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Bill Milkowski chooses Jack DeJohnette’s most important recordings

Jack DeJohnette

As a Leader

The DeJohnette Complex (Milestone, 1969)

DeJohnette’s characteristically multifaceted debut set includes a heroic drum solo (“The Major General”), provocative improvs with Bennie Maupin and Miroslav Vitous, some avant-funk and an evocative brushes ballad. Roy Haynes plays drums on three tunes, with DeJohnette switching to melodica.

Special Edition (ECM, 1979)

This document of the first Special Edition lineup features saxophonists Arthur Blythe and David Murray (doubling on bass clarinet) with bassist Peter Warren. They explore the freeboppish Dolphy tribute “One for Eric,” the quirky swinger “Zoot Suite,” an adventurous group improv and a dreamy take on Trane’s “Central Park West” with DeJohnette on melodica.

Album, Album (ECM, 1984)

This incarnation of Special Edition, with John Purcell on alto and soprano saxes, David Murray on tenor, Howard Johnson on tuba and bari and bassist Rufus Reid, plays some of DeJohnette’s best compositions (“Ahmad the Terrible,” “Festival,” “Third World Anthem”), along with a rousing “New Orleans Strut” and a wonderful “Monk’s Mood.”

Music for the Fifth World 
(Manhattan, 1992)

An ambitious homage to Native American culture, Fifth World includes ferocious two-drum encounters with Will Calhoun and a formidable yet stylistically disparate two-guitar attack from Vernon Reid and John Scofield, along with Seneca chanting vocal choirs, a cover of Jim Pepper’s anthemic “Witchi-Tai-To” and DeJohnette’s reggae-fied “Deception Blues” (formerly “Inflation Blues”).

Trio Beyond
Saudades (ECM, 2006)

DeJohnette’s tribute to the Tony Williams Lifetime might be his most incendiary showcase of sheer drumming prowess. From ferocious swingers like Joe Henderson’s “If” and “Seven Steps to Heaven” to intense fusion onslaughts (“Allah Be Praised,” “Spectrum,” “Emergency”), he demonstrates unparalleled authority alongside guitarist John Scofield and organist Larry Goldings.

As a Sideman

Charles Lloyd
Dream Weaver (Atlantic, 1966)

This first outing from Lloyd’s quartet with Keith Jarrett, Cecil McBee and 23-year-old DeJohnette includes the spacious suite “Autumn Sequence” and the mellow title track, along with the party jam “Sombrero Sam.” That cut helped Lloyd cross over to a burgeoning hippie market, while the freeboppish “Bird Flight” kept one foot in the avant-garde.

Jackie McLean

Demon’s Dance (Blue Note, 1967)

Filling the shoes of Tony Williams on McLean’s last Blue Note date, DeJohnette plays with a kinetic, polyrhythmic edge on avant-bop numbers like Woody Shaw’s “Boo Ann’s Grand,” Massey’s surging “Message From Trane” and the leader’s title track. DeJohnette’s super-hip playing throughout is the bridge between Tony Williams and Elvin Jones.

Miles Davis

The Cellar Door Sessions 1970 (Columbia/Legacy, 2005)

On this box set documenting four nights at the legendary D.C. club, DeJohnette fuels the electrifying crew of Keith Jarrett, Gary Bartz, Airto Moreira, Michael Henderson and Miles on crackling renditions of “Directions,” “Honky Tonk,” “What I Say,” “It’s About That Time” and more. John McLaughlin guests on a raucous Saturday night, and DeJohnette stokes the flames.

Pat Metheny
80/81 (ECM, 1980)

This superb double album, featuring bassist Charlie Haden and the tenor tandem of Dewey Redman and Michael Brecker, earned Metheny major cred in hardcore jazz circles. And DeJohnette ignites the session with his signature combustible drumming, particularly on “Two Folk Songs,” the title track and the freewheeling group improv “Open.”

Keith Jarrett
My Foolish Heart: Live at Montreux (ECM, 2007)

Of their numerous recordings made together since 1983, this live two-CD set features DeJohnette stretching out in his most dynamic fashion with the group, most notably on swinging interpretations of Monk’s “Straight No Chaser” and Miles Davis’ “Four,” plus a burning “The Song Is You” and a torrid take on Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo.”

Originally Published