Jack DeJohnette has maintained a reputation of inventiveness for half a century, a fact pointed out by poet and former National Endowment for the Arts deputy chairman A.B. Spellman when he introduced the drummer-composer-bandleader to a sold-out crowd on Saturday, July 26, at the Lensic Performing Arts Center. Spellman said the recently appointed NEA Jazz Master’s music was consistently new and fresh. The performance that followed — the final Santa Fe concert of the 2014 New Mexico Jazz Festival — seemed to prove that point. DeJohnette’s trio, with saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and bassist Matthew Garrison, made something new of the few classic pieces they touched while also offering new works that relied on Garrison’s bass and its attached electronics to provide harmonic interest. The results were unexpected from a saxophone trio but fully in line with Spellman’s introduction.
DeJohnette’s play, still characteristic of his work going back to the 1960s and stints with Jackie McLean, Charles Lloyd, and Miles Davis, has evolved over the years to emphasize accents and color while maintaining its rhythmic drive. This was audible from the opening number, an original called “Atmospheres,” a piece as impressionistic as its name. It focused on the drums as an instrument of color and shading rather than timekeeping. DeJohnette invited comparisons with his earlier days by performing Joe Henderson’s “Black Narcissus,” a tune he first recorded with Henderson in 1969. That performance was all cymbal and light snare touch; this one drew from understated tom-tom exchanges. Garrison, triggering electronic effects with foot pedals and pulling chordal clusters from his bass guitar’s strings, gave the threesome’s sound a richness that belied the band’s size.
Coltrane was his own man. He’s a player who eschews all clichés — and, except for his rich tone on both tenor and soprano, he gave no clue that he’s his father’s son. His approach on Lee Morgan’s well-known, muchsampled “The Sidewinder” brought something entirely new and quirky to the song. Yet when the band dipped into his father’s music for an encore, Coltrane produced a kind of homage that took only a few notes to suggest the legacy in his blood.
Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington’s Mosaic Project brought another kind of freshness to the Lensic Stage on Friday, July 25. Using two contrasting vocalists — Gretchen Parlato and Lizz Wright — Carrington’s ensemble found a sweet spot where accessible beats and blues changes allowed for soulful statements from saxophonists Hailey Niswanger and Grace Kelly. With keyboardist Rachel Z not arriving until midway through the second set, the group relied on guitarist Matt Stevens to keep up the harmonic interest with his creamy electric tones. Z’s arrival brought new life to the band, and its cover of Nick Drake’s “Three Hours” proved an emotional high in what was sometimes an uninspired show.
Pianist-composer Dick Hyman’s appearance with an all-star sextet co-led by 88-year-old guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli was the model of what’s always been great about jazz: musicians coming together to speak in a shared language. Pizzarelli, a most melodic soloist, put blazing rhythm additions to “Sing, Sing, Sing” that suggested a sort of heavy-metal jazz. Hyman opened “Blue Monk” with a fascinating statement that seemed to change keys at the end of every phrase before the band took the familiar tune and began to swing. Fresh? You bet.
— Bill Kohlhaase