Recorded five years before his passing earlier this year, The Truth: Heard Live at the Blue Note paints a picture of Elvin Jones before ill health weakened his powerful and individual style. With an expanded version of his Jazz Machine that includes saxophonist Antoine Roney, trombonist Robin Eubanks, trumpeter Darren Barrett, pianist Carlos McKinney, long-time musical companion and bassist Gene Perla, and guest saxophonist Michael Brecker on two tracks, Jones' signature polyrhythmic approach and muscular sound are in full evidence.
Combining a couple of standards with original compositions and one significant nod to his former employer, Jones seems most intent on paying homage to the modal innovations combined with a freer rhythmic sense that stemmed from his time with saxophonist John Coltrane. Jones may be looking back, but when you are listening to a legend, it becomes irrelevant that the music is less about moving forward and more about consolidation and tribute. With a plethora of artists mining this territory on a regular basis, there is something essential about hearing it direct from the source.
It's enlightening to hear Jones' musical companions in a more straightforward context, in particular Eubanks, whose progressive edge is on constant display through his own work and with the Dave Holland Quintet. Listening to Eubanks wind his way through Thelonious Monk's "Straight, No Chaser," one is reminded that in order to move forward, one needs to have a firm basis in the tradition. McKinney, a younger player who grabbed attention on saxophonist Kenny Garrett's tour last summer, may forward his own modernist style in other contexts, but here his playing is more directly reverential, showing strong roots in McCoy Tyner. And Brecker, who contributes passionate solos to "Body and Soul" and the traditional piece arranged by Jones' wife, Keiko, "A Lullaby of Itsugo Village," demonstrates his lineage to Coltrane without losing any of his own distinctive personality.
Jones' opening solo on Keiko Jones' "Truth" is nothing short of a sixty-second history lesson, using power, dignity and incredible independence to lead into a modal workout that gives Roney the opportunity to demonstrate his keen sense of thematic development. But the highlight of the set is unquestionably Jones' interpretation of Coltrane's "Wise One," from the classic album Crescent. Perla, a bassist who seems to understand Jones completely and intuitively, draws rich tones out of his instrument during an impressionistic introduction that also features McKinney at his most evocative. On this dark and brooding trio piece, shifting from the rubato introduction into its core as a tender ballad, Jones shows that he's as much a colourist and a textural player as he is a powerful rhythmic force.
The Truth is one of Jones' last recorded performances, certainly his last as a leader. It is a fitting epitaph to an artist who inspired legions of drummers and, with Coltrane, helped push forward the boundaries of modern music. He is missed.
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