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Jack DeJohnette: Return

Karl Ackermann By

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The only thing that Jack DeJohnette seems to have forgotten in his maturing years, is that, by the law of nature, he is supposed to be slowing down. Instead, as the composer/multi-instrumentalist heads toward his mid-seventies, he is as productive as he has ever been in his long, celebrated career. His releases over the past twelve months, include In Movement (ECM, 2016), a probing trio collection with saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and bassist/electronic artist Matthew Garrison, the raucous quintet outing Made in Chicago (ECM Records, 2015) and the fifty-year old Bill Evans Trio discovery, Some Other Time: The Lost Session From the Black Forest (Resonance Records, 2016). DeJohnette puts the sticks aside for this solo piano album, Return, a collection of ten all-acoustic compositions, two new, one cover, and the remainder being reinterpretations of older DeJohnette compositions.

A note about Newvelle Records: it is a new, subscription based label out of New York and founded by jazz pianist by Elan Mehler and Parisian, Jean-Christophe Morisseau. Newvelle is a vinyl-only jazz label pressed on 180g vinyl. These are quality, high-end recordings at a premium price. To date, the Frank Kimbrough Quintet, Noah Preminger Quartet and Ben Allison Trio are among the five featured releases. Though some audio aficionados may question the use of digital recording (Newvelle's method) over analog, Return indicates that the quality is pristine.

Return is not DeJohnette's first piano album. He played piano and synthesizer on The Jack DeJohnette Piano Album (Landmark, 1985) leaving the drumming in the hands of Freddie Waits. He also played piano on two tracks on In Movement but in the intervening thirty years, the keyboard was used infrequently on recordings, primarily being DeJohnette's composing device.

One of two new compositions, "Ode to Satie," is inspired by the French composer's Gymnopédies, three piano compositions sharing a common theme. From Inflation Blues (ECM, 1983), the Special Edition group featuring Chico Freeman and Rufus Reid, comes "Ebony." A wholly different arrangement, stripped down and using unusual meters gives the piece a new life. The original "Silver Hollow" (New Directions ECM, 1978) featured John Abercrombie and Lester Bowie but with DeJohnette on piano, the versions bear strong similarities. "Lydia," a piece DeJohnette dedicates to his wife and muse, dates back to 1977 but in the solo piano rendition takes on a heightened level of emotion. From that same year, "Blue" has been recorded several times by DeJohnette; this time in a minor key adding a more somber shade to the piece.

Sufi dancers were the inspiration for "Dervish Trance," the other original composition on Return, reflects the transformation to mindfulness experienced by the dancers as they lose themselves in a steady, whirling motion. The atmospheric "Indigo Dreamscapes," a moody piece that first appeared on Parallel Realities (MCA, 1990) loses the funky fusion styling originally supplied by Herbie Hancock. DeJohnette's new interpretation is warm and melodic, sounding as though it were always meant to be recorded this way. "Song for World Forgiveness" and "Exotic Isles" are quietly uplifting while the closing piece, "Ponta de Areia," written by Brazilian Milton Nascimento, is a beautiful lullaby-like tune and a perfect way to take Return out.

DeJohnette's 1985 album struck many listeners as a revelation, especially those not knowing that the drummer had begun his career as a pianist. While it was clear with ...Piano Album that DeJohnette was not merely engaging in a vanity project, Return is something else again. The compositions, while translated in an unpretentious way, often sound simpler than they are. In DeJohnette's album notes, he acknowledges that he did not overthink the process of recording the album, saying that he wanted the flow to be natural; the title referring to a return to uncomplicated beauty. He has achieved just that.

Track Listing: Side A: Ode to Satie; Ebony; Silver Hollow; Lydia; Blue. Side B: Dervish Trance; Indigo Dreamscapes; Song for World Forgiveness; Exotic Isles; Ponta de Areia.

Personnel: Jack DeJohnette: piano.

Title: Return | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Newvelle Records

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