in general) as about myself. Part of that learning process involves reassessment. So far in my explorations of the label, there have been only two bumps in the road—no small feat for a catalogue of 1300 releases. One of these bumps was the self-titled record cut by Werner Pirchner, Harry Pepl, and Jack DeJohnette. Recorded on a Sunday afternoon in June of 1982, it came across to my ears as a one-off session that was perhaps better suited to remain in reissue limbo. Yet after posting a rare critical review, I incurred an unexpected backlash. Rather than let this underscore my defensiveness—which is useless, for how can one argue with another’s appreciation of art?—I took it to heart and have, over the past year, returned to this album on occasion to absorb its expressive secrets. The experience also revealed an imperfection in my system: because I am hearing so many of these records for the first time, and in my sometimes-overzealous efforts to reach synchronicity with ECM’s rigorous release schedule, I tend listen to albums only once before reviewing them. While on the one hand this gives (I hope) a freshness of feeling to my attempts at describing the indescribable, on the other it doesn’t always leave me prepared to expound upon an experience that may be a longer time in coming. I am also an ardent, if idealistic, believer that music tends to come into one’s life when it is meant to, but that sometimes its interest requires incubation. I simply did not give this date the attention it deserves.

“African Godchild” opens its eyes to a savannah dawn and draws us into a scene resonant with life. The depth of Pepl’s talent, now that I’m more familiar with it, is immediately evident in the spaciousness of his evocations. Pirchner matches that spaciousness on the inside, so that our understanding of it becomes unified. We can hear from this that the Pepl/Pirchner relationship is the nexus of the trio, the guitarist providing spider webs of support for the mallet man’s acute inscriptions. DeJohnette’s kick drum and cymbals add relief to their subtle crosstalk. The interrelatedness of foreground and background is deftly realized, especially as Pepl steps forth with an echoing solo, sculpting the drama with practiced fingers. “Air, Love And Vitamines” is perfect for an autumn afternoon. It is a prime vehicle for Pirchner, whose Jarrett-like inflections enchant at every turn and constitute the vertical to DeJohnette’s horizontal. The drummer balances the hidden urgency of this tune and blends seamlessly with Pirchner’s chording. After listless beginnings, “Good-bye, Baby Post” Pirchner leads the way into a resonant groove. Pepl acts the bass player’s part, even more so in his solo, before pinpointing the night with far-reaching flame in “Better Times In Sight,” for which Pirchner brings us back to earth but not to land, preferring as he does to skate the limpid waters of a forgotten sea.

I stand by my original opinion that the processing on Pepl’s instrument obscures what is already such a direct voice (compare this to the more organic buzzing of Pirchner’s marimba), yet I can understand the motivation for contrast. Ultimately, his gorgeous sustains and crunchy backing ring true in spite of the effects applied. And while I still think the recording levels could still use some tweaking, I have found a solution: listen to it loud.

This curious little gem may or may not hold you at first listen, but it does have the potential, like anything worth its salt, to endear as it endures.

<< Arild Andersen: Molde Concert (ECM 1236)
>> Dave Holland: Life Cycle (ECM 1238)

John Surman/Jack DeJohnette: Invisible Nature (ECM 1796)

John Surman
Jack DeJohnette
Invisible Nature

John Surman soprano and baritone saxophones, bass clarinet, synthesizers
Jack DeJohnette drums, electronic percussion, piano
Recorded November 2000, Tampere Jazz Happening and Berlin JazzFest
Engineers: Ralf Sirén and Ekkehard Stoffregen
Produced by Steve Lake and John Surman

