Jack DeJohnette could be described as an “architectural” drummer: he plays as if unfolding a master plan, the long corridors of his backbeat leading on all sides to little rooms containing counter-rhythms, shifting accents, and dynamic changes. His drumming can also display an unusually melodic spirit, likely due to his considerable talents for both piano and composition. All of these gifts are on display in his judiciously-chosen contribution to ECM’s Rarum compilation series.
The disc kicks off with the infectious “Third World Anthem,” featuring the Special Edition band. This track mixes big band-style horn voicings, an Afro-pop refrain, and a hopping beat with such improbable success that it is catchy enough to be a hit record. It also encapsulates much of what makes DeJohnette such a fantastic drummer: listen to his dynamics, his constant slight variations of emphasis, the way he loosens the rhythm by playing a tad behind the beat in the refrain.
“Jack In,” from 1997’s Oneness, meanders a bit too long in its smooth groove, but is nonetheless undeniably lovely. A beguiling tune from a late ‘70s Mick Goodrick album features some of DeJohnette’s most sensitive brushwork, along with wonderful baritone playing by John Surman. A duet from DeJohnette’s 1971 duo album with Keith Jarrett sounds suitably old-school, thanks to the latter’s wah-wah electric piano. For nostalgia’s sake, this is a fun inclusion, though the recent duos with Surman make for more substantial listening.
A standout track here is the mighty “How’s Never” by the Gateway trio, featuring Dave Holland and John Abercrombie. This hard rocking riff-funk, played by three of today’s most gifted jazz musicians, demolishes everything in its path, thanks equally to DeJohnette’s slamming backbeat and a incendiary solo by Abercrombie.
Jack’s softer side dominates the final three tracks. “Silver Hollow,” by the New Directions band, features a lovely combination of DeJohnette’s contemplative piano and very Miles-like muted trumpet from Lester Bowie, while “Picture 5” and “Picture 6” are from a mid-70s set of duos and solos.
Like all of the discs in the Rarum series, this is perhaps best used as a starting point for further exploration of ECM’s impressive catalogue—it is hard to imagine anyone hearing “Third World Anthem” or the Gateway track and not wanting to go back to the original records. But despite the difficulty in representing an artist as accomplished as DeJohnette in a single disc, Rarum XII provides a very enjoyable glimpse into the mind of one of our greatest living jazz musicians.
Track Listing: Third World Anthem, Jack In, Feebles, Fables and Ferns, Overture/Communion, How's Never, Silver Hollow, Picture 5,
Personnel: Jack DeJohnette: drums, piano;
John Abercrombie: guitar;
Don Alias: percussion;
Lester Bowie: trumpet;
Michael Cain: piano;
Eddie Gomez: double-bass;
Mick Goodrick: guitar;
Jerome Harris: guitar;
Dave Holland: double-bass;
Keith Jarrett: piano, electric piano;
Howard Johnson: tuba;
David Murray: tenor saxophone;
John Purcell: alto saxophone;
Rufus Reid: double-bass;
John Surman: baritone saxophone.