At his best,Jack DeJohnetteis one of the most consistently inventive jazz percussionists extant.DeJohnette's style is wide-ranging, yet while capable of playing convincingly in any modern idiom, he always maintains a well-defined voice. DeJohnettehas a remarkably fluid relationship to pulse. His time is excellent; even as he pushes, pulls, and generally obscures the beat beyond recognition, a powerful sense of swing is ever-present. His tonal palette is huge as well; no drummer pays closer attention to the sounds that come out of his kit thanDeJohnette. He possesses a comprehensive musicality rare among jazz drummers.
That's perhaps explained by the fact that, before he played the drums, DeJohnettewas a pianist. From the age of four, he studied classical piano. As a teenager he became interested in blues, popular music, and jazz; Ahmad Jamalwas an early influence. In his late teens,DeJohnettebegan playing drums, which soon became his primary instrument. In the early '60s occurred the most significant event of his young professional life -- an opportunity to play withJohn Coltrane. In the mid-'60s,DeJohnettebecame involved with the Chicago-basedAssociation for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. He moved to New York in 1966, where he played again withColtrane, and also withJackie McLean. His big break came as a member of the very popularCharles Lloyd Quartetfrom 1966-1968. The drummer's first record as a leader was 1968'sThe DeJohnette Complex. In 1969,DeJohnettereplacedTony WilliamsinMiles Davis' band; later that year, he played on the trumpeter's seminal jazz-rock recordingBitches Brew. DeJohnetteleftDavisin 1972 and began working more frequently as a leader. In the '70s and '80s,DeJohnette became something like a house drummer for ECM, recording both as leader and sideman with such label mainstays asJan Garbarek,Kenny Wheeler, andPat Metheny.
DeJohnette's first band wasCompost; his later, more successful bands wereDirectionsandSpecial Edition. The eclectic, avant-fusionDirectionswas originally comprised of the bassistMike Richmond, guitaristJohn Abercrombie, and saxophonistAlex Foster. In a subsequent incarnation -- called, appropriately,New Directions-- bassistEddie GomezreplacedRichmondand trumpeterLester BowiereplacedFoster. From the mid-'70s,Directionsrecorded several albums in its twin guises for ECM. Beginning in 1979,DeJohnettealso ledSpecial Edition, a more straightforwardly swinging unit that featured saxophonistsDavid MurrayandArthur Blythe. For a time, both groups existed simultaneously;Special Editionwould eventually become the drummer's performance medium of choice. The band began life as an acoustic free jazz ensemble, featuring the drummer's esoteric takes on the mainstream. It evolved into something quite different, asDeJohnette's conception changed into something considerably more commercial; with the addition of electric guitars and keyboards,DeJohnettebegan playing what is essentially a very loud, backbeat-oriented -- though sophisticated -- instrumental pop music.
To be fair,DeJohnette's fusion efforts are miles ahead of most others. His abilities as a groove-centered drummer are considerable, but one misses the subtle colorations of his acoustic work. That side ofDeJohnetteis shown to good effect in his work withKeith Jarrett's Standardstrio, and in his occasional meetings withAbercrombieandDave Hollandin theGateway Trio.DeJohnetteremains a vital artist and continues to release albums such asPeace Timeon Kindred Rhythm in 2007. He returned in 2009 with the trio albumMusic We Arefeaturing pianistDanilo Perezand bassistJohn Patitucci. In 2012, NEA Master DeJohnettedelivered the musically eclecticSound Travels, showcasing a bevy of collaborations with such artists asBruce Hornsby,Esperanza Spalding, andAmbrose Akinmusire, among others.
MUHAL RICHARD ABRAMS
Composer, arranger, and pianistMuhal Richard Abramsis largely a self-taught musician who was deeply influenced by the bop innovations of the late Bud Powell.Abramshas been a beacon in the jazz community as a co-founder (and first president), in 1965, of Chicago's legendary vanguard music institution, theAssociation for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). WhileAbramsis well-known as a mentor to three generations of younger musicians -- born in 1930 he was a decade older than his closest peer in theAACM-- as a bandleader and professor at the Banff Center, Columbia University, Syracuse University, and the BMI Composers' Workshop, he is not always recognized for his substantial contribution as a player and recording artist.Abrams' first gigs were playing the blues, R&B, and hard bop circuit in Chicago and working as a sideman with everyone fromDexter GordonandMax RoachtoRuth BrownandWoody Shaw. ButAbrams' own recordings reveal his strength as an innovator. His 1967 debut,Levels and Degrees of Lighton Chicago's Delmark label, set the course for his own career and that of many of hisAACM contemporaries, includingHenry Threadgill,the Art Ensemble of Chicago,Leo Smith, andAnthony Braxton.Abrams is also a conduit for the tradition. Though his music is noted for its vanguard edginess, he nonetheless bridges everything in his playing from boogie-woogie to bebop to free improv, as evidenced bySightsongandRejoicing With the Light, both on the Black Saint label.Abramshas been a composer that moves through the classical tradition as well. Novi, his first symphony for orchestra and jazz quartet, has been performed at various festivals, andthe Kronos Quartetperformed his String Quartet, No. 2.
