The Jack DeJohnette Trio show at the Bearsville Theater on Saturday, August 16 is time in reverse: a fitting metaphor for one of jazz’s most rhythmically liberated and freewheeling players. The virtuoso drummer was ranked, anecdotally, by Allmusic.com as the third-most-important modern jazz drummer, after Elvin Jones and Tony Williams, whatever that means. For this date (a benefit for Family of Woodstock), Jack teams with the children of the men who gave him his start: saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, son of John and Alice, and bassist/electronics man Matthew Garrison, son of legendary Coltrane bassist Jimmy Garrison.
DeJohnette seems to have his sticks stuck right in the center of every significant development in jazz in the second half of the 20th century. As a young man, he played a little with Coltrane and, most famously, with Miles Davis on the trumpeter’s essential (and polarizing) early fusion records, Bitches Brew and On the Corner. Early in his career, DeJohnette also distinguished himself in the highly interactive piano trio setting, eventually recording with the likes of Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Alice Coltrane, Chick Corea and should I just stop now?
But I can’t just stop now, for that would leave out DeJohnette’s essential role in the development of the impressionistic world jazz associated with the ECM label and others; and in this story, DeJohnette was far more than “just a drummer.” He worked as bandleader and composer with his own ensemble on the New Directions records and as player and contributing composer with the legendary and Woodstockcentric Gateway trio (with Dave Holland and John Abercrombie). You had to be careful with those New Directions records: If you were looking for some proto-New Age, melodic folk/jazz, you might get what you wanted; or you might end up dropping your dollars on some truly free, dissonant exploratory stuff. If you did, I hope that you gave it a chance.
He collaborated with world-jazz pioneers Ralph Towner and Colin Walcott of the band Oregon and with the great experimental electric guitarist Terje Rypdal. He has released several fine sessions as a pianist (and will be playing some piano at the Bearsville show). His overlooked 1990 trio record with Pat Metheny and Herbie Hancock, Parallel Realities – on which DeJohnette is the featured composer – is a disc that I personally spun into dust. You get the picture, and if you don’t, let’s drop a few more names that Jack has prominently recorded with: Desmond, Getz, Rollins, Stitt, Hubbard, Szabo, Shorter, Bley, Marsalis, Burrell, Henderson, Hutcherson, Bill Cosby…okay, I’ll stop with Bill Cosby ‘cause I just don’t understand that at all.
To watch DeJohnette play drums is to witness such utter musical liberation, imagination and four-limb independence that it can actually be a pretty disorienting experience for mortal ears. He may be the ultimate in empathic and interactive drummers, seemingly engaged in three or more independent musical dialogues at all times, making a mockery of straight time, not terribly worried about whether you and I know where the one is. Confusing but never confused, dynamic as Everest, DeJohnette – still, here in his 70s – plays with all the complexity and elemental force of nature.
Jazzstock presents Jack DeJohnette Trio with Ravi Coltrane & Matthew Garrison, Saturday, August 16, 8 p.m., $25 advance/$30 door, Bearsville Theater, 291 Tinker Street, Woodstock; (845) 679-4406, www.bearsvilletheater.com.