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Interviews

Jack DeJohnette: Time and Space

By Published: January 9, 2012

Relationship with ECM

Between high-profile work with pianist Bill Evans
Bill Evans
Bill Evans
1929 - 1980
piano
, Charles Lloyd and Miles Davis—first appearing on the trumpeter's seminal Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970) and then on a string of albums that culminated in another Davis high point, On the Corner (Columbia, 1972)—DeJohnette found himself in constant demand by the early 1970s, recording with everyone from guitarist George Benson
George Benson
George Benson
b.1943
guitar
and pianist Chick Corea
Chick Corea
Chick Corea
b.1941
piano
to bassist Miroslav Vitous
Miroslav Vitous
Miroslav Vitous
b.1947
bass
and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard
Freddie Hubbard
Freddie Hubbard
1938 - 2008
trumpet
. But of all the relationships that the drummer has forged, it's his ongoing partnership with ECM's Manfred Eicher that has been, perhaps, the most consistent and, in his participation on over 50 recordings for the label, the one place most representative of his broad musical concerns, from recordings with Keith Jarrett's ongoing Standards Trio with bassist Gary Peacock
Gary Peacock
Gary Peacock
b.1935
bass
, the collaborative, on-again, off-again Gateway trio with Dave Holland and guitarist John Abercrombie
John Abercrombie
John Abercrombie
b.1944
guitar
, and work with British saxophonist/clarinetist John Surman
John Surman
John Surman
b.1944
saxophone
, to lesser-known gems like pianist Richie Beirach
Richie Beirach
Richie Beirach
b.1947
piano
's Elm (1979), guitarist Mick Goodrick
Mick Goodrick
Mick Goodrick
b.1945
guitar, electric
's In Pas(s)ing (1979) and Gary Peacock's Voices from the Past: Paradigm (1982).


Keith Jarrett Standards Trio, from left:
Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette


He's performed on ECM classics including saxophonist Jan Garbarek
Jan Garbarek
Jan Garbarek
b.1947
sax, tenor
's Places (1978), Abercrombie's Timeless (1975) and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler
Kenny Wheeler
Kenny Wheeler
b.1930
trumpet
's award-winning Gnu High (1976), as well as Pat Metheny's 80/81 (1980) and guitarist Ralph Towner
Ralph Towner
Ralph Towner
b.1940
guitar
's Batik (1978), in addition to releasing 13 albums as a leader/co-leader, including the desperately-in-need-of-CD-issue titles with his Directions band— Untitled (1976) and New Rags (1977)—and classics of his own, including Special Edition (1980) and, most recently, Saudades (2004), his Trio Beyond tribute to the late Tony Williams
Tony Williams
Tony Williams
1945 - 1997
drums
, also featuring guitarist John Scofield
John Scofield
John Scofield
b.1951
guitar
and organist Larry Goldings
Larry Goldings
Larry Goldings
b.1968
keyboard
.

Looking back at DeJohnette's output as a leader, not all of it is on ECM, but that's the very nature of a label that doesn't sign long-term contracts with its artists—each album is a discrete, one-off contract. Instead, if a project fits Eicher's overall aesthetic, then it may end up on the label; if not, artists are largely free to release them elsewhere. It was for this reason, among others, that DeJohnette started his Golden Beams label, which has released half a dozen recordings to date, ranging from more jazz-centric albums like 2006's live duo date with Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
b.1951
guitar
, The Elephant Sleeps But Still Remembers, and 2009's studio date with pianist Danilo Perez
Danilo Perez
Danilo Perez
b.1966
piano
and bassist John Patitucci
John Patitucci
John Patitucci
b.1959
bass
, Music We Are, to recordings intended for mediation/healing, including 2009's Grammy Award-winning Peace Time and 2005's Music in the Key of Ohm.

But while it's been 15 years since he last released an album as a leader on ECM (1997's Oneness), DeJohnette still considers the door open, should an appropriate project arise. "Manfred has had a big influence on globalization and keeping the quality of the music at a high level," DeJohnette asserts. "And the creative aspect of it—he's pretty open, and has introduced a lot of new players who might otherwise not get exposed. Manfred is the most prolific producer on the planet, and he's produced a thousand records, with the New Series and the other eclectic stuff he does. The volume of what he does is overwhelming—and was a big problem for American labels when it got distribution deals, because the label had so many records coming out, and with artists from all over the world."

Jarrett's Standards Trio first came together on Peacock's Tales of Another (1977), but It was at Eicher's suggestion that they reunite in 1983 for the sessions that led to three recordings, recently collected on the 2008 Setting Standards box. And while DeJohnette, Holland and Abercrombie had all played together in a variety of contexts, it was at Eicher's suggestion that they come together as Gateway in 1975, last releasing their fourth album, the all-improv In the Moment, in 1996. "Manfred is great at putting combinations together—different people—and Gateway turned out to be a good one. To this day, people keep asking, 'When is Gateway gonna get back together again?' Dave [Holland] just lost his dear wife of many years a few weeks ago [Fall, 2011]. He's recovering from that, but we did talk about the possibility of getting together to see how it feels. Maybe we'll do something; we'll see how it goes."

John McLaughlin
John McLaughlin
John McLaughlin
b.1942
guitar
and John Surman.

"Dave and I hooked up harmonically and rhythmically," DeJohnette continues, "because Dave had been playing with pianist Chris McGregor and the Brotherhood of Breath
Brotherhood of Breath
b.1969
band/orchestra
; he'd been playing with a South African drummer [Louis Moholo-Moholo], so he'd been playing some South African music, which opened up his rhythmical concept [note: this was actually the Chris McGregor Group, also featuring Moholo-Moholo]. We immediately got into that, and extended it into when we started playing with Miles, and also with the Gateway trio, where we really have this way of staggering and playing with rhythm and time; we have a lot of fun with that [chuckles]. Time is implied, and is passed around. If you listen to Gateway, the way we break up the time—all three of us, in our own ways—is different than the way Keith [Jarrett] would do it. But one of the things I've always liked about John [Abercrombie] and Dave is that I like to mess up the rhythm—agitate it, shake it up, transform it, morph it, do different things with it—because time is space, so we're dealing with time and space; we're taking time and making it spacious, expanding it."

There are many considerations when it comes to determining whether or not a project is suitable for ECM. With relatively low budgets and a typical modus operandi of two days to record and one day to mix, larger projects like Music for the Fifth World would simply not be possible. "I was always straight with Manfred," says DeJohnette. "I'd say [referring to 1990's Parallel Realities], 'I've gotta do this project with Pat [Metheny], and I need a bigger budget than what you can give.' That way, I always let him know what my plans are, and if he's interested, then we can do it together. That's the way it's always been; I can always do a project for ECM when I want to. Manfred keeps saying, 'Let's get into the studio and do something,' and maybe we will, when something comes up that makes sense. So the door is always open. I am still affiliated with ECM—there's still an ongoing relationship with projects like Trio Beyond, where I asked if he was interested, and he said, 'Yeah,' and it came out and was successful."


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