Since first recording for ECM as a duo on The Amazing Adventures Of Simon Simon, multi-reedist John Surman and drummer Jack DeJohnette have maintained a connection that finds deeper traction on the seven enhancements of Invisible Nature. Surman gurgles his way through the organ drone of “Mysterium,” which combined with a plodding bass line sounds like the seed of Jan Garbarek’s RITES. It is a silvery tapestry unspooling in flourishes that escape our ken. The music is so much of its own world that to hear applause segueing into “Rising Tide” is jarring. It reminds us that we’re still on Earth, that what we’ve been hearing has come from human hands and breath. The fantastic sweep of baritone amid DeJohnette’s frenetic pacing here elicits a wide spectrum, and charts the same balance of delicacy vs. punch that makes tracks like “Underground Movement” and “Ganges Groove” such inspiring excursions. Painting his snare like the eye of a hurricane, DeJohnette crystallizes steady grooves for Surman’s cerebral and biologically direct highs in the former, while in the latter he paints with his tabla generator a scene as lush as it is arid. “Outback Spirits” makes gorgeous use of digital delay in a trip filled with cinematic tension, equal parts Nicolas Roeg and Stanley Kubrick. It is the elegance of uninhibited joy, the patter of the disembodied. A welcoming freedom of expression prevails. “Fair Trade” is the masterwork of the collection and shows the depth and breadth that these two legends are capable of when the gloves come off and all that’s left to feed on is fire. Between the crunchy baritone and DeJohnette’s astonishing ear for space, there is more than enough to savor for future listening. “Song For World Forgiveness,” the only piece not entirely improvised, floats a swanky bass clarinet on a river of lipstick and smoky alleyways: an homage to roots, to loves, and to new beginnings.

For all the trickery, there is at this album’s core a duo of infinite potential, one that walks a tightrope—blindfolded—across wide canyons. The nature of this music may be invisible, but man, is it ever audible.

Jack DeJohnette: Dancing With Nature Spirits (ECM 1558)

Jack DeJohnette
Dancing With Nature Spirits

Jack DeJohnette drums, percussion
Michael Cain piano, keyboards
Steve Gorn bansuri flute, soprano saxophone, clarinet
Recorded May 1995 at Dreamland Studios, West Hurley, New York
Engineer: Tom Mark
Produced by Manfred Eicher

It’s astonishing to think—given the intensity of his collaboration with Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, and others for whom his talents were in demand as he rode a wave of worldwide prominence in the 1990s—that drummer Jack DeJohnette still found the time on shore to free such thoughtful beauty as that on Dancing With Nature Spirits. Pianist Michael Cain, in his ECM debut, makes noteworthy contributions to a deeply felt studio session, given three dimensions by Steve Gorn, here playing a variety of winds. The latter’s bansuri flute and kestrel soprano finger-paint rich undercoats to Cain’s sparkling pianism in the title track, all the while playing off tender bubbling from toms and cymbals. This low-grade fever pales into the mournful incantations of “Anatolia.” So the desert lures us, moths to candle, smudging us into the ashen backdrop. Breath becomes virtue incarnate, a doll Gorn fashions from dried reeds and lullabies. Tracings from piano and tabla push from the earth like kangaroos in slow motion, hovering above the ground for a split second before the lights are cut. “Healing Song For Mother Earth” stamps those feet back down, like hands to drum, from a wellspring of light. In those delicate freefalls we feel the vestiges of time wafting through us with all the comfort of a breeze through mosquito netting. DeJohnette scours the villages for cloth with which to dry the tears of elders who’ve relinquished hope, reaching blood-worthy sacrament in “Emanations.” The secrets of this garden stream are to be found in the waterfall that bore it unto the land like a vein in a field of muscle, where only “Time Warps” touch those reflections with silver in ecstatic storytelling.

A profound album to be savored for its simplicity, heart, and message.

Keith Jarrett Trio: Standards Live (ECM 1317)

 

Keith Jarrett Trio
Standards Live

Keith Jarrett piano
Gary Peacock bass
Jack DeJohnette drums
Recorded July 2, 1985 at the Palais dis Congrès Studios de la Grand Armée
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Take one look at the thoughtful cover art of this seminal Keith Jarrett release, and you’ll gain immediate insight into what makes his trio click. Each curvaceous line brings a lifetime of movement, of study, and of passion to bear on the music at hand. And with these six standards resurrected to such profound levels, there’s nothing not to like.

