Jack DeJohnette Latin Project
February 19, 2005
For some 40 years now, Jack DeJohnette has been one of the leading jazz drummers in the country, chameleon-like in his ability to adapt to any situation. Last year, he truly expressed the disparate and variegated nature of his musical personality while recording Don Byron's Ivey Divey and launching three of his own unique ensembles. First, there's Celebrating Tony Williams (a tribute to the late drum master that features John Scofield and Larry Goldings) and then there's the new Jack DeJohnette Quartet (featuring Danilo Perez, John Patitucci and Jerome Harris), a group which kicked off the year with a week of sold-out shows at Birdland in New York.
As for the Latin Project, De Johnette's other new group, the impetus for this endeavor came about when Jack appeared as an Artist-in-Residence during the 2003 Montreal International Jazz Festival. This singular opportunity gave Jack the chance to assemble several different projects that would be uniquely of his own choosing. To explore the possibilities offered by forming a group with multiple percussionists, DeJohnette brought together master conguero Giovanni Hidalgo and young Venezuelan dynamo Luisito Quintero on timbales. Rounding out the group is old friend Don Byron, pianist Edsel Gomez, and bassist Jerome Harris.
DeJohnette's only second University of Michigan appearance (the first being a trio gig with Keith Jarrett in 2000) brought him to the stage of the newly renovated Hill Auditorium for one of only six dates that make up this brief tour. The large rostrum offered a prime setup that allowed for everyone to be clearly seen from the audience, with Jack placed front and center. Technically, the drum-heavy ensemble presented more than its share of sound problems. In fact, the bass was barely audible much of the evening and on several occasions the piano was nearly swallowed up by the huge wave of sound emanating from the three drummers. Still, the spirit of the music somehow allowed all to be quickly forgiven as Jack and his cohorts let loose with a performance that lasted almost two and a half hours.
The evening got underway with Jack reciting a brief bit of poetry supported quietly by the ensemble. Then Hidalgo took the spotlight for a solo that would usher in Byron's "You Are Number Six."? Thanks to some clever tuning, Hidalgo not only employs great rhythmic variety but can also throw in a melodic phrase or two as he did here with quotes from "Camptown Races"? and "Manteca."? Clad in a red fez, T-shirt, and cargo pants, Byron was heard on tenor saxophone in addition to his customary clarinet.
Hidalgo again kicked off two originals by Gomez's, namely "Bayou Man"? and "Coqui Serenade."? The pianist was at his best here, using space as a dramatic device and displaying a technical virtuosity that suggested a refined sense of classical grandeur. Imagine an artful mix of the daring propensities of Cecil Taylor with the groove of Eddie Palmieri and you'll get an idea of Edsel's modus operandi. It was also on the latter of the two numbers that a particular solo sequence was set up, utilized again on several other tunes. Over a vamp figure, DeJohnette, Hidalgo, and Quintero would trade licks back and forth, building the intensity with each successive turn. These collective jams would prove to be a feast not only for the ears but also for the eyes.
Byron's arrangement of Leonard Bernstein's "Entract"? was quite unusual. Up first was an opening gambit from DeJohnette that consisted mainly of a rock backbeat on two and four, the drummer opening up the form by punctuations that spilled over the bar lines thus creating their own momentum. Gomez was at his most intense, combing Tayloresque tonal clusters with swirls of sound akin to Don Pullen's signature licks. By contrast, "Hand By Hand"? had more gloss and melodic appeal, thanks to Jerome Harris' wordless vocals. A familiar favorite, Byron's "Homegoing"? would be the evening's climax, complete with a son montuno section that boasted some of the most volatile drum solos of the evening. For his part, Quintero turned up the heat with a blur of hand motions, a few splintered sticks left on the floor as testimony to the sheer intensity of his performance.
Cooling things down only slightly, DeJohnette and crew came back to the stage for an encore. Jack's own "Six Into Four"? wrapped up an evening marked by technical virtuosity at its finest. The key point here was that none of the music sounded like an intentional stab at recreating a "salsa"? jam or other authentic groove. The Latin base was used merely as a jumping off point for the band's own particular style of improvisational music. This, in turn, contributed to the unquestionable success of what potentially could be one of DeJohnette's most promising bands.
C. Andrew Hovan