Jack DeJohnette

Made in Chicago

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In 2013, the Chicago Jazz Festival invited Jack DeJohnette to assemble a dream band to open. The renowned drummer, composer, and pianist assembled a group whose personnel revisited the roots of his early days on the city's South Side: saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell and saxophonist/flutist Henry Threadgill -- with whom he had attended Wilson Junior College in the early '60s -- and mentor Muhal Richard Abrams, whose Experimental Band they all played in. Abrams also co-founded the historic Association of Creative Musicians (AACM) that fostered the talent of all three, and a bit later, this group's bassist Larry Gray. Reunions can be a tricky business in the jazz world, especially when people haven't played together in nearly five decades. That said, this set works far more often than it doesn't, and it never really falters. There is ample chemistry between the principals. Mitchell's "Chant" gets things off to a lively start. Its melody is short and repetitive, with a children's song quality expressed by the saxophones. Abrams plays off the top, engaging in counterpoint, and DeJohnette rolls it out, filling, accenting, and pushing; he's followed by Gray as the dialogue between the horns commences and solos appear within it. That notion of repetition also fuels DeJohnette's "Museum of Time," where Abrams plays a glissando pattern in a compact mode as the horns respond with short, blues-like phrases as the composer whispers and rushes along on brushed cymbals. Gradually, the work opens up with a brief and lovely Abrams solo, as the horns, in slightly staggered phrasing, capture the mournful melody before they begin to moan it out. Gray's and DeJohnette's tom-toms eventually add a funky backdrop to Abrams' second solo and a dialogue between flute and saxophone before the tune builds again with tension and drama. Threadgill's "Leave Don't Go Away" is simultaneously tight and sprawling. The saxophonist's collage ideas run rampant before Abrams dialogues intensely with the drummer and the bassist. Throughout Made in Chicago, ideas assert themselves, though they are occasionally ponderous and speculative as in Abrams' "Jack Five" and Mitchell's chamber jazz piece "This." Even in these, however, there are nearly sublime moments thanks to Gray -- his earthy solo in the former tune and his fluid arco playing in the latter keep things from going too far afield. The last piece here, "Ten Minutes," is a strident, thoroughly engaging, even bracing group improvisation with wonderful conversation, sparkling ideas, and soloing. While Made in Chicago was supposed to be a one off, it turns out to have been a lift-off point for further concert engagements. This document is important not only for the historic nature of the reunion of vanguard jazz luminaries, but as the spark for further exploration.

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