Reviews & Opinions

Review: Jack DeJohnette at the Tri-C Jazz Fest
Gary Finney's Road Trip Visits Cleveland's Annual Jazz Extravaganza

Jack DeJohnetteTapping With the Teacher

Master drummer Jack DeJohnette has said “Each piece is different every time we play it” and that was certainly true when he and his band took the stage at the Tri-C Metro Auditorium as part of the Tri-C Jazz Festival in Cleveland. Alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, who has been an integral part of the band, was unable to make the gig and was replaced by multi-reed man Don Byron. This is not to say it was better or worse, just, as DeJohnette says, different.

Scintillating Sidemen

Jerome Harris & Don ByronLong a staple of the band’s book, “One for Eric” has its origin dating back to the Special Edition band from 1980, so this tune has been performed “differently” for three plus decades. On this night, its sound foundation was in large part determined by George Colligan’s atmospheric electric keyboards. These shifting washes of sound were in direct contrast to Don Byron’s clarinet work, which was darting and piercing in an Apollo-esque way, residing, tonally, just this side of being shrill. But this dynamic between the two musicians helped to create the tension and release that gives great music its potent impact.

Another component of this band’s signature sound comes from bassist Jerome Harris. He doesn’t play upright bass or electric bass, but provides his malleable anchoring sound via an acoustic bass guitar.

David FiuczynskiAnother unique voice for the band is guitarist David Fiuczynski. For those of you that heard him play at the Docksider with Tony Grey some time ago, he has developed exponentially since then and integrated his sound into this band in ways that just defy the imagination. His fragmented guitar lines do not resemble anything that could be considered melodic, but this is not to say that they are discordantly inappropriate. Think of what he does as refracting the melody much as a prism refracts light, and who doesn’t smile when they see the bandwidth of sunlight broken down into its primary colors. Whether it was his splintered lines on “One For Eric” or his a cappella whammy-bar into for “Soulful Ballad” he fit his singular voice into the music’s collective expression all night long. But he’s also a front-line team player, as evidenced on the unison lines that he executed with Byron’s tenor sax on “Ahmad The Terrible.” 

George ColliganSwitching from electric keyboards to the grand piano for his “One For Eric” solo, Colligan proved that while plying his trade under most listeners’ radar, he has earned his chair in this band. His solo here bordered on ravishing, while his solo turn on “Monk’s Plum” was appropriately angular. An addition to the aural palette was his pocket trumpet on “Blue.”  While this uncommon instrument is instantly identified with the late Don Cherry, Colligan managed to coax more warmth out of the small horn, which added to the relaxed vibe of the piece.

While Harris received the least solo space, he took advantage of his opportunities, not showboating, but positively glowing as only a humble, mature musician can. His deeply resonant underpinnings for “Ahmad The Terrible” seamlessly flowed into a solo that included him wordlessly singing overtones while DeJohnette’s crystalline cymbals tinkled like flittering butterflies and Colligan’s synth droned like a sitar. With his impeccable sense of time, “Monk’s Plum” swung as much from his playing as it did from DeJohnette’s.

Words From the Man

Prior to the performance, DeJohnette was gracious enough to allow Willard Jenkins to interview him for forty minutes, much to the delight of the early comers. While this was certainly informative, no words seem adequate to describe what DeJohnette does once seated behind the drum kit. Whether the catalyst for Charles Lloyd, Miles Davis, Keith Jarrett or his own bands (as when he appeared in Erie for a 1998 gig at the Annex) he listens with ears as sensitive as any SETI radio telescope. His playing is all about textures to enhance what the other band members are playing. On “Soulful Ballad” his clattering hi-hat and malleted tom-toms accentuated Colligan’s sustained synth notes. As the tune’s complexion changed, his Sabian Signature Series cymbals practically sang their own melody while Byron’s nostalgic sounding sax and Fiuczynski’s guitar engaged in a fierce call-and-response duel (circa 1930s Kansas City scene). As his 70th birthday approaches in August, Jack easily proved that he’s still a force with which to be reckoned who effortlessly keeps up with musicians half his age.

Yes, the tunes are never played the same way twice, so regardless if attending a Jack DeJohnette performance is your first or your fiftieth, you are going to go home feeling that the world’s troubles have vanished for ninety minutes and your life will be immeasurably enriched.

Story and pictures by Gary Finney, April 26, 2012
June 25, 2012