Jack DeJohnette – Made In Chicago
(ECM 378 0935. CD review by Andy Boeckstaens)
Shortly after his 70th birthday in 2012, drummer Jack DeJohnette received a letter from the producers of the Chicago Jazz Festival inviting him to perform – with musicians of his choice – at the following year’s event. “I saw this as a great opportunity to come home and reunite everyone”, he says.
Back in 1962 – when he was primarily a piano player – DeJohnette jammed at Wilson Junior College with saxophone playing classmates Roscoe Mitchell and Henry Threadgill. Pianist Muhal Richard Abrams recruited all of them – at different times – for his “Experimental Band” which evolved into the famed “Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians”. DeJohnette reconvened these three old friends for this special performance, and completed the group with bass player and ‘cellist Larry Gray, who is a highly respected figure on the Illinois scene.
29th August 2013 was declared “Jack DeJohnette Day” by the mayor’s office, and the concert took place at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. The 10,000-strong audience must have been bursting with anticipation to hear these Chicagoan legends together.
Mitchell wrote two of the selections. The hypnotic, swirling riff of the opening ‘Chant’ breaks down into a piano feature that incorporates the same theme, and DeJohnette’s assertive, arrhythmic drumming is matched by a long solo for the composer’s intense, strangulated sax. ‘This’ is very different. Set against Gray’s bowed cello, a flute (Threadgill’s, I think) assumes an other-worldly quality which is reflective and diffuse.
Abrams’ ‘Jack 5’ includes terrific episodes for drums and bass, but the best part comes in the middle when Threadgill, Gray and DeJohnette engineer a slow, dramatically skewed type of funk. DeJohnette’s composition ‘Museum of Time’ is a reference to (part of) the title of a novel by the controversial American author Jane Roberts. It is dominated by Abrams, who plays a rolling, impressionistic figure underneath the saxes before a relatively mainstream section with block chords and fast runs. ‘Leave Don’t Go Away’ is a Threadgill creation with a typically mysterious air. Abrams impresses again with a lengthy interlude before Mitchell’s sax comes to the fore for another impassioned, anguished solo. The regular pulse that runs through part of the piece makes it no less challenging.
Despite two days of preparation at local venues, some of this intricate, difficult music feels under-developed, and more rehearsal time might have been beneficial. After DeJohnette introduces the band and thanks people at length, he decides on “something spontaneous” for an encore. The five-minute improvisation ‘Ten Minutes’ is magnificent. An urgent and insistent piano figure is overlaid by the saxophones; DeJohnette plays hard, and – at last – everyone sounds fully engaged. It’s a freewheeling blast, and the most exciting thing on the album.
Made in Chicago is a fascinating document of DeJohnette’s grand homecoming, and will appeal particularly to those who were there when it was recorded.