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Jack DeJohnette: Colors, Grooves, Golden Beams

By Published: August 14, 2006
AAJ: Well, you've got gigs booked for this year.

JD: We're touring Europe. We may play New York next year—we might try playing the Blue Note. I'm not sure; we're thinking about that.

AAJ: I asked about the other two musicians, but what about you? Is there anything in particular in your playing that this group brings out?

JD: Yeah, most definitely. It gives me a chance to play full-throttle. More than normal. Well, not normal, but more than you hear me, say, with Keith Jarrett or appearing on some other records as a guest artist in a more supportive role. I'm more extroverted here. And here it fits, because the volume level, the dynamic level and the creative level all match. So it's a great place for me to open up, because I don't have to worry about overpowering anything. It's definitely a power trio in that sense. So, yeah, it's great for me, and I'm happy that people can get a chance to hear this side of me where I'm drumming more than normal. People who know I play the drums really well get a chance to hear how well I really play them [laughing].

AAJ: I recognize that you might still be playing these songs, or you might be miles beyond at this point.

Jack DeJohnetteJD: Well, at the moment we're still doing that material. Plus we'll throw in some other tunes that aren't on the CD. We do Wayne Shorter's "Fall or "Delores, or "Moontrane, from Larry Young's Unity album—that tune by Woody Shaw. So we have other things in the repertoire that we throw in. John has a nice up-tempo blues. We've got more than enough material to keep it fresh.

AAJ: "Spectrum is one of my big favorites here. It's a McLaughlin tune from the first Lifetime record. I really like the actual composition here—I love the harmonies that the band gets to play through and I love how it goes from that tight, crunching group tempo into the abstract second section. It sort of blurs its way into that. It's downright psychedelic in this part with its organ swells, drum rolls, guitar electronics, and that backwards effect of John's. Any insights into this one?

JD: No, you kind of spelled it out. That's it—that's what happened. I think the music speaks for itself. I have no analytical thing about it, except that it's exploratory and there's a strong sense of compositional symmetry, and we just keep our ears and our hearts open. We follow where the music takes us.

AAJ: I think one place it takes you is the blues. "I Fall in Love too Easily brings out a sweet bluesy side of the group, and the improv "Love in Blues sort of develops out of that one. When improv pieces occur, do they sort of flower—like this one seems to—organically from the known material?

JD: Yeah. We kind of thrive off of that. Maybe we might do something at the beginning or at the end of a piece. There's always something that happens—a vamp, or some kind of mood that we'll follow and develop. We look forward to that, to that expanding on a theme.

AAJ: I'm glad you're doing "Emergency, because I think some people might have forgotten about that tune, and that tune is such a classic. I've always loved that four-note vamp riff.

JD: Oh, yeah, man! And I really think we got to the essence there of what the original Lifetime was playing on that on the original. We got the flavor of it, but then we took it beyond that, too. Or at least we like to think we did, anyway.

AAJ: The music from that record is now a couple of years old. Has anything changed besides the band just becoming more and more gelled?

JD: Well, yeah. I answered that for you earlier when I told you that at those two concerts, Larry and John were playing technically more fluently. There's a big level of growth that's happened.

AAJ: I do think you thrive in trio settings. The Gateway trio, Jarrett's Standards Trio—

JD: Trios and duos.

AAJ: Do you think you have an affinity for those two settings?

JD: It seems that way. A trio is a magic number, you know. It's like the triangle. And with a duo, as well, there's an intimacy that happens. Again, it depends on the chemistry.

AAJ: You recently formed your own independent record label, Golden Beams Productions, which started releasing product in 2004, I believe.

JD: I guess it was the end of 2004. We've put out four releases since then. Some might say that that's a lot, but the reason for that is that a lot of the stuff is kind of diversified. The first one is a relaxation/meditation CD, Music in the Key of Om (Golden Beams, 2004), which actually got nominated for a Grammy! That was kind of a surprise. That's a project that I'd written for my wife Lydia and her healing work. I made it an hour long so people could really relax. I am definitely into music and sound for healing modalities.

The second CD was Music From the Hearts of the Masters (Golden Beams, 2005), with [kora player] Foday Musa Suso. The first time I'd heard him was on a record with Herbie Hancock about 20 years ago, when he was on Columbia—Village Life (Columbia, 1984). Herbie'd just gotten into electronics, with the synths, and they went into the studio and just improvised. Well, Foday actually wrote some songs for that, and we do one of them, "Moon/Light. He's a longstanding member of the Philip Glass Ensemble, and he also composes. He has his own group, the Mandingo Griot Society, and he lives in Chicago. He's been in the States for 20 years or so and goes home to his native Gambia for the winter months.

Anyway, when I heard that record, I really wanted to play with Foday, and by chance about three or four years ago, I was in London and I got ahold of him at this concert there, and said, "hey man, let's get together. He said, "yeah, I'm coming up to New York, and when I come up, I'll go up to your place and we'll do something. I have a professional studio in my house, and he came up, stayed for four days, and the results are what you hear on that CD. It's a different direction; it's more about the grooves. I think that Foday's one of the best jazz kora players around in the African sense. And in a jazz sense too, but not in a bebop or straight-ahead sense—in a unique sense all his own. When I play these grooves, it fires him up and stimulates him and then he feeds me; we go back and forth. Since we did that CD, it's now a trio—it has Jerome Harris in it.

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