The jazz avant-garde has produced dozens of notable improvisers (not surprisingly, since improvisation is arguably the music's defining element) but relatively few great composers.Henry Threadgillis a member of that exclusive club. With his fellow ChicagoansAnthony BraxtonandMuhal Richard Abrams, he's one of the most original jazz composers of his generation.Threadgill's art transcends stylistic boundaries. He embraces the world of music in its entirety, from ragtime to circus marches to classical to bop, free jazz, and beyond. Such might sound merely eclectic in the telling, but in truth,Threadgillalways sounds likeThreadgill. A given project might exploit a particular genre or odd instrumentation, but whatever the slant, it always bears its composer's inimitable personality.
Threadgillis also an alto saxophonist of distinction; his dry, heavily articulated manner is a precursor to that of a younger Chicagoan, the alto saxophonistSteve Coleman(no coincidence, one would suspect).Threadgilltook up music as a child, first playing percussion in marching bands, then learning baritone sax and clarinet. He was involved withthe AACM(Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) from its beginnings in the early '60s, collaborating with fellow membersJoseph JarmanandRoscoe Mitchelland playing inMuhal Richard Abrams' legendary Experimental Band. From 1965-1967 he toured with the gospel singer Jo Jo Morris. He then served in the military for a time, performing with an army rock band. After his discharge, he returned to Chicago, where he played in a blues band and resumed his association withAbramsandthe AACM. He went on to earn his bachelor's degree in music at the American Conservatory of Music; he also studied at Governor's State University.
In 1971 he formed Reflection with drummerSteve McCalland bassistFred Hopkins. The trio would re-form four years later asAirand would go on to record frequently to great acclaim. It's 1979 albumAir Lorefeatured contemporary takes on such early jazz tunes as "King Porter Stomp" and "Buddy Bolden's Blues," prefiguring the wave of nostalgia that would dominate jazz in the following decade.Threadgillmoved to New York in the mid-'70s, where he began forming and composing for a number of ensembles.Threadgillbegan showing a love for unusual instrumentation; for instance, hisSextett(actually a septet), used a cellist, and hisVery Very Circusincluded two tubas. In the mid-'90s he landed a (short-lived) recording contract with Columbia, which produced a couple of excellent albums. Throughout the '80s and '90sThreadgill's music became increasingly polished and sophisticated.
A restless soul, he never stood still, creating for a variety of top-notch ensembles, every one different. A pair of 2001 releases illustrates this particularly well. OnUp Popped the Two Lips(Pi Recordings), hisZooidensemble combinesThreadgill's alto and flute with acoustic guitar, oud, tuba, cello, and drums -- an un-jazz-like instrumentation that nevertheless grooves and swings with great agility.Everybodys Mouth's a Bookfeatures hisMake a Moveband, which consists of the leader's horns, with vibes and marimba, electric and acoustic guitars, electric bass, and drums -- a more traditional setup in a way, but no less original in concept.
Roscoe Mitchellis the rare jazz musician who also moves comfortably within the realm of contemporary classical music. It might even be said thatMitchellis a more convincing artist when working in European-influenced forms, and his forays into free-time, nontonal improvisation (both structured and unstructured) are as spontaneous and as emotionally satisfying as the best jazz.Mitchell's improvisations exercise extraordinary discipline and intellectual rigor. He's at once a patient and impulsive improviser, prone to alternating episodes of order and chaos, clarity and complexity.Mitchellis a technically superb -- if idiosyncratic -- saxophonist. His tone on alto and soprano are edgy. At his most lyrical,Mitchell's saxophone lines exploit the instrument's strength as an interval-making machine; his improvised melodies often bear similarity to works by the classical composerMorton Feldman, thoughMitchell's music is more overtly emotional. At his most energetic,Mitchelltakes advantage of the saxophone's timbral flexibility and the horn's natural tendencies, which allow a player to play fast, scalar lines. Whether playing soft or loud, slow or fast,Mitchell's playing is invariably suffused with passion and intensity.
Mitchellplayed saxophone and clarinet as a teenager. While stationed in Germany as a member of the Army,Mitchell played in a band with tenor saxophone innovatorAlbert Ayler. Upon returning to the U.S. in 1961,Mitchellplayed bop with a group of Wilson Junior College students who included bassistMalachi Favorsand saxophonistsJoseph Jarman,Henry Threadgill, andAnthony Braxton.Mitchellbegan listening to the recordings ofOrnette Colemanand John Coltrane. He studied with pianist/composerMuhal Richard Abrams. In 1962, he began playing inAbrams' newly organized Experimental Band, a rehearsal group that explored many of the contemporary alternatives to conventional jazz improvisation and composition.
In 1965, he became one of the first members ofthe Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians(AACM), a nonprofit organization established byAbrams, pianistJodie Christian, drummerSteve McCall, and composerPhil Cohran.The AACMwere devoted to the same principles as the Experimental Band. In 1966,Mitchell's sextet (with trumpeterLester Bowie, tenor saxophonistKalaparusha Maurice McIntyre, bassistFavors, trombonistLester Lashley, and drummerAlvin Fiedler) became the first AACMgroup to record. Abstract in concept and execution, the album,Sound (Delmark), was an in-depth examination of the interaction between sound and silence, utilizing such unorthodox devices as spontaneous collective improvisation, toy instruments, and non-musical noise. A departure from the more extroverted work of the New York-based free jazz players,Soundpointed the way to a new manner of playing jazz-based music. Around this time,Mitchellalso performed and recorded as a solo saxophonist. By 1967,the Roscoe Mitchell Art Ensembleconsisted of the leader,Favors, trumpeterLester Bowie, and drummerPhillip Wilson. That combination did not record;Wilsonwas replaced byJarman, and in 1969 the group traveled to Europe. The sojourn was very successful. The band -- renamedthe Art Ensemble of Chicago-- recorded extensively, particularly in France. The resulting albums formed the initial basis of their reputation.
Mitchellplayed briefly in St. Louis upon returning to the United States in 1971. He then resettled in Chicago. Around 1974 he established the Creative Arts Collective. Based in East Lansing, MI, the group was similar in purpose toThe AACM. The '70s foundMitchellexpanding on his solo saxophone concept, working with hisAACMcohorts in various combinations and performing withthe Art Ensemble. The latter group became possibly the most highly acclaimed jazz band of the next two decades, winning critics' polls with regularity. In the '80s and '90s,Mitchellalso ledthe Sound Ensemble, who included members of his Creative Arts Collective. In the '90s,Mitchellbranched out even more, collaborating more frequently with such classical composer/performers asPauline OliverosandThomas Buckner. A trio withBucknerand the virtuoso pianistBorah Bergmanwas an ongoing and effective unit. Since 2000,Mitchellhas remained active, releasing a handful of recordings includingSolo 3in 2004 andComposition/Improvisation Nos. 1, 2 & 3andSamsarain 2007. Beginning in the 1990s and extending into the 21st century,Mitchellhas also performed and recorded extensively as the leader of hisNote Factoryensemble, a group ranging in size from a sextet to a nonet; Note Factoryalbums includeThis Dance Is for Steve McCall(Black Saint, 1993),Nine to Get Ready(1999, ECM),Song for My Sister(Pi, 2002),Bad Guys(2003, Around Jazz), andFar Side(2010, ECM).
BassistLarry Gray's impressive skills and uncommon versatility are aptly displayed on Appassionata bythe Ramsey Lewis Trioreleased in the fall of 1999 by the Milwaukee, WI-based Narada Jazz label. One of Chicago's leading musicians,Graywas the house bassist for the city's premier jazz room, the Jazz Showcase. He has shared the stage with such jazz legends asClark Terry,Joe Henderson, andBobby Hutcherson, among others.Grayhas performed at jazz festivals and clubs all over the world: The Umbria Jazz Festival, the Montreal International Jazz Festival, the Montreaux Detroit Festival, and the Chicago Jazz Festival.Grayhas studied drums, guitar, flute, guitar, and piano while earning bachelor's and master's degrees in violoncello performance. Listen to "Nessun Dorma," a duet between Lewis' lush, romantic trills and the melancholy bow strokes ofGrayon Appassionata. The musician has performed as a solo recitalist at various universities such as Northern Illinois University, Roosevelt University, and DePaul University where he is a member of the esteemed jazz faculty.Gray's versatility has led to him being on the A-list of first-call session players, with track dates with a wide range of artists: formerStyxmemberDennis DeYoung,Willie Pickens, Buddy Childers, andIra Sullivan, among others.