Review: Jack DeJohnette at Queen Elizabeth Hall (LJF)

Jack DeJohnette, Queen Elizabeth Hall, 16th November 2012
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Jack DeJohnette Quintet
(Queen Elizabeth Hall, 16 November, London Jazz Festival; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Jack DeJohnette carries the weight of the history of contemporary jazz with which his career has been woven with humility and grace. The illuminating pre-concert interview with Jez Nelson for BBC’s Jazz on 3 asserted that his passion and desire to make the best music with the best musicians is what continues to motivate him in his seventh decade. They covered his times with Miles, Keith Jarrett, and Charles Lloyd and a host of other pivotal playmakers, and his recordings with ECM – he is Manfred Eicher’s most recorded artist. DeJohnette singled out a live date sitting in with Coltrane as “one of the highlights of my life”, when “Elvin Jones showed up late”. Fascinating, too, to hear him describe how Miles asked him to link his own technique with “the groove” they both were drawn to in Buddy Miles’s playing, to give Miles that “deep groove” he loved to play over – and to find that Ahmad Jamal’s ‘Live at the Pershing’ trio had been a major influence when Eicher suggested he put together his own trio – now pushing 30 years.

Watching the master drummer, DeJohnette, in action, centrally positioned onstage behind his expansive kit, two musicians either side of him, brought to mind the symmetry of the London Eye crossed with the energy and elegance of a gymnast performing cartwheels. His playing is about agility and versatility, and an acute sense of what works for each moment with each musician, maintaining the flow, never lapsing in to the role of metronomic timekeeper.

His nuanced percussive input exhibited a tremendous depth and range in its textures, avoiding heavy or overemphatic passages. He guided his richly talented quintet, including reeds luminary Don Byron, through half a dozen of his original compositions – ‘greatest hits’ as he laughingly referred to them – with measured, dynamic economy, even-handedly giving each musician the breathing space to bring their own expressive power to the table.

Guitarist Marvin Sewell and bassist Jerome Harris (on a headless small body bass) excelled in the soft-toned fluency which majors on flowing single note runs and statements. George Colligan combined multi-keyboard dexterity with spells on pocket trumpet. Byron, more familiar in the role of leader, blended effortlessly into the quintet format, blithely spirited and ethereal in One For Eric [Dolphy] in the high clarinet registers, an Ariel to DeJohnette’s Prospero. In Tango African Byron’s tone took on a lightly middle-eastern flavour, a foil to Sewell’s chilling slide guitar episode and Colligan’s keyboard atmospherics, with DeJohnette judiciously adding bass drum fills and chunky, light snare streams to round out the sound.

The final three numbers were dedicated respectively to DeJohnette’s wife, to Ahmad Jamal (Ahmad the Terrible) and to Miles. Lydia started with the lightest of taps in a swift masterclass on the cymbals and hi-hat. Byron’s mellow sax turned to an Eddie Harris funk jive and Jerome Harris quietly danced with a great grin as he, too, hit the supple groove. The encore was a bitch of a brew, with Colligan, confident on pocket trumpet, taking on the mantle of Miles and had DeJohnette picking out the structure of the riffs and melody to end the two hour set on a complex high.

Jack DeJohnette: drums
Don Byron: clarinet, tenor saxophone
Marvin Sewell: guitar
George Colligan: piano, keyboards, pocket trumpet
Jerome Harris: electric bass

The gig will be broadcast tonight (19th November) on BBC Radio 3’s Jazz on Three

Categories: miscellaneous

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