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DeJohnette Continues to Fly High

How appropriate that the New Year starts off with a week of Jack DeJohnette at Birdland. Jack DeJohnette’s music has always been about starting anew. And like Birdland, he has a proud history. The element of freshness to his sound is the result of him continually searching for something new.

This year, his reconfigured group features guitarist David Fiuczynski (Fuze), someone who has gone down his own musical path in pursuit of a unique voice on the guitar. Having been a fan of his from his days with the Screaming Headless Torsos, I was excited to hear what he would bring to the group. He plays a double-neck, one with seven strings and the other with twelve. Most of his chord work is on the lower neck with seven strings, but his solos make use of both necks.

Rudresh Mahanthappha is an alto saxophonist I have kept my ears on since the release of the fantastic double-record Miles from India. He mixes musical elements from his Indian background with the jazz lexicon to create his own style.

The addition of these two musicians says a lot about the leader, Jack DeJohnette. For Jack, music is an exploration, a living, and breathing, ever-evolving journey. His long history of playing music with musicians from all over the world is well-documented and is one of the traits that makes him so intriguing and relevant after all these years. That and being one of the best drummers to sit behind a kit, period. From his early recordings, like the DeJohnette Complex, with his signature melodica, he was never afraid to forge his own musical identity.

This band is just the next chapter in this evolution. Rounded out by George Colligan on keyboard and acoustic piano, and long time collaborator, Jerome Harris, on electric and acoustic bass guitar, this is one group that is worth sticking with for awhile.

Opening up with One for Dolphy, this great composition, naturally, featured Rudresh taking the lead and the first solo, with Jack providing noteworthy accents. George was on the keyboard and Jerome was laying down funky bass lines on the acoustic bass guitar, not the standup variety.

With the groove firmly established, Fuze took an extended solo, again with Jack adding the spices only he has in his cupboard. Finally Jack soloed. His soloing parallels how he puts musicians together, always seemingly driven by a striving for what has not yet come before, and always interesting. The melody was played in double time on the way out, so fast yet so clear and succinct, it had peoples’ heads turning, looking at each other as if to say "wow".

Soulful Ballad, a tune off of Jack’s latest CD, Music We Are, began with an introduction by George on the acoustic piano. Jack played the melody, fittingly enough, on the melodica. My friend said this tune made them feel like they were in Paris. Fuze took the first solo, much of it on the 12-string portion of his guitar with what sounded like a flanger pedal. Rudresh, George and Jerome all took tasty solos before the final head.

Another tune from Music We Are, entitled African Tango, was probably my favorite tune of the evening. After a wicked solo from Jack to open it up, Rudresh repeated a one-note riff before he and Fuze went into the melody. Fuze’s solo was nice. I loved the interplay of the bass and guitar during this guitar solo. Jerome laid down some absolutely fabulous bass lines that complemented a rippin’ solo from Fuze. Then Rudresh soloed. At this point, everyone locked in and was going off. As with the first tune, the band seemed to be peeking during Rudresh’s solo. After a brief call and response between Rudresh and Fuze, George, who was back on the keyboard for this one, offered up some nice soloing as well, during which Jack propelled deeper and deeper into the groove. This tune was straight smokin’.

During the next selection, Blue, the band was really tight (in a good way) during Rudresh’s solo, and then opened up for a totally different feel during Fuze’s guitar solo, creating what could best be described as soundscapes with Fuze’s creative use of the whammy bar. Although he used a Yamaha keyboard, George had a B-3 Hammond sound on this one. The last selection, Ahmad the Terrible, was noteworthy for several reasons. One was the sitar-like sound George had on his keyboard. The other was a unique solo by Jerome Harris that began with just his voice, moved to bass and vocals, and finally just bass. Great stuff.

I like the rapport between these musicians. It will only get better over time. Here’s to hoping that there are many more opportunities for these musicians to play together and audiences to experience their unique sound.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Jack DeJohnette Quintet
  • Concert Date: 1/6/2010
  • Venue: Birdland
  • City State Country: New York, NY
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