The first thought is this: where is everyone who clamored to celebrate The Epic? I guess they should have released a triple album, huh?
The second, less sassy thought is Duke Ellington & John Coltrane, the meeting of artists representing different generations, was released in 1963. Except this one’s much better because, unlike that album, the music takes actual chances. Put it this way: it doesn’t feel like Jack DeJohnette’s along for the ride. Quite the opposite actually: DeJohnette isn’t the first name on the billing because of his seniority; he’s simultaneously solid power and liquid flexibility while Coltrane Jr. and Garrison Jr. ride on his unpredictable and buoyant rhythms (except for the two times Mr. DeJohnette plays keys, of course).
I would think Jack DeJohnette’s resume speaks for itself. I personally love him for his work as one of two drummers on both Bitches Brew and On the Corner (in addition to being uncredited on the last quarter of A Tribute to Jack Johnson), as well as bolstering Sonny Rollins’ later discography, from the late ’80s and onwards. Ravi Coltrane’s post-bop (with the occasional flair of avant-garde pretensions) work gets dwarfed by his heritage: that’s what happens when you’re the child of John and Alice Coltrane (speaking of the Coltranes, and speaking of Brainfeeder, you might recognize Ravi for contributing to Flying Lotus’s Cosmogramma). And Matthew Garrison is much the same – he’s the son of Jimmy Garrison, the one who was part of John Coltrane’s classic group. And interestingly enough, Jack DeJohnette has had the pleasure of working with both their fathers in his youth.
As mentioned, chances are taken. I mean, even the song selection is bold. Decades removed from the historical and emotional context that fueled John Coltrane’s “Alabama”, the trio still manage to make it their own, thanks to the enveloping fog generated by Garrison’s treatments that make every one of DeJohnette’s hits clearer and Coltrane’s runs more soulful. Elsewhere, they cover Miles Davis’ “Blue in Green” (from Miles Davis’ big one), which highlights DeJohnette’s unsung talents as a piano player. And immediately after is Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Serpentine,” which allows the trio to finally unwind with a funky groove before tightening back up as the groove thickens.
The originals are just as good, save for closer “Soulful Ballad”, which is too much the latter and too little the former. If you want something more fusion-esque, have at the title track, the only one with all three members sharing writing credits. Here, Matthew Garrison lays down a repeating synth pulse as Ravi Coltrane weaves in and out of it. If you want something more intense, check out “Two Jimmys”, a tribute to Jimmy Garrison and Jimi Hendrix; Garrison’s treated bass eventually turns into a menacing growl as the track progresses.
And if that’s not intense enough, check out “Rashied”, which is named after drummer Rashied Ali, who also worked with John Coltrane. Here, Matthew Garrison sits out so that Ravi and Jack and re-create their own Interstellar Space. On the other end of the spectrum, if you want something more lyrical, be sure to listen to “Lydia”, DeJohnette’s tribute to his wife: Ravi Coltrane positively sings on this one, while Garrison’s bass lines are richly melodic.
All in all, this is excellent — one of the best releases of the year, jazz or otherwise.