Jack DeJohnette

Special Edition

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The first (and mightiest) of Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition ensembles offered a sound that in many ways was revolutionary in modern contemporary and creative improvised music circa 1980. With firebrand alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe and enfant terrible tenor saxophonist and bass clarinetist David Murray bobbing, weaving, and counterpunching, DeJohnette and bassist Peter Warren could have easily stood back in deference to these heavyweight pugilists. The result was a vehicle by which DeJohnette could power the two with his two-fisted drumming and play piano or melodica when the mood suited him, while Warren could simply establish a foundation for all to launch their witty, extroverted, oftentimes boisterous ideas into the stratosphere. The recording starts off very strong with two definitive tracks. "One for Eric," perfectly rendered in the spirit of Eric Dolphy, has Blythe and Murray's bass clarinet taking off, flying, and then soaring. Their contrasting tart and sweet sounds merge beautifully, and not without a smidgen of humor. "Zoot Suite" sports a great 4/4 bass groove with quirky accents, while Blythe's alto and Murray's tenor repeat a head-nodding line, then Murray's sax chortles like a cow, then they float over DeJohnette's melodica, and on the repeat line the drummer powers the band to the finish line. Both of these tracks are as complete, fully realized, and utterly unique as any in modern jazz, and deserve standards status. But John Coltrane's visage is not far behind on the peaceful "Central Park West," with DeJohnette again on the underlying melodica, while "India" has DeJohnette leading out on a playful Native and Eastern Indian motif via his piano playing. Blythe and Murray literally weep on the alto and bass clarinet. The finale, "Journey to the Twin Planet," is a free-based improvisation, with Blythe's squawky alto and Murray's long-toned tenor with overblown harmonics held in mezzo piano range, and DeJohnette's melodica evincing an electronic stance. A craggy, wild, and free bop idea provides a bridge (or maybe wormhole) to a calmer, supposed other planet. While there are no extra tracks on this recording -- and they would be welcome -- this first version of Special Edition stands alone as one of the most important and greatest assemblages of jazz musicians. This LP deserves a definitive five-star rating for the lofty place it commands in the evolution of jazz toward new heights and horizons.

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