Jack DeJohnette, with Ravi Coltrane and Matthew Garrison – In Movement (2016)

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Jack DeJohnette — perhaps the most prolific living jazz drummer — is famed for his consequential stints in the bands of Charles Lloyd, Miles Davis and Keith Jarrett. John Coltrane is one notable exception to his long list of historical associations with just about every impactful jazz artist from the mid 60s onward, though he did sit in on Trane’s band early in his career. We’ll never get to know what a fully formed DeJohnette could have done for a Coltrane if he had, say, replaced the great Elvin Jones in that classic 60s quartet, but In Movement (now offered by ECM Records) does give us a glimpse into music that is not quite “what could have been” yet owes its legacy to “what was.”

That’s because In Movement is, I suppose, one of hundreds of Coltrane tribute albums, but pays tribute in a uniquely oblique way. DeJohnette doesn’t seek to recreate classic Coltrane performances and, but for one exception, replay Coltrane songs. Rather, he stirs the spirit of the A Love Supreme band by forming a trio that’s connected to it by blood: Matthew Garrison, the song of bassist Jimmy Garrison and Ravi Coltrane, the son of you-know-who.

The younger Garrison and Coltrane have enjoyed lengthy careers of their own and have long ago moved well out from under the shadows of their legend fathers. That’s the key takeaway of In Movement: DeJohnette isn’t going to be anyone but himself and wanted to partner with others who likewise had established their own language. But they’re also musicians who instinctively understand the genius of John Coltrane while also adhering to Coltrane’s quest to boldly move beyond established greatness to find previously unrealized greatness.

Fittingly, In Movement uses established greatness as a starting point: the sublimely solemn prayer “Alabama” is the only Coltrane composition covered here, with Jones’ signature mid-tempo swing removed, just Ravi’s tenor letting the melody float away from the bell of his horn as Garrison emits a hum that’s ghostly and the drummer slowly building tension on his own.

With that introduction, the three promptly move off into their own direction; “In Movement” was jointly composed by them and has the complexion of a composition borne from a jam that was later crafted into a wavy shape, Garrison’s bass leaving guitar-like impressions and hypnotic electronic loops barely audible but also subconsciously pervasive. Coltrane’s soprano sax uses that framework to paint the scene with vivid brushstrokes. The other group-composed number “Two Jimmys” is intended as a nod to both Matthew’s father and Jimi Hendrix, whereby DeJohnette and Garrison form a brawny groove; as JD’s hi-hat establishes the beat, Garrison’s prowling bass becomes nearly indistinguishable from the electronic chords, forging texture that is compelling enough to make soloing not required.

A couple of other covers (not Coltrane’s) do appear, and are given radical makeovers. DeJohnette moves over to piano for Miles’ and Bill Evans’ “Blue In Green,” where he and Coltrane (on soprano) let the song come to them, leaving impressionistic voids. On the other end, there’s Earth Wind & Fire’s “Serpentine Fire” which was intended to salute Maurice White in his lifetime but White passed between the recording and the release. In this treatment, the melody is reduced to bass riffing and a pulse that bring DeJohnette back to his Bitches Brew day. Coltrane feeds from all that, finally arriving at the actual chorus as part of his overall improvising more than three minutes into the track.

Garrison’s role is covering such a wide sonic expanse left untouched by DeJohnette and Coltrane can’t be overstated. He often plays chords instead of the normal, single-line bass patterns, as on “Lydia,” providing the lyrical element called for by DeJohnette’s tribute to his wife.

“Rashied,” composed and performed by DeJohnette and Coltrane only, is their own take on the combustible John Coltrane/Rashied Ali Interstellar Space sessions. The younger Coltrane again demonstrates he’s his own man by tackling his one-on-one with DeJohnette’s slanted drum patterns with a galloping sopranino sax instead of the slashing, relentless tenor of his father. Taking the album down to a soft landing, DeJohnette is once again behind piano for the accurately dubbed “Soulful Ballad,” a piece that is more about colors and delicacy than chops.

What you get when DeJohnette combines with guys named Coltrane and Garrison doesn’t exactly square up with the mental picture (or rather, mental music) most jazzbos might imagine when those three names are put together. Nonetheless, In Movement is no less gratifying.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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