A force of nature, Jack DeJohnette is one of the elite drummers of the modern jazz era. An opportunity to see and hear him should not be missed. That point was brought home with an exclamation point on Thursday night at Birdland. Pouring his heart and soul into the performance, DeJohnette displayed incredible ferocity and intensity. Better yet, he and his band mates wrote new tunes, which brought out the best of this new super group. Danilo Perez was featured on piano, John Patitucci on bass and Jerome Harris on guitar and six-string banjo.
The first selection was a piece written by Harris entitled Cool Pursuit. A nice introduction to the evening, it gave a good taste of what was to come. Hard-driving bass lines by Patitucci were prominent. Danilo’s wonderful sense of rhythm and knack for knowing when to leave space opened the door for Harris, whose vibrant guitar work sent shots of energy throughout the room. Jack flourished on the drums, a sign of things to come.
A composition by the leader (DeJohnette) featured Jerome Harris on banjo. Titled Spanish Summit, this song was exceptional on many levels. It began with an introduction by Danilo and Jack, who had his tom-toms tuned high, creating a conga-like sound. After a spirited interchange between the two, Harris went to work. His treatment of the banjo gave the song a multicultural feel, with musical influences from West Africa, the Middle East and beyond. Many of DeJohnette’s compositions have an underlying presence that could be described as circular, very nonlinear. This unique trait makes him more than just an elite drummer but a very spiritual musician and composer. This particular composition led into a number written by Jerome Harris. The transition was so fluid and natural I am not sure where one song ended and the other began. Part of this had to do with how mesmerized the group had me at this point. Everyone was feeding off each other as the tension mounted until Jack took over. The tribal feel of these two numbers put the drummer in a zone. Each of his feats was followed by another and just when you thought he was done, he somehow pulled more energy out of thin air to do something more amazing than what had just past.
The beautiful piano work of Danilo Perez was highlighted in the next piece by John Lewis entitled Django, a tribute to the guitar legend. The first movement of this selection was expanded to create more space for the pianist to shine. His phrasing, touch and delicacy conjured a feeling of transcendence. Jerome Harris added subtle, ambient guitar tones. John Patitucci played by far his best solo of the evening. Lyrically beautifully, captivating and romantic, his playing on this piece was grand. As the song ended, he took out his bow to put the finishing touches on a fine ballad.
The evening ended with a composition by DeJohnette entitled Six Into Four. A fiery introduction by the leader set the stage for a Latin-fusion explosion that a had a variety of twists and turns before culminating in incredibly fast runs by Perez, alternating with highlights from the drummer in a sort of call and response. Jerome Harris interspersed this musical dialogue with string-bending, funky guitar wizardry and Patitucci was throwing down heavy bass lines. A great way to end a stellar evening of high-energy jazz, DeJohnette and company did not disappoint. To hear him so strong and creative is humbling. To hear him with this super group leaves one with hope that they will continue to work together in the future.