Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Will Jack Be Back?

Some lead, some follow... at least that's the usual tradition in music. For every Miles Davis—who grabbed the reins of leadership after leaving Charlie Parker's employ and only stepped back into the sideman's role a small handful of times during the following 40 years—there's a Harold Mabern or Bennie Maupin, who rarely lead a band or have their name above the title on a recording. It's a question of both temperament and ambition.

With that truism in mind, and spurred by his appearance as a partner on two current releases and a couple of Facebook posts from him about his current tour with Keith Jarrett, I began to think last night about the glory days of drummer Jack DeJohnette as bandleader.

Everyone in jazz knows DeJohnette as one of the greatest drummers of his generation, a musician who is arguably on more indispensable, influential recordings than any of his peers. Yet, likely no one younger than 40 recalls the superb bands he led for a decade beginning in the mid-'70s. You could make a case that DeJohnette was a forerunner to multi-taskers like Dave Douglas, he had so much going on. Not content just to lead his open-ended band New Directions, with Lester Bowie, John Abercrombie and Eddie Gomez, he also started a powerful two-reed group called Special Edition, with David Murray (or Chico Freeman), John Purcell and Howard Johnson in the front line. Around that time, I also caught him in Montreal with a killer band featuring Julius Hemphill.

These units put out a string of memorable recordings on ECM: New Directions (1978); Special Edition (1979); Tin Can Alley (1980); and Album, Album (1984). Not only was his writing compelling, but DeJohnette seemed to engender a unified group feel whenever he was in the lead.

In addition to being in constant demand for special projects, as well as his ongoing partnership with Jarrett and Gary Peacock in the Standards Trio, he has put out another handful of recordings under his own name, but not since the breakup of those two bands has he maintained as strong a unit or produced an album as expansive and timeless as those ECM gems (although I have a soft spot for Music For The Fifth World from 1992 with Vernon Reid and John Scofield—sort of Power Tools Lite).


txa1265 (Mike) said...

I also loved the Parallel Realities studio and live stuff, and saw him as the lead in that one.

Anonymous said...

Good post.

I was yesterday in Barcelona for a concert of the trio.

Really I think it was disappointing. I feel sorry to say that, but the trio is now too much close to routine. And Jarrett must be more respectful to all people and his fans (like me): one guy with a camera or a cell can't disturb a concert for 2.000 people. It's to easy to provoke him.

Peter Hum said...


I have very fond memories of catching Jack's group w/ Purcell and Murray (?) and Rufus Reid (?) at the Astrolabe in the mid-80s. Were you there?

More recently, I've been digging Music We Are from Jack + Danilo Perez and John Patitucci. I trust you've heard it?



James Hale said...

I believe it was 1985 when Jack played Astrolabe with David Murray, John Purcell and Rufus Reid. I interviewed him after the show. Murray almost missed the show because his visa had expired and someone from the festival had to drive him back to the border to get it renewed.

Brad Riesau said...

Tough keeping a band together these days? It's always been a hard road. I recall the first time I met Jack, who I've had the great pleasure of working with at times over the years since. It was 1987, I believe. He was out touring behind one of his most acclaimed LPs as a leader, IRRESISTIBLE FORCES which was a poll topper in Down Beat as Best Jazz LP and Best Band if I recall. The band was playing a free show at Penn's Landing in Philly (sure miss those free jazz shows at the old venue) and was musing on how such a renowned band could have only two gigs all year in the U.S. Both free, city sponsored hits. Granted, Jack refused to take a band of this level into clubs for next to no bread but to think that PACs and colleges, festivals wouldn't book this incredible band. The show was incendiary with Greg Osby, Gary Thomas, Lonnie Plaxico and the still under-appreciated Mick Goodrick on guitar joining Jack onstage. I try to ctch Jack every chance I get no matter the setting and here's hoping for many more years of his mastery. -- Brad Riesau