Just let the groove of “Falling In Love With Love” have its way, and the quicksand of the trio’s genius has you by the heart. Jarrett is in his element, crying his way through sibilant improvisatory arcs. Peacock surfaces for an engaging solo, Jarrett watching from the sidelines with duly attentive chording before sharing an intuitive stichomythia with DeJohnette. Peacock grabs the spotlight again in “The Old Country,” in which piano and drums spread a subtle launching pad for his low yet adroit flights. Jarrett builds on these, dancing on air through every motivic change before putting the starlight back into “Stella By Starlight.” Ever the sonic chameleon in a world of primary colors, he achieves the musical equivalent of alchemy once his ever-faithful rhythm section dashes in its own mysterious elements. A magnetic bass solo draws DeJohnette’s cymbals like iron filings before ending in a forgiving embrace. “Too Young To Go Steady” receives an absorbing treatment, the band whipping up a soft peak that melts smoothly into resolution. Next is a spirited version of “The Way You Look Tonight,” which unpacks oodles of bliss and shows the trio form at its finest. A whoop-worthy solo from DeJohnette forms an enlivening bridge to the vamp, playing us out into “The Wrong Blues,” which does everything oh so right.

While all the tunes on this album are classic, the untouchable performances make them doubly so.

Beyond recommended.

Keith Jarrett Trio: Setting Standards – New York Sessions (ECM 2030-32)

 

Keith Jarrett Trio
Setting Standards – New York Sessions

Keith Jarrett piano
Gary Peacock double-bass
Jack DeJohnette drums
Recorded January 1983 at Power Station, New York City
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

“I feel we are an underground band that has, just by accident, a large public.”
–Keith Jarrett, on his trio with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette

The piano is considered by some to be a “complete” instrument. On it, one can compose anything from a simple etude to the grandest of symphonies, and its most adored practitioners may be said to be whole at the keyboard. The beauty of a player like Keith Jarrett is that he makes the piano sound so gorgeously incomplete, emphasizing as he does the unfathomable volume of sentiments he would convey through it if given the time. As it is, we get the barest taste of immortality. Jarrett carries the entire weight of any composition in even the most linear of melodic lines. In doing so, he opens doors that few could step through unharmed.

And yet, step through them the rare soul has, and perhaps none so ingenious as bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette. When listening to the bliss that rolls off Jazz’s proverbial tongue throughout Setting Standards, however, we must constantly remind ourselves that the three albums collected therein represent the first time Jarrett, Peacock, and DeJohnette had ever stepped into the studio as a bona fide trio. The three men were, of course, far from strangers, but produced such unreal synergy in these unrehearsed sessions that they might as well have been cut from the same cloth. The trio would also prove in a way cathartic for Jarrett, who was already beginning to buckle under the pressures of an increasingly demanding listenership. For this, he turned to the tried and true, if not to the plied and blue, for solace.

With Standards, Vol. 1 (ECM 1255) Jarrett and company set things straight from the get-go by showing us the “Meaning Of The Blues.” This swath of melodious rain is the trio form at its best and never lets up until the very end. DeJohnette’s charcoal sketches in background add a quiet boldness. “All The Things You Are” is a more lighthearted, though no less intense, construction, and haunts Peacock’s nimble fingerwork with a visceral chord progression. Smoothness abounds in “It Never Entered My Mind,” a gentle tune that puts a new twist on the pessimism of balladry by resolving itself at moments into a hopeful groove. A hefty splash of freedom awaits us in “The Masquerade Is Over.” Peacock is on fire here, giving just the sort of fuel that Jarrett sets to such glorious conflagration. The latter’s soloing proves that not only is the masquerade over, but also that these musicians never hid behind masks in the first place. If any single facet of this jewel can be singled out, it is the stunning fifteen-and-a-half-minute rendition of “God Bless The Child” that concludes it. Peacock excels, taking the swing around the bar and back again.


Original cover

Standards, Vol. 2 (ECM 1289) is a shaded glen in Volume One’s verdant forest. Its mood is summed up perfectly in the title of the opening “So Tender,” which after a slow intro falls into the unity that so distinguishes this trio. Jarrett dances not on air but on fire in his pointillist lines, while Peacock and DeJohnette both captivate with their subtle, popping sound. “Moon And Sand” is an equally smooth ride through less traveled territories and finds Jarrett in a gentler mood. DeJohnette is also at his most delicate here, drawing circles in the sand with his brush. For “In Love In Vain” Jarrett spins from thematic threads a twin self, who for all his similarities breathes a different sort of politics in one of the set’s finest tunes. With every grunt, Jarrett voices only the tip of his creative iceberg. Peacock delights with a very elastic solo, which no matter how far it stretches stays locked to its theme as if by finger trap. Jarrett is at his lyrical best in “Never Let Me Go,” and skips to his Lou in “If I Should Lose You” before laying down the poetry of “I Fall In Love Too Easily” with a thick, tangible power.


