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Interviews

Jack DeJohnette: Time and Space

By Published: January 9, 2012

The Jack DeJohnette Group

Like many of his contemporaries, DeJohnette has built, over the years, an expanding cadre of trusted musicians, on whom he can call when the project feels right. He put together the Jack DeJohnette Group in 2010, for a summer tour and the Live at Yoshi's 2010 download, bringing together some old and new friends, for a quintet that has the textural breadth, improvisational chops and big ears, to perform new music while putting a fresh face on some of DeJohnette's back catalog, dating as far back as "One for Eric," from Special Edition.


Sound Travels recording session, from left: Luisito Quintero, Jack DeJohnette,
Lionel Loueke, Esperanza Spalding, Jason Moran, Tim Ries


Among a group of outstanding players that also includes guitarist David Fiuczynski
David Fiuczynski
David Fiuczynski
b.1964
guitar
, saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa
Rudresh Mahanthappa
Rudresh Mahanthappa
b.1971
sax, alto
and keyboardist George Colligan
George Colligan
George Colligan
b.1969
keyboard
, it's bassist/guitarist Jerome Harris
Jerome Harris
Jerome Harris
b.1953
bass
who goes back the furthest with DeJohnette. "Jerome is a guitarist [in addition to being a bassist]: he has a degree in classical guitar," says DeJohnette. "He is also an accomplished vocalist—along with his wife Jezra, a helluva vocalist—which I plan to utilize a little more, as he does vocalese, sings lyrics, has a good range and can do overtones. He's so multitalented and interested in all kinds of musical genres, from Indian and Moroccan to African and Afro-Cuban. He's worked with me quite a bit, and he's worn both caps as guitarist and bassist in different situations. He's a member of a lot of groups—he's also played bass and guitar with Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
b.1930
saxophone
, and he was in [saxophonist] Oliver Lake
Oliver Lake
Oliver Lake
b.1942
saxophone
's Jump Up band. He sings, he plays percussion, he's a beautiful composer and is very, very knowledgeable about the history of many things.

"He's just a remarkable human being," DeJohnette continues. "When he first joined me, it took him a little while to get used to playing with me, to get comfortable playing with me, but now he knows exactly what to do. He's so understated, but what he does is so out there. He dialogues, he knows how to play support, he knows how to play certain grooves, he swings great; and rhythmically, he's very astute. He knows when one note is the right note. He knows how to interact as a team player, and how to step out when it's time to step out. He sometimes helps by making suggestions with some of my tunes; he's just somebody I can always count on, and I don't have to worry. I can focus on what I want to play, I can create with Jerome. George Colligan is also great—not only at being a pianist; he's also a great drummer, and plays trumpet—plays really good trumpet, as a matter of fact. I keep encouraging him to bring his pocket trumpet and play it with us.

"I've written new music as well, but this band is a great combination for revisiting some of my older music, because Rudresh and Dave and George and Jerome, they bring some new creative energy to these pieces. It's fun playing these compositions. It's a chance to learn to play them again; I had to relearn them. But they're fun to play, because the music changes moods, it changes feels, there's all these different musical stories with my compositions that are fun to play with these players."

With a reputation that, in many ways, exceeds his visibility with the larger jazz public, Fiuczynski is another collaborator in a group of players who all deserve far greater recognition, but his remarkable stylistic reach on Live at Yoshi's may surprise even those who believe they know what he's about. "Fiuczynski's very broad," says DeJohnette. "He can play bebop; he can play swing; he can do those Spanish flamenco things. He's also involved with this microtonal system [using a custom-built, fretless electric guitar]. Actually, a lot of my pieces are perfect for applying the microtonal system. So you have Rudresh [Mahanthappa], who's got his Indian concepts with quarter tones, and George [Colligan]—he has a program that can detune his keyboards. So everybody can play in microtonal mode.

"The microtonal concept is interesting to me from a healing point of view, and from an atmospheric-frequency point of view," DeJohnette continues. "I have a relationship with a musician/composer/scientist, John Beaulieu, who makes tuning forks, and he's an amazing guy; he's into frequencies and sound because of working with his Cymatics series of tuning forks and music of the spheres. I played him the band using microtonal systems and, at first, it might sound like it's out of tune, but what it does is it realigns your whole system. You might not know it—it works in subtle ways—but it will make some kind of subconscious change in your life. You don't have to do any work; it just goes there.

"There are people now who are making acoustic pianos that you can actually change and create different scales," DeJohnette concludes. "There is also a microtonal piano— there's a guy on YouTube, he talks in geek terms, but if you see it—instead of piano keys it's got these octagonal keys, black and white, across about five or six octaves."


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