Jack DeJohnette always admired his peer, the late great Tony Williams (1945-97). He assembled Trio Beyond with guitarist John Scofield and keyboardist Larry Goldings, with the goal of exploring the music of the Tony Williams Lifetime from 1969, an ensemble that embraced jazz and rock, treating the combination as an entity all its own. The group's debut album, Emergency! (Polygram, 1969), featuring guitarist John McLaughlin and organist Larry Young, a potent mix of jazz and rock rhythms foreshadowed things to come. As a result of Williams' experiment, the jazz world was forever changed by Miles Davis' Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1969), where Williams was replaced by the 29-year-old DeJohnette.
Individually, the members of Trio Beyond have continually searched for ways to keep jazz relevant and vibrant. The latter is what makes Saudades so magical. Not content to just feature compositions from the Lifetime oeuvre, the trio freely examines pieces associated with Davis, John Coltrane, Joe Henderson and Larry Young, as well as a few originals, all with wonderful invention.
"If," a Henderson tune from Young's classic Unity (Blue Note, 1965), opens the set. John Scofield takes the first solo and tears it apart with slashing, angular lines, demonstrating some of his most inventive playing in years. Goldings follows with loose, post-Jimmy Smith organ that's brimming with freshness. DeJohnette, skillfully teetering around with the time, trades a raging set of fours with both players. A continuous mini set of Goldings' "As One" and Young's "Allah Be Praised" develops into the improvised title track, based on Miles' "Spanish Key," where everyone dives into a deep groove for ten minutes. Scofield is the star here, and he throws in a few bars of "Paraphenalia," the memorable Wayne Shorter composition often played by the Miles Davis quintet, in his adventurous solo.
The highlight of disc one is the version of John McLaughlin's "Spectrum," where the tune takes a detour, going into raucous avant-garde improvisation before settling down for a lengthy DeJohnette solo. The drummer slowly builds momentum playing his custom-made resonating bells, later unleashing a signature furious percussion assault.
Disc two has many highlights as well, especially Victor Feldman's "Seven Steps to Heaven," perhaps best known as the piece introducing the rhythm section of Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams to Davis' quintet. This arrangement uses a Latin vamp for the head over DeJohnette's skittering, massive fills between melody statements. All three stretch out over ecstatic swing. One of Miles' favorite mid-period ballads, "I Fall In Love Too Easily," morphs into a smoky improvisation titled "Love in Blues," featuring some of Sco's best playing on the album in a McLaughlin-esque vein. The closer, "Emergency," is given a volatile exploration with DeJohnette's meter-disrupting flurries, Scofield's effects and Goldings' bizarre triggered vocal samples.
As a whole, this is a tribute done the right way. DeJohnette, Scofield and Goldings all lend their distinctive personalities, becoming a solid unit without merely imitating the artists or songs to which they pay tribute. Surely one the best jazz releases of 2006, this will be in your player a long time.
Personnel: John Scofield: guitar; Larry Goldings: Hammond Organ, electric piano, sampler; Jack DeJohnette: drums.