Original cover

Prior to the release of Setting Standards, I hadn’t yet encountered the free play session that is Changes (ECM 1276) and what a joyful surprise it turned out to be, for never has the trio emoted in such a blissful mode. “Flying” is a heavenly diptych honed in delicacy and abandon. Here the band describes a decidedly aquatic territory, each tattered thread of melody flowing like the tendrils of a throbbing deep-sea creature whose eyes are its hearts. Jarrett spreads and shoots straight like an octopus, every pad suctioning to a new and exciting motif. Peacock, meanwhile, threads his fingers through a vast oceanic harp, stretching his emotive capacity to its limits. DeJohnette surfaces with a deeply digging solo before we end with Jarrett alone in a quiet, dissipating reflection. Peacock trails his starfish of a bass line through the pianistic coral reef of Part 2, he and DeJohnette inking their solos before hollering their way into an inescapable passion. The set ends in the refractions of “Prism.” And indeed the trio as a unit is not unlike a prism, separating every ray of light into its composite colors, likewise every ray of darkness into its whispered secrets. Jarrett’s expulsions heighten every inarticulable word that he writes, the breath of an energy that cannot be contained. The farther these reveries drift, the more life experience they carry back into the fold when they return.


Original cover

In a society gone astray from musical immediacy, it’s safe to point out Jarrett’s nexus as one of the more reliable vestiges where melody still blooms. With an average track length of nine minutes, these are quiet and endlessly interesting epics. Say what you will about Jarrett’s singing, which has sadly turned not a few off from these recordings, but I believe Peter Rüedi puts it best in his insightful liner notes when he says, “His groans and vocal outbursts, considered by many to be a quirk, are in fact nothing but a form of suffering at the thought that the abyss between the piano and sung melody can ultimately never be bridged, not even by Jarrett himself.” To these ears, Jarrett’s voice welcomes us into the intimacy of his creative spirit, so unfathomably expanded in the company of two fine musicians (and even finer spirits) whose talents can’t help but sing in their own complementary registers. And on that note, we mustn’t forget the contributions of Jarrett’s band mates, who constitute far more than anything the mere rubric of “rhythm section” might ever imply. How can we, for example, not shake our heads in wonder at DeJohnette’s consistent inventiveness, which singlehandedly reshaped the idioms at hand. And then there is Peacock, who for me is the bread and butter of the first two sessions. So carefully negotiating his path through various leaps and bounds, he seems to anticipate everything Jarrett throws his way. Just listen to his soloing on “It Never Entered My Mind” and “God Bless The Child,” and these words will mean nothing.

Through the two standards albums, Jarrett put the “Song” back into the Great American Songbook, and in Changes enlarged it with “Prism.” Now given the proper archival treatment in this 3-disc Old & New Masters edition commemorating 25 years of music-making, this unassuming surge of sonic bliss is now ours to cherish at will.

The camaraderie expressed in the booklet’s final session photo speaks for itself:

Pirchner/Pepl/DeJohnette: s/t (ECM 1237)

Werner Pirchner / Harry Pepl / Jack DeJohnette

Werner Pirchner tenor vibes, marimba
Harry Pepl ovation guitar
Jack DeJohnette
 drums
Digitally recorded on a Sunday afternoon in June 1982 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Vastly under-recognized malleter and composer Werner Pirchner sharing the same studio with guitarist Harry Pepl and drummer Jack DeJohnette? What could go wrong? Quite a bit, unfortunately. The opening “Africa Godchild” starts intriguingly enough, seeming to creep from the soil like an awakening locust. Pirchner describes with his marimba the feelers of a friend testing the air and finding only the welcoming glow of sunrise, while DeJohnette’s tom-heavy drumming calls forth the swarm. Yet despite these evocative beginnings, Pepl’s Ovation soon becomes distracting, and the chorus effect applied to it makes its chording sound perpetually out of tune. When soloing, however, it sounds fantastic, as the force of the playing cuts through the warble that constricts it. In “Air, Love and Vitamines,” the guitar again feels out of place, despite the lovely improvisatory stretch from Pirchner’s vibraphone. “Good-bye, Baby Post” fares little better, and Pepl’s crackling solo is too little too late. He shows admirable melodic acuity in the closing “Better Times In Sight,” but is once more undermined by the amping, which would have benefited greatly from a cleaner treatment.

