The fact that Jack DeJohnette unpacks his versatility on this new trio album shouldn’t be a shock to fans who have followed his career. The master drummer with the Windy City origins and Woodstock lifestyle has long made the most of his varied interests. Now 73, he has recalibrated freebop with his Special Edition outfits, churned out steely funk with his Audio-Visualscapes group, and gotten folksy with kora maestro Foday Musa Suso – along the way he spent a good chunk of the last three decades bringing a unique eloquence to mainstream jazz with Keith Jarrett and Gary Peacock. That he’s able to convincingly glide from heartfelt reflection to frenzied alarm on his umpteenth date is simply part of a diverse continuum. His strengths are many.
The music on In Movement speaks for itself, but this time around the colleagues DeJohnette has thrown in with are key to the narrative. Ravi Coltrane and Matt Garrison are both sons of famous jazz improvisers, but there are no foregone conclusions as to how this trio’s personality will be shaped by any family legacy. Saxophonist Coltrane long-ago sculpted a discrete sound for himself, and electric bassist Garrison (who is DeJohnette’s godson) boasts the agility and architecture of Jaco as much as that of his dad, Jimmy. When I first saw them in Brooklyn a couple years ago, one of the thoughts that rushed to mind was how singular they came across (credit the choice of electric bass).DeJohnette is always working, and one of his signature traits is the way each of his new groups moves in a substantially different direction than its predecessors. A restless experimentalist, he turns from swing to grooves to abstraction. If you’re looking for an example of the latter, don’t miss Made In Chicago, last year’s hook-up with Roscoe Mitchell, Muhal Richard Abrams and Henry Threadgill.
So, variety is a building block when it comes to DeJohnette’s point of view. He admires ambling a bit as much as he does a forthright gait. That former tack is a subtext of this album, whose title insightfully harks to a Thomas Wolfe quote about Americans being “fixed and certain” only when they’re “in movement.” In “Two Jimmys” the trio spends time noodling, setting up a contemplative mood rather than iterating a melody. Because they’re such impressive players, the extended pulse of Garrison’s bass and the drummer’s high hat houses enough personality to make the piece valuable. With a slightly Eastern feel, Coltrane links a string of curt phrases with tone and texture rather than thematic logic. Garrison’s synths enhance the drone effect, and a slightly eerie outing becomes an inspired lynchpin between John Coltrane’s hymn-like “Alabama” and Miles Davis’ sublime “Blue in Green – two of the record’s most reflective pieces.
Investigation and scene-setting are band fortes. Whether searching for the essence of a ballad or establishing a barroom backbeat on a romp through “Serpentine Fire,” the players take their time and glance around the territory they’re roaming. Coltrane shines on the Earth, Wind & Fire nugget, sniffing out an array of options while dancing through the melody. It’s a soprano feature, and the straight horn gets plenty of time on this album; it’s also used to shape the delicate moves of “Lydia” and “Blue in Green” (one of two pieces where drummer forsakes his traps for piano). But perhaps the disc’s apex of equilibrium arrives at the start, when he guides his tenor through “Alabama,” his dad’s ode to the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four black schoolgirls. With DeJohnette directing via tom-toms and cymbals, the trio captures both loss and sorrow in one heart-wrenching swoop.
Another Trane nod arrives in “Rashied,” a sopranino/drums flurry that harks to the impact of the master’s animated duets with Rashied Ali on 1967’s Interstellar Space, but also conjures such jewels as Anthony Braxton and Max Roach’s Birth & Rebirth. Its aggression is as formidable as its grace, and as the dust settles after their explosion of ideas and supercharged momentum, it becomes obvious that this group, like past DeJohnette aggregates, is charged with creating a broad set of experiences. Multi-taskers of the highest order.