Monday, July 10, 2017

Jack Dejohnette - 1991 [2013] "Earth Walk"

Earthwalk is an album by Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition, featuring Greg Osby, Gary Thomas, Michael Cain, and Lonnie Plaxico, recorded in 1991 and released on the Blue Note label.

The final version of drummer/composer Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition bands sports a unique sound, on the verge of M-Base, and artfully driven due to saxophonists Greg Osby and Gary Thomas. Their tart sweet sounds are as much a part of the identity of this group as anything, and DeJohnette adds his own personal brand of funk and swing to the proceeding, making for an exciting and vital original music. Bassist Lonnie Plaxico, straight off the bandstand with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, keeps things briskly moving along, while Michael Cain plays a lot of acoustic piano, and some modified electric keyboards, to further separate this Special Edition from the others. DeJohnette's epic tribute to Wayne Shorter, "Where or Wayne," is reworked in a hip, measured melody missing beats on purpose, simmered in Cain's synthesized mystery. The spiked notes of "Monk's Plumb" provide space for drum fills, merging to an easy swing discipline, and a typically ribald Osby solo. A deliberate Herbie Hancock-styled funk identifies "It's Time to Wake Up & Dream" with the sour horns and Cain's intent acoustic piano driving this most M-Base track. If "Priestesses of the Mist" is reflective of its title through Cain's foggy electronic washes, the distaff, magical side is also represented by the flute of Thomas and Osby's soprano during a most evocative selection. Similarly, the title track feels like a trek through thick jungle flora and fauna, as a heavy-footstepped electric bass guitar from Plaxico leads the many and long, heavy strides of the band members. Closest to jazz is the electro-acoustic hot bopper "One on One" and "Blue" with its patient, straight-ahead, no-amenities framework. This band has changed radically since the days when David Murray and Arthur Blythe were frontmen, but the music is all good, holds interest, and makes for another giant step in the varied, diverse, and intriguing career of DeJohnette.

Earthwalk is a very good album. Jack DeJohnette made a number of superb albums starting in the 1970s, unfortunately they did not receive the attention they deserved. The interesting thing about this album is that DeJohnette wrote all the music, produced the album and picked the musicians. This album probably reflects Jack's actual taste in music more so than many of the sessions he has played on. The record was recorded in 1991 on Blue Note.

DeJohnette is still one of the most respected drummers in jazz and he has played with virtually every major U.S. and international jazz artist since the 1960s including Miles Davis and John Coltrane. For a while he was virtually ECM's house drummer and played on ECM sessions led by Keith Jarrett, Terje Rypdal, Kenny Wheeler and many others.

The band is excellent, featuring: Michael Cain - keyboards; Gary Thomas -tenor saxophone, flute; Greg Osby - alto saxophone, soprano saxophone; and Lonnie Plaxico - bass. Cain, Thomas, Plaxico and Osby were all at one time M-Base players and this influence is reflected in the music, which is loud, brash, melodic and full of energy. It could be described as a post-bop sound with a touch of funk. Osby and Thomas drive the music on saxophone. DeJohnette provides a powerful backbeat on most of the tracks. Anyone looking for introspective ECM-style chamber jazz won't find it here.

Cain has played with Dave Holland, John Scofield, Steps Ahead, Gary Thomas Marty Ehrlich, Ray Anderson and Bobby Previte. Cain also recorded a CD of his own for ECM in 1986. During the mid-'80s, Osby played alongside Steve Coleman, Geri Allen, Gary Thomas, and Cassandra Wilson as a member of the M-Base Collective. Bassist Lonnie Plaxico played with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and the M-Base Collective. Thomas has played with Miles Davis, Steve Coleman and John McLaughlin.

Great example of modern jazz. Fresh sounding and superbly played. What I like about this kind of "free-form" jazz is that it doesn't convey to the usual "theme-solo-solo-theme" formalism of traditional jazz. It is free in the sense of being organic and unpredictable, while still being melodic and very musical. Highly recommended even as it is a bit pricey.

Track listing:
All compositions by Jack DeJohnette

01 "It's Time to Wake Up and Dream" – 5:30
02 "Blue" – 6:18
03 "Where or Wayne" – 9:44
04 "Priestesses of the Mist" – 7:44
05 "Earth Walk" – 13:05
06 "On Golden Beams" – 5:16
07 "One on One" – 11:18
08 "Lydia" – 2:24
09 "Monk's Plumb" – 12:08
10 "It's Time to Wake Up and Dream" [Alternate Version] – 0:50

Recorded at Dreamland Recording Studios, West Hurley, NY in June 1991


Jack DeJohnette – drums
Michael Cain – midi piano, korg keyboards
Gary Thomas – tenor saxophone, flute
Greg Osby – alto saxophone, soprano saxophone
Lonnie Plaxico – electric bass, acoustic bass
Joan Henry – animal sound on "Earth Walk"

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