This unusual collaboration could have been something special. Technical criticisms aside, its major stumbling block comes from the musicians’ lack of communication. Each draws a sphere that only seems to intersect tangentially with the other two. This might have been a gem of a recording had only Pirchner and DeJohnette been there to lay it down. In a catalogue as vast as ECM’s, one can hardly be surprised to encounter a forgettable effort now and then. Sadly, this may be one of them.

John Surman/Jack DeJohnette: The Amazing Adventures Of Simon Simon (ECM 1193)

ECM 1193

John Surman
The Amazing Adventures Of Simon Simon

John Surman soprano and baritone saxophones, bass clarinet, synthesizer
Jack DeJohnette drums, congas, electric piano
Recorded January 1981 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

When reviewing jazz albums, I tend to abbreviate the word “saxophone” as “sax.” Yet somehow, when describing the music of John Surman, only the full spelling seems appropriate, for he as well as anyone fleshes out the inner architecture of the instrument in whatever form it may assume in his proficient hands. One might say likewise about drummer Jack DeJohnette, whose array of talents fully arches the backbone of the eight originals and one folk tune (the arboreal “Kentish Hunting”) on this curiously titled album. A delicate sequencer washes over us first in “Nestor’s Saga (The Tale of the Ancient)” along with bass clarinet amid awakening drums. Such tonal contrasts are a running thread through “Merry Pranks (The Jester’s Song),” “The Pilgrim’s Way (To The Seventeen Walls),” and the lumbering “Within The Halls Of Neptune.” Like some lost klezmer dream, floating on illumined clouds, these tunes step over vast plains before setting foot upon mountaintops. The finest moments are to be found in the soprano work, featured to varicolored effect in “The Buccaneers” and most engagingly in “Phoenix And The Fire.” DeJohnette holds his hands to the pianistic fire in “Fide Et Amore (By Faith And Love),” each chord a glowing ember beneath the bare feet of Surman’s baritone. “A Fitting Epitaph” mixes two drops of clarity for every one of forlornness and leaves an airy aftertaste in the sequencer’s final rest. This first in a continuing collaboration between two of ECM’s finest has aged well and is a good place to start on this intriguing duo.

<< Rypdal/Vitous/DeJohnette: To Be Continued (ECM 1192)
>> Goodhew/Jensen/Knapp: First Avenue (ECM 1194)

Rypdal/Vitous/DeJohnette: To Be Continued (ECM 1192)

ECM 1192

To Be Continued

Terje Rypdal electronic guitars, flute
Miroslav Vitous acoustic and electric bass, piano
Jack DeJohnette drums, voice
Recorded January 1981 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Nearly three years after their first collaboration, Terje Rypdal, Miroslav Vitous, and Jack DeJohnette unwrapped the ghostly sunset that is To Be Continued. The most spine-tingling moments therein thrive at half the speed of life. The intensities of “Maya” must be heard to be believed, for in them we see the night sky in negative image. Likeminded pulchritude prevails in “Topplue, Votter & Skjerf” (Hat, Gloves & Scarf), easily one of Rypdal’s most awesome committed to disc. His hands fade as soon as they are laid, leaving only the trace by which he elicits every note.

Don’t be mistaken, however, in thinking this is another lazy morning session. Rather, it dances to the tune of DeJohnette’s propulsion in “Mountain In The Clouds,” to say nothing of Vitous’s fanciful colors in the title track. For “This Morning” in particular, crosshatched by electric bass and flute, DeJohnette seems to want to draw the others into more finely grained conversations, only to get pixilated versions thereof. Yet these unformed images allow us to supply our own dreams, so that by the time we reach the haunting “Uncomposed Appendix,” in which he sings with and through his piano, we are already converted.

Though the album is brimming with sharp production and electronically enhanced instruments, there is something purely elemental about it. Its stew of metal, wood, and air wafts like the scent of plane trees in summer and leaves a taste of copper in the mouth.

<< John Abercrombie Quartet: M (ECM 1191)
>> Surman/DeJohnette: The Amazing Adventures Of Simon Simon (ECM 1193)