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All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

From the Inside Out


By Published: October 2, 2003

Six takes of “Willie Nelson” dominate disc one, with Holland the fulcrum from which everything swings; as the takes progress, drummer DeJohnette grows more and more elastic, introducing snare rolls and pops that crackle like electricity. The guitar chords and rhythm interplay between McLaughlin, Holland and DeJohnette in “Johnny Bratton” boast a munchy, crunchy rock sound; this small group closes disc one as a power guitar trio on an agonized slow blues, “Archie Moore.”

“Moore” foreshadows disc two, which McLaughlin also dominates through the five different “Go Ahead John” takes, one take as another tortured electric blues, and his dance with Davis in “Duran (Take Four),” a serpentine of spitting fury. Disc three presents four takes of “Yesternow” and two of “Right Off,” the raw material from which Davis and producer Teo Macero formed the versions that appear at the end of disc five as the released Jack Johnson album.

Much of disc four consists of various “Little Church,” “Selim,” and “Nem Um Talvez” takes, precooking the sound cauldron that boils over on the subsequent album Live-Evil where finished takes of these songs first appeared. But there’s new music, too: “Little High People” dance through two pleasant movements that sound like outtakes from Medeski Martin & Wood’s Combustication jam-boree, plus “Ali (Take Four),” which mutates the bass line to “Who Knows” (from Hendrix’ Band of Gypsies songbook) and features Davis absolutely SCREAMing through his trumpet, run through echoplexer so it shrieks, howling into Jarrett’s harsh electric keyboard sound to scramble a sound omelet.

The Message?
Davis’ creative process – essentially jamming to sketches that explore the sounds and rhythms of rock and funk with the harmonic and improvisational tools of his jazz craft – was not without risk. “The Mask,” a freakout fueled by the dual electric keyboards of Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea processed through wah-wah and ring modulator, sounds like Sun Ra having a bad ear day. Especially in this raw form, The Complete Jack Johnson can sometimes sound a bit messy, but considering its sound and fury, this seems a reasonable price to pay.

What did Davis think of these sessions? In some form or another, this material ended up on five different albums ( Jack Johnson, Live-Evil, Big Fun, Get Up With It, and the compilation Directions ), so he must have thought them worthwhile.

The jazz on The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions comes not from what Davis and the band play, but from the way that they play it. They rock as hard and funky as any funk or rock band, but Jack Johnson is not a funk record or a rock record.

When is a jazz record not a jazz record?

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