Drummer/pianist/composer/bandleader Jack DeJohnette turns seventy this year, and his longevity on the scene is only eclipsed by the astonishing variety of settings in which he's worked. Since emerging from his hometown Chicago, the ubiquitous drummer has played with important artists including saxophonist Charles Lloyd, trumpeter Miles Davis and pianists Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett (with whom he still works today). And then there are his wonderfully eclectic Special Edition groupsalways on the cutting edge. Although anyone could hear his crisp technique, what makes DeJohnette such a powerful and profound drummer is his telepathic ability to find the right groovethe vital rhythmic center, the musical middle paththat augments the swing factor of whatever musical context in which he's working.
DeJohnette's gifts as a multidirectional musician are on full display on this nine-track recording that dances and trances in myriad tones and tempos. At this stage of his career, DeJohnette has nothing to prove, drum-wise, so the overall tantric timbre of Sound Travels is mostly mid-tempo, with some ballad selections. But this does not mean that the CD is a snoozerfar from it. Thanks to DeJohnette's uncanny (for an American) mastery of Afro-Latin rhythms and the melodic nature of his drummingmade manifest by his also being an acclaimed pianistthe leader opens and concludes Sound Travels with two solo piano selections: the Asian-tinged, bell-intro'd, "Enter Here," and the reflective, Cape Town-cadenced "Home"a nod to the great South African piano master Abdullah Ibrahim. Save for the hypnotic "Oneness," laced with guest vocalist Bobby McFerrin's vivid vocalese, the Spain-sketched blues "New Muse," and "Dirty Ground"a Mardi Gras Indian, Big Easy shout-out christened by Tim Ries' second line soprano sax phrases, topped by the Crescent City-style vocals of Bruce Hornsbythe remainder of Sound Travels is a percussive, Pan-African affair.
"Salsa for Luisito," is a sexy medium-tempo track featuring spry, pixie-ish vocals from bassist Esperanza Spalding that would be welcome in New York's Spanish Harlem or Miami's Calle Ocho. On "Sonny Light" and the title track, DeJohnette delivers a Calypso-coded "big up" to the West Indian-descended Saxophone Colossus, Sonny Rollins. "Indigo Dreamscapes"first heard on DeJohnette's Parallel Realities (MCA, 1990), featuring guitarist Pat Metheny and keyboardist Herbie Hancockis revived here in a more organic, acoustic setting, highlighted by guest Jason Moran's probing pianism and Ries' silken tenor.
Throughout Sound Travels, DeJohnetteparticularly with Venezuelan percussionist Luisito Quinteroestablishes the groove, morphing and shaping it, and extending it with such seeming ease and panache that is reminiscent of that old commercial tag line "so advanced its simple." But then, that's what masters like Jack DeJohnette do.
Enter Here; Salsa for Luisito; Dirty Ground; New Muse; Sonny Light; Sound Travels; Oneness; Indigo Dreamscapes; Home.
Jack DeJohnette: piano (1-7, 9), drums (2-6, 8), resonating bell (1), vocal (2), keyboards (3); Tim Ries: tenor saxophone (2, 3, 5, 8), soprano saxophone (3, 4); Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet (2, 4, 5); Lionel Loueke: guitar (2, 3, 5, 6); Esperanza Spalding: bass (2-6, 8), vocal (2, 3); Luisito Quintero: percussion (2-8), vocal (2); Bruce Hornsby: vocal (3); Bobby McFerrin: vocal (7); Jason Moran: piano (8).