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Jack DeJohnette: Sound Travels

John Kelman By

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Turning 70 and being awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowship would be enough to make 2012 a special year for Jack DeJohnette, but Sound Travels transcends mere celebration of the veteran drummer/pianist/bandleader's broad swath of accomplishments since emerging, in the mid-1960s, with saxophonist Charles Lloyd's massively successful quartet.

His first album to equitably balance piano and drums—including the meditative "Enter Here" and South African/gospel-tinged "Home," solo piano pieces which bookend the set, DeJohnette actually plays piano on more tracks (eight) then drums (six)—would also be enough to render Sound Travels noteworthy in his discography. But with a core group of younger stars, including two still in their twenties—Grammy Award-winning bassist Esperanza Spalding and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire—this is DeJohnette's most unrepentantly eclectic date since the unfairly overlooked Music for the Fifth World (Manhattan, 1992) and his most readily accessible since Parallel Realities (MCA, 1990).

Accessible, however, needn't suggest artistic compromise. "New Muse," with its Phrygian tinge and shifting bars, leads into a simmering middle section where saxophonist Tim Ries turns in a powerhouse performance on soprano which—bolstered by DeJohnette's effortless swing, locked in-the-pocket with Spalding and percussionist Luisito Quintero—may surprise those only familiar with his work touring with and recording music by the Rolling Stones. "Sonny Light" conjoins its namesake, saxophonist Sonny Rollins' calypso predilections with some West African highlife, courtesy of Lionel Loueke. Elsewhere, the Beninese guitarist stretches beyond type with his B.B. King-informed playing on a joyously funkified song originally (and appropriately) titled "Seven Four" by DeJohnette, before he recruited singer/songwriter Bruce Hornsby to pen and sing the uplifting lyrics to what ultimately became the post-Katrina "Dirty Ground."

Sound Travels' brief title track captures the village atmosphere producer Robert Sadin encouraged during the recording sessions, by bringing the musicians together in a small room to work on finding their collective groove, while "Oneness" revisits a track originally performed by a different trio—Gateway, DeJohnette's collective with bassist Dave Holland and guitarist John Abercrombie—on Homecoming (ECM, 1995). Here, as Quintero and guest vocalist Bobby McFerrin fluidly interact with DeJohnette's lyrical pianism, the song hints at the broader cultural concerns that give the multifarious Sound Travels its conceptual—and spiritual—focus.

Guest Jason Moran assumes the piano chair on a breezy rework of Parallel Realities' "Indigo Dreamscapes," while "Salsa for Luisito" is a highlight for the entire core sextet—Akinmusire soaring over a dance-ready groove, Spalding's soft vocal improv meshing with a layered, three-part harmony vocal from the bassist, Quintero and DeJohnette, and the drummer laying down a piano track that makes clear his choice to keep the instrument secondary in his career has been just that: a choice.

As he heads into his eighth decade on the planet and approaches his sixth in music, DeJohnette is clearly healthy, happy and on a creative roll. Sound Travels is a powerful celebration, culmination and affirmation of an artist who may be paying it forward to his younger players, but remains the humble and appreciative reciprocal recipient on a collaborative date where there's little to prove but plenty to say.

Track Listing: Enter Here; Salsa for Luisito; Dirty Ground; New Muse; Sonny Light; Sound Travels; Oneness; Indigo Dreamscapes; Home.

Personnel: 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).

Title: Sound Travels | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: eOne Music

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