Jack DeJohnette: Sound Travels (Shock)

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Jack DeJohnette (with Bobby McFerrin): Oneness
Jack DeJohnette: Sound Travels (Shock)

The great jazz drummer -- who turns 70 this year -- shows no signs of either slowing down or repeating himself, and on the evidence of his performance of Miles Davis' tribute to Jack Johnson last year, his energy levels and creativity are also undiminished.

This gentle album finds him exploring Latin styles (with singer/bassist Esmeralda Spalding), working with songwriter and keyboard player Bruce Hornsby (who plays with the Grateful Dead these days) for the country-funky jazz of Dirty Ground, and inviting in Bobby McFerrin for wordless vocals and vocalese on one song (the gentle Oneness).

Also present are his fine touring band which includes hot pianist Jason Moran and guitarist Lionel Louke.

It's a curious album in that it constantly shifts its ground so Dirty Ground is placed between the subtle Salsa for Luisito and the  angular instrumental New Muse which nods to Mexican music and the ethereal (in Tim Ries' soprano playing). The tropical-influenced Sonny Light pays tribute to Sonny Rollins' bright and playful pieces in the same manner but, while pleasant and allowing DeJohnette to play some oblique piano, adds little to the genre.

The title track is engrossing, a minimalist interplay between Loueke's tickling guitar and the rhythm section as Spalding adds discreetly swooping bass. But at less than two minutes you wonder, why? It sounds as if it could have gone somewhere, but . . .

Only on the eight minute Indigo Dreamscape do the players really stretch, but it is also restrained and never hits the energy levels they are capable of live.

DeJohnette's piano ballad at the end however is a wistfully romantic closing piece with subtle references to old spirituals and hymns. 

There is impeccable musicianship to admire here and some sublime moments. But it is an album you might want to like a lot more than you can, and may often feel shortchanged by.

Interested in more by Jack DeJohnette, check out these albums with pianist Keith Jarrett.

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