Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for 1,000 backers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!

671

Soundtrack to a Legend: Jack Johnson & Jack DeJohnette in London

Daniel Spicer By

Sign in to view read count
The 63-year old DeJohnette astonishes with a pounding, relentless funk-rock attack, proving that, if nothing else, his stamina remains undiminished.
Jack Johnson: Soundtrack to a Legend
The Barbican
London, UK
May 30, 2005
Drummer Jack DeJohnette was a driving force in helping to take Miles Davis's music into interesting realms in the 1970s, providing a fluid yet powerful backbone that somehow combined funk, free jazz and rock on such overdriven masterpieces as 1970's Live Evil. Thus, though DeJohnette is not credited as playing on Miles's album A Tribute to Jack Johnson, his presence here tonight lends a certain authenticity to the project in hand: live accompaniment for a rare screening of William Cayton's legendary 1971 documentary charting the life of the first black heavyweight boxing champion of the world, for which Miles provided the original soundtrack.
This one-off performance sees DeJohnette teamed up with four of the British scene's hottest young musicians - saxophonist Jason Yarde; trumpeter and multi-instrumentalist Byron Wallen; David Okumu on guitar; and Neville Malcolm holding down the bass - playing the results of three days' intensive wood-shedding in London.
Of course, much has already been made of how Miles's enthusiasm for boxing and admiration for the flamboyant and indefatigable Jack Johnson helped provoke some of his punchiest playing and led to the creation of a crunching jazz-rock masterpiece. With all this history behind them, DeJohnette and his collaborators wisely choose not to attempt to recreate Miles's classic themes, but rather to take them as a jumping off point, the essential spark of inspiration from which to push further in re-imagining and augmenting Miles's canonical work. In fact, for the most part, this band respectfully drops out for the sections of the film in which Miles's pieces come to the fore, often picking up the threads and moving the music forward as the recording fades out. So powerful is the influence of these original jams, however, that the newer interpretations mostly maintain the gritty, open-ended, rock inflected feel of the originals.

But there's more to it than simply jamming for 90 minutes; throughout the film, there are a whole range of interesting arrangements, designed specifically to complement the action. Most obviously, DeJohnette has a nice line in tumbling drum rolls to accompany the plentiful fight footage, a technique that helps to emphasise the devastating effect of a heavyweight attack, with a cymbal crash backing up each stinging jab, the percussive barrage building to a crescendo as Johnson's opponents invariably hit the canvas.

Elsewhere, the band launches into a galloping hard-bop sprint for some horse racing footage, and a crashing, free-jazz cacophony for a motor-racing sequence. Most satisfyingly, Neville Malcolm kicks off a brief but very deep modal stomper on the double bass to back up a short sequence featuring Johnson playing his own 'seven foot bass fiddle.' While these interpretations are fairly obvious and irresistible, at the other extreme, the band also understands the use of restraint - lapsing into chilly silence when the screen carries the eerie images of Klansmen burning crosses in the Deep South night.

The point is that it works: the soundtrack performance moves the action along at an exhilarating pace. It doesn't even seem to matter that the odd line of commentary gets lost - the film manages to maintain a dramatic tension thanks to the inventive and entirely apt improvising taking place. As a piece of cinema, the film is already an adrenalin fuelled, hallucinatory oddity: by turns a documentary, a dramatisation, a history lesson, a biography, a sports flick and a great mythologising of an African American hero; it rarely stays in one place long enough to be pinned down. With this new soundtrack to pep it up even more, the story just flies by, making its inexorable way towards the poignant deflation of Johnson's legend, as old age and poverty take hold and the spotlight moves on to newer heroes for different times.

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read We Jazz: Moveable Feast Fest Theory Live Reviews We Jazz: Moveable Feast Fest Theory
by Josef Woodard
Published: December 16, 2017
Read Anat Cohen Tentet at SFJAZZ Live Reviews Anat Cohen Tentet at SFJAZZ
by Harry S. Pariser
Published: December 16, 2017
Read We Jazz Festival 2017 Live Reviews We Jazz Festival 2017
by Anthony Shaw
Published: December 16, 2017
Read Mary Ellen Desmond: Comfort and Joy 2017 Live Reviews Mary Ellen Desmond: Comfort and Joy 2017
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: December 15, 2017
Read Jazztopad Festival 2017 Live Reviews Jazztopad Festival 2017
by Henning Bolte
Published: December 13, 2017
Read Vivian Reed at Feinstein's/54 Below Live Reviews Vivian Reed at Feinstein's/54 Below
by Tyran Grillo
Published: December 12, 2017
Read "Balé Folclórico de Bahia at Zellerbach Hall" Live Reviews Balé Folclórico de Bahia at Zellerbach Hall
by Harry S. Pariser
Published: March 19, 2017
Read "Internationales Jazz Festival Münster 2017" Live Reviews Internationales Jazz Festival Münster 2017
by Henning Bolte
Published: January 26, 2017
Read "Anat Cohen Tentet at SFJAZZ" Live Reviews Anat Cohen Tentet at SFJAZZ
by Harry S. Pariser
Published: December 16, 2017
Read "Kim Nalley's Tribute to Nina Simone" Live Reviews Kim Nalley's Tribute to Nina Simone
by Walter Atkins
Published: March 31, 2017
Read "The Chris Robinson Brotherhood at Higher Ground" Live Reviews The Chris Robinson Brotherhood at Higher Ground
by Doug Collette
Published: November 11, 2017

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!