Jack DeJohnette’s In Movement is a powerful addition to an already consequential discography as a bandleader. Among other ventures, the bands and recordings under DeJohnette’s Special Edition moniker are formidable. Unfortunately, this still seems to be a surprise for some, as the drummer, composer, and pianist is often considered “just a sideman.” (Which is laughable — even if he’d never functioned as a bandleader, the fact that he’s played with just about everybody since the 1960s, while remaining one of music’s best drummers at 73, nearly negates the connotation of “sideman.”)
Much has been made of the historical nature of In Movement‘s lineup. (Coltrane and Garrison’s fathers, John Coltrane and Jimmy Garrison, formed half of arguably the greatest quartet in jazz history. Furthermore, DeJohnette sat in with the elder Coltrane in the early 60s, years before joining Miles Davis — also Trane’s former employer — later that decade.) However, don’t be fooled by any sense of nostalgia: the playing and sounds are fresh. It’s an album of today, informed by yesterday, and looking to tomorrow.
One of DeJohnette’s main strengths as a bandleader and composers is his command of orchestration in small ensembles. His Special Edition bands, for example, sound like groups of Mingus-y proportions instead of the quartets and quintets they are. Similarly, In Movement often sounds much bigger than a trio. That’s not to say that it’s busy and cluttered. There’s a lot of space on this record. But, between the three of them, they bring the forces and possible textures of a quintet. Garrison’s electronic work often provides a sonic bed or wash to envelop the group, with DeJohnette’s piano providing a nice acoustic counterpoint to the electric sounds. And it’s worth noting Coltrane’s strong presence, not only on his standard-issue tenor and soprano, but also on sopranino. I believe this album is his recording debut on the instrument, and what a strong one it is. Sopranino is a difficult horn to manage, even (unfortunately) for those who play it regularly, but Coltrane doesn’t falter here. I’ll be honest: when I first read that he played it on this album, I rolled my eyes, and my ears waited for it to stick out like a sore thumb. However, I instead realized partway through “Rashied” that I was hearing masterful sopranino work.
In Movement includes three covers which emphasize the album’s lineage: a weighty, solemn rendition of John Coltrane’s “Alabama” (with the composer’s son on tenor, channeling his father) opens the album; a sparse, soprano- and piano-driven rendition of Miles Davis and Bill Evans’s “Blue in Green”; and a plodding, deeply grooving account of “Serpentine Fire” by Earth, Wind & Fire that sounds wholly different from the original. Other allusions appear elsewhere, with “Rashied” (for drummer Rashied Ali) featuring a fiery sax and drum duet reminiscent of Interstellar Space, and “Two Jimmys” (for Jimmy Garrison and Jimi Hendrix) allowing Garrison plenty of room to paint an abstract sonic canvas rife with effects, distortion, and wandering lines.
It’s better to almost ignore the titles, though, as the other originals blend right in. “Lydia” is a mid-tempo stroll which tastefully blends Coltrane’s melodic soprano playing with DeJohnette’s trademark (at least to me) cymbal work and Garrison’s pocket bass lines and electronic textures. “In Movement” is a fitting title track, capturing not only the highlight talents from “Lydia,” but also exploring quicker, more intertwined lines and grooves. It’s also an apt title — while DeJohnette and Coltrane forge ahead, Garrison both follows on bass and stretches time with his electronic textures. And though “Alabama” served as a somber opening, “Soulful Ballad” is more optimistic, with DeJohnette and Coltrane trading drums and tenor for piano and soprano, respectively.
This is an encouraging sign of where DeJohnette’s bandleader duties may be headed in this stage of his career, particularly on ECM. I’m already waiting for the follow-up.
In Movement was released on May 6 by ECM Records